Kabul: The UN’s lead humanitarian coordinator has said UN-supplied aid cannot continue if the interim government does not lift their ban on women working for humanitarian aid agencies in Afghanistan.
Martin Griffiths, the head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is due to visit Kabul shortly to discuss the impasse.
Although he said he did not want to pre-empt talks and was willing to examine workarounds on the ban, his remarks suggest a standoff is developing between the UN and Afghan officials that could lead to billions in aid being cut off in the long term.
As many as 150 NGOs and aid agencies have suspended all or parts of their work due to the ban. The UN as an organisation is not yet subject to the same ban on women working, but much of its aid programme is delivered by NGOs.
Griffiths said UN flights carrying cash for humanitarian aid into Kabul had already been suspended. The aid is supplied in cash due to US sanctions.
Griffiths told the BBC: “Without women working, we can’t deliver for the people who are in fact the primary objects of humanitarian assistance for women and girls. So it’s a practical matter. It’s beyond rights. It’s also practical”.
He added: “We’re there for 28 million people in Afghanistan. It’s the largest humanitarian aid programme in the world and so it’s a body blow against our capacity to deliver.”
The ban was imposed on women working in NGOs three weeks ago after the Taliban said there was evidence the hijab was not being strictly enforced.
The UN Security Council is expected to discuss the NGO crisis at a closed-door meeting sought by Japan and the United Arab Emirates on 13 January before Griffiths’ departure to Afghanistan.