The UN aid chief said on Wednesday he had urged Taliban authorities to offer more clarity on which humanitarian sectors could be reopened for Afghan women workers, warning that a “famine looms” as the country faces a harsh winter.
Afghanistan faces one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, according to aid agencies, with more than half of its 38 million people facing hunger and nearly four million children suffering from malnutrition .
The crisis escalated when Taliban leaders banned Afghan women from working with NGOs, forcing several aid agencies to suspend their vital work.
In recent weeks, authorities have allowed women to work only in the health sector.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Martin Griffiths said he hoped more humanitarian sectors would be reopened to women workers.
“I have been told by a number of Taliban leaders that the Taliban, as an administration, is working on guidelines that would clarify the role and opportunity and hopefully the freedom of women to work in humanitarian work,” Griffiths told AFP. an interview at a UN office in Kabul.
“I think it’s really important that we keep the light on the process to come up with these guidelines,” he said, concluding a visit to Afghanistan.
Griffiths led a delegation of senior NGO officials who met with several Taliban officials this week in a bid to urge them to further ease the ban on female aid workers.
It was the second UN-led delegation to come to Afghanistan this month to urge the Taliban government to reverse two recent decrees that have severely restricted women’s rights.
In addition to banning women from working in NGOs, the Taliban authorities also barred them from university education.
Government officials say both bans were imposed because the women were not following rules on wearing the hijab, an allegation denied by aid workers and university students.
Since returning to power in August 2021, the Taliban government has rapidly forced women out of public life, also banning them from secondary education, public sector work, and parks and baths.
Griffiths promised that when it comes to delivering aid in the poverty-stricken country, the global humanitarian community will insist on deploying female workers.
“Wherever there is a chance for us to provide principled humanitarian assistance and protection, that is with women, we will,” he said.
But securing more exemptions for women to work in all humanitarian sectors was an important task at this stage.
“We don’t have time. Winter is with us, people are dying, famine is looming,” he said.
“We need decisions now, which is why I think these practical exceptions that we talked about are so important.”