Months after banning Afghan women from work for the United Nations and other aid agencies, Taliban authorities have told aid workers that new guidelines allowing women to return to humanitarian work are almost complete.
“Taliban leaders in Kandahar said ‘guidelines’ that will allow women back to work & resume girls' education are ‘nearly completed,’” Jon Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), tweeted on Wednesday after meeting Taliban officials in their stronghold in southern Afghanistan.
The Taliban have not said when the new rules will go into effect. It is also unclear whether the new guidelines will permit women to return to jobs in public service.
A Taliban official who met Egeland said aid agencies should expand their operations because “corruption and insecurity have been completely terminated” in Afghanistan.
Immediately after seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban fired almost all female government employees except in the health and education sectors. No woman serves in the Taliban’s interim cabinet.
The Islamist leadership has also closed secondary schools for girls for nearly two years, though it has said the ban is temporary and will be lifted after new guidelines are completed.
Until the new guidelines are announced, some female aid workers could return to work under an interim solution.
“We have initial agreement of looking for interim solutions so that our brave professional female colleagues can come back to work,” Egeland said in a video adding that the NRC would not work with male-only staff.
Since the ban on women’s work, the NRC has downgraded its activities in Afghanistan by 40%, Egeland said.
Huge funding gaps
In addition to sparking widespread international condemnation, the ban on women’s work has also adversely affected humanitarian operations in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, the U.N. warned about “huge funding gaps” disrupting critical aid work in the country.
To assist over 28 million vulnerable Afghans, some of whom face starvation, the U.N. has asked donors for $4.6 billion this year. As of May 24, less than 8% of the appeal ($353 million) has been fulfilled.
The United States has contributed about $35 million to the appeal this year, second only to Japan’s $61 million contribution. Last year, the United States was the largest donor to the Afghanistan appeal and gave over $1.2 billion.
Earlier this year, Thomas West, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan, warned that aid to Afghanistan would be reduced for various reasons.
In response to global criticism of their misogynistic policies, Taliban officials insist their denial of women’s basic rights is an internal Afghanistan matter and that it should not be “politicized” to cut off aid to the country.