On Dec. 24, 2022, the Taliban announced a prohibition on women working in international and national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Afghanistan. Such a broad exclusion effectively curtails these organizations from implementing their life-saving programs, which were already inhibited due to banking restrictions, sanctions, and aid cut-backs implemented by Western leaders since the Taliban returned to power. The move is particularly egregious since it is well documented that in conflict settings and areas of humanitarian crises, women and girls bear the brunt of impacts. Moreover, this policy violates basic principles of humanitarian law that call for non-discrimination.

Women currently comprise up to 33 percent of humanitarian workers in Afghanistan.

As Afghanaid states, “If NGOs are unable to employ female staff, due to existing rules in the country that essentially prevent men from delivering aid assistance to women, Afghan women will be unable to receive humanitarian and development aid directly, and we therefore lose the ability to support half the population.” Likewise, the ban will impede gender and culturally-sensitive aid that supports services for gender-based violence, shelters, and safehouses.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNOHCR) issued a statement that highlights several core issues with this decision. C&SN agrees and condemns the move in the strongest possible terms, and emphasizes that the already limiting environment for NGO operations due to national security measures in Afghanistan has been significantly worsened.

As the UNOHCR states, “The ban on women working in NGOs not only deprives women workers of their fundamental rights and livelihood, but also prevents them from supporting their communities. It will further push women out of jobs and completely erase them from the public sphere. The ban will have a dire impact on local NGOs, particularly women-led NGOs, which have provided services and support for women, children and marginalized groups. Many national civil society organizations will be dealt a grievous blow by this cruel and unlawful decision.

Without female humanitarian workers, women and girls as well as boys will not have access to food, education, child protection, gender-responsive legal aid, livelihoods support and essential healthcare services.” 

This comes at a time when the country continues to face a dual economic and humanitarian crisis, where in 2023 alone, it is estimated that 28 million Afghans will be in need of humanitarian assistance – 13 million of which are children. 

In a joint statement among several key NGOs, operations are being suspended until the policy is clarified or reversed. C&SN calls on the Taliban de facto government to immediately reconsider this cruel policy that will only serve to undermine its own credibility and the future prospects for the women and girls of Afghanistan.