The United Nations said Wednesday that it will not comply with a Taliban decree banning Afghan women from working for the organization and called on them to revoke it.
"In the history of the United Nations, no other regime has ever tried to ban women from working for the organization just because they are women," said Roza Otunbayeva, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. "This decision represents an assault against women, the fundamental principles of the U.N., and on international law."
Taliban officials informed the United Nations verbally on Tuesday that an existing ban on women working for humanitarian organizations has been extended to include the U.N. The U.N. is continuing to engage with the Taliban to get the edict reversed. Otunbayeva met Wednesday with the Taliban's acting foreign minister.
The United Nations has nearly 4,000 staff members in Afghanistan, of which about 3,300 are Afghan nationals. Among them are about 400 Afghan women and 200 international female staffers.
There was no immediate public comment from the Taliban on the ban.
U.N. Deputy-Secretary General Amina Mohammed told reporters in a video briefing from London that the organization would continue to pay its female Afghan staff.
She added that until the Taliban further clarifies their decision, the organization has instructed all its Afghan staff — both female and male — not to report to the office. She said the U.N. would not replace its female staff with men.
Mohammed said she is outraged by the decision, which comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"It is not at this time when we are supposed to be closer to God that we strike against the women of Afghanistan," she said.
In January, the deputy secretary-general went to Afghanistan with a high-level U.N. delegation to speak with Taliban officials about a series of decrees that have eroded the rights of women and girls, particularly on going to school and university and working outside the home.
On December 24, 2022, the Taliban banned Afghan women from working with domestic and international aid groups but did not include the United Nations at that time. Some international nongovernmental organizations suspended their work after the decree.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said it is appalling that the Taliban is trying to erase women.
"They cannot be allowed to continue to restrict women from providing support to women," Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters.
The U.N. Security Council will discuss the development in a closed-door meeting on Thursday.
In a statement, the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said its female Afghan staffers are officials of the United Nations, whose privileges and immunities are protected in international law and they must be allowed to move and work freely.
"They cannot receive instructions on the performance of their duties from any authority external to the Organization, which exists to promote and encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to gender, race, language, or religion," the statement reads.
Afghanistan is one of the world's largest humanitarian emergencies. The United Nations says 28.3 million people, two-thirds of the population, need humanitarian assistance. Six million people are on the brink of famine. A $4.6 billion humanitarian appeal for this year is just over $200 million funded.
"The impact is bad," Ramiz Alakbarov, U.N. deputy special representative and humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, told reporters via video from Kabul. "Without our female staff, we cannot engage properly; we cannot deliver programs."
The de facto authorities have ignored calls to lift the curbs and dismissed criticism of their governance, saying it is in line with Afghan culture and Islamic law, or Shariah.
In an apparent bid to reinforce their defiance, the Taliban last week reissued a recent audio speech of their reclusive radical chief, Hibatullah Akhundzada, with English subtitles.
"Today, the world does not want Afghanistan and its government to rule by its own will. Neither will I let them establish their law, nor will they allow me to apply my law," Akhundzada told a gathering of Afghan religious scholars.
"Neither a compromise is possible, nor a compromise has been made. … Therefore, your responsibility is not just to successfully establish Shariah in Afghanistan; rather, it is incumbent upon the scholars of Afghanistan to lead the whole world on Shariah," he said.