Five leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have suspended their work in Afghanistan after women were banned from working for them by the Taliban.
Care International, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Save the Children said they would not be able to continue their work “without our female staff”.
The International Rescue Committee also suspended its services while Islamic Relief said it was halting most of its work.
The ruling Taliban in Afghanistan has consistently suppressed women’s rights.
The latest decree on NGOs came just days after the Taliban banned women from going to university. Abdel Rahman Habib, spokesman for the Taliban economy ministry, accused female workers in foreign aid groups of breaking dress codes by not wearing a hijab.
The Taliban have threatened to revoke the license of any organization that does not promptly comply with the ban.
A number of aid groups have since spoken out, demanding that the women be allowed to continue working for them.
Leaders from Care, NRC and Save the Children said in a joint statement that the organizations “would not have jointly reached millions of Afghans in need since August 2021” without their female staff.
“While we obtain clarification on this announcement, we are suspending our programs, demanding that men and women can also continue our lifesaving assistance in Afghanistan,” their statement added.
Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) – which employs 3,000 women across Afghanistan – said its ability to provide services relied on “female staff at all levels of our organization” and that while women could not be employed, they could not provide for “those in need”.
Islamic Relief said it had made the “difficult decision to temporarily suspend non-life-saving activities in Afghanistan”, including “projects that help poor families earn a living as well as education and some healthcare projects”. Life-saving health care, he added, would continue.
“Islamic Relief calls on the Afghan authorities to immediately lift the ban on female NGO workers,” the organization said.
“The ban will have a devastating humanitarian impact on millions of vulnerable men, women and children across the country. We are appalled that this decision comes just days after increased restrictions on Afghan girls’ access to education.
Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN’s chief humanitarian coordinator, said the UN was trying to get the ban overturned and it was a “red line for the whole humanitarian community”.
The United Nations could stop the delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan if the Taliban authorities do not reverse their decree banning female aid workers, the official told the BBC.
But Mr Alakbarov said it was still unclear what the Taliban meant by his edict.
He said the Taliban’s health minister had told the UN that the agency should continue its health-related work and that women could “report to work and perform their services”.
Other ministries have also contacted the UN directly to say that work in the areas of disaster and emergency management should continue, he added.
Jan Egeland of the NRC said nearly 500 of the aid group’s 1,400 workers were women, and that female staff had been operating “according to all traditional values, dress code, movement, [and] separation of offices”.
He said he hoped the decision would be “reversed in the next few days” and warned that millions would suffer if NGOs’ work was obstructed.
NGOs also expressed concern about the effect the ban would have on jobs “in the midst of an enormous economic crisis”.
Female Afghan NGO workers acting as the main earners in their household previously told the BBC of their fear and helplessness following the ban.
One asked: “If I cannot go to my job, who can support my family?” Another breadwinner called the news “shocking” and insisted she had complied with the Taliban’s strict dress code.