UN aid chief seeks to overturn ban on Afghan women workers

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UNITED NATIONS (TBEN) — The UN’s humanitarian aid chief and leaders of two major international aid agencies are in Afghanistan following the visit last week of a delegation led by the UN’s top woman with the same goal: to curb the harsh Taliban actions against women and girls, including banning Afghan women from working for national and global humanitarian organizations.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths was in the Afghan capital on Monday with Janti Soeripto, CEO of Save The Children US, and Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro, the Secretary-General of Care International, as well as Omar Abdi, the deputy executive director of UNICEF, the UN children’s agency.

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Dujarric said the Taliban’s ban last month on Afghan women working for non-governmental organizations has put some aid programs on hold and “creates fears that the already dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan could get worse.”

About 28 million Afghans are in need of food, medicine and other humanitarian assistance, “a 350% increase in just five years,” according to the latest report published Monday on the Humanitarian Needs Overview for Afghanistan, Dujarric said.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Friday that the delegation led by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed felt that some Taliban officials were more open to restoring women’s rights, but others were clearly opposed.

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“The most important thing is to reconcile the (Taliban) officials they have met who have been more helpful with those who have not,” Haq said.

Mohammed, a former Nigerian cabinet minister and a Muslim who is the UN’s highest-ranking woman, was accompanied on the trip by Sima Bahous, executive director of UN Women which promotes gender equality and women’s rights, and assistant secretary general for political affairs Khaled Khiari.

The UN team met with the Taliban in the capital Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar, but the UN has not released the names of any of the Taliban officials. The meetings focused on the restrictive measures the Taliban have imposed on women and girls since taking power in August 2021, during the final weeks of the withdrawal of US and NATO forces after 20 years of war.

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Griffiths is expected to focus on reversing the December ban on Afghan women working for NGOs. The UN has stressed that Afghan women are crucial to delivering humanitarian aid to civilians, the majority of whom are women and children.