KABUL: Taliban authorities have issued a directive this week ordering female aid workers in Kandahar province to cease their work on a refugee project. Despite some organizations seeking exemption, the Taliban reinforcement of bans against women working remains steadfast.
An official letter exchanged between departments of the Ministry for Refugees in Kandahar, the Taliban’s historical stronghold, highlighted the violation of orders by aid agencies involved in refugee-related work in Spin Boldak, a town near the Pakistani border. A spokesperson for the provincial governor confirmed the authenticity of the letter, which was seen by Reuters.
The letter stated, “All partner organizations collaborating with the Department of Refugees and Repatriation of Spin Boldak… should instruct their female colleagues not to report to work and remain at home until further notice.” The United Nations’ humanitarian coordination office acknowledged the instruction and expressed the need for clarification.
The letter emphasized the uncertain operating environment for aid agencies in Afghanistan. While these agencies intend to provide aid during the ongoing humanitarian crisis, they seek exemptions to enable female staff to work, reach female beneficiaries, and adhere to the principles outlined in the UN charter.
In January, the Taliban administration indicated its intention to develop written guidelines that could permit aid groups to employ female staff in specific cases. However, these guidelines have yet to be established.
The letter added, “As you all know, according to the decree of the supreme leader, female employees of organizations cannot report to work until further notice… Unfortunately, some partner organizations have flagrantly violated this decree by instructing their female employees to come to work.” The supreme spiritual leader referred to in the letter is Haibatullah Akhundzada, who is based in Kandahar.
In May, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an international NGO, announced that it had obtained exemptions for many of its operations in Kandahar and would resume work with female staff. However, a spokesperson for the NRC declined to comment on the recent letter.
The international community has widely criticized the Taliban’s restrictions on women aid workers and their limited access to education. Diplomats have emphasized that formal recognition of the Taliban’s government will be limited until these policies are reversed.