Male Afghan UN workers stay home in solidarity after Taliban bans female staff

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Afghan men working for the United Nations in Kabul will stay home in solidarity with their female colleagues after the Taliban prohibited Afghan women from working for the global organization, according to a senior UN official.

Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN Deputy Special Representative, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, called the Taliban’s decision an “unparalleled violation of human rights.”

“The lives of Afghanistan women are at stake,” he said, adding, “It is not possible to reach women without women.”

International UN staff in Afghanistan will stay at their posts, he added.

The UN said on Wednesday that it had been notified by the Taliban that Afghan women were no longer permitted to work for the UN in Afghanistan and that the measure would be actively enforced.

Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan, speaks at the UN Compound in Kabul on April 5, 2023.

The UN condemned the decision, calling the ban “unlawful under international law.”

Several female UN staff in the country had already experienced restrictions on their movements since the Taliban seized power in 2021, including harassment and detention – prompting the UN to order all its staff of Afghan nationality, of all genders, not to go into the office until further notice, said the statement.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Roza Otunbayeva, is engaging with the Taliban at the highest level to “seek an immediate reversal of the order,” the statement added.

The UN said the Taliban’s move was an extension of a previous ban, enforced last December, that prohibited Afghan women from working for national and international non-governmental organizations.

“In the history of the United Nations, no other regime has ever tried to ban women from working for the Organization just because they are women. This decision represents an assault against women, the fundamental principles of the UN, and on international law,” Otunbayeva said.

Other figures within the organization also condemned the move, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calling it “utterly despicable.”

After the Taliban banned female aid workers in December, at least half a dozen major foreign aid groups temporarily suspended their operations in Afghanistan – diminishing the already scarce resources available to a country in dire need of them.

The Taliban’s return to power preceded a deepening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, worsening issues that had long plagued the country. After the takeover, the US and its allies froze about $7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cut off international funding – crippling an economy heavily dependent on overseas aid.

More than 28 million people in Afghanistan – about two thirds of the population – need humanitarian assistance, the UN estimated in March. It added that many families are facing “catastrophic hunger” and the risk of famine, with food stocks having run out months before the next harvest is due.

Since the Taliban returned to power, they have imposed a brutal crackdown on women’s rights and freedoms, forbidding women from working in most sectors, accessing some public spaces like parks, or traveling without a guardian for long distances and other daily restrictions. Last December, it banned women from attending university, nine months after barring girls from returning to secondary schools.

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