Washington, D.C. – In what human rights advocates are calling another demonstration of the gender apartheid imposed on Afghan women, the Taliban has — in less than a week — banned women from attending university and women from working in NGOs.
“These newest attacks on women’s rights signal what Afghan human rights activists have warned since even before the U.S. withdrawal in August 2021 — under the Taliban, women will again be relegated to second-class citizenship with little value to society in their own right,” said Gayatri Patel, vice president of advocacy and external relations at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC). “Our immediate concern is the impact banning female NGO workers will have on getting Afghan women the humanitarian services and support they need — particularly during a brutal winter when food, shelter, and safety is already greatly at risk. These women have been on the frontlines providing aid to the 3.4 million internally displaced or in humanitarian need within Afghanistan – the Taliban’s ban on their work endangers countless people’s lives.”
On Sunday, at least four international NGOs said they would need to cease operations of until they could get more clarity about the ban.
“Female NGO workers provide urgent humanitarian assistance,” said Patel. “Taliban decrees already limit who Afghan women can interact with for services – for example, in some areas, only female medical staff can treat female patients. This ban will cut off lifelines to basic services such as essential health care for women and girls.”
The ban on women working at NGOs come as Afghanistan faces record poverty and nation-wide food shortages. The UN Mission to Afghanistan has called on the Taliban to reverse the ban. Ramiz Alakbarov, who leads humanitarian coordination at the UN, called the ban a “red line for the entire humanitarian community.”
“Afghan women working in NGOs could be the only source of income for their families,” said Patel” “At a time when scarcity of cash and resources is literally causing starvation, preventing women from working will deepen the humanitarian crisis.”
The latest bans come at the end of a year that saw the Taliban issue decrees that require women to be covered in public, pushed women out of government positions, and banned women from traveling without a male relative. The latest ban on women in universities, on top of an earlier ban on girls’ secondary school, means that girls in Afghanistan will not receive an education after primary school.
“The impact this has had on girls’ lives is devastating and the implications for their futures — and Afghanistan’s future — are dire,” said Patel. “Afghanistan and its people cannot and will not prosper if half of their population is denied their basic rights, including the right to receive an education and contribute to Afghan economy and society.”
The actions have been met with worldwide condemnation worldwide, including from UN Special Envoy for Education and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and current US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. The actions have also been met with protests from Afghan women and men in Kabul.
“The Taliban went too far a long time ago,” said Patel. “The United States, United Nations, and other world leaders are facing a moment of truth — they made promises of support for Afghan women, yet the Taliban has steadily — and with impunity — chipped away at women’s rights for well over a year. If now is not the time to act, when will be? Enough is enough.”