UN demands Taliban revoke Afghan women staff ban for violating code

Thursday April 06 2023
UN general assembly hall

UN General Assembly where its top officials on April 5, 2023 warned a Taliban government ban on Afghan women working for its mission in the country would violate the world body's charter and demanded it be revoked. PHOTO | ED JONES | AFP


Top United Nations officials on Wednesday warned that a Taliban government ban on Afghan women working for its mission in the country would violate the world body's charter and demanded it be revoked.

The UN also announced it had instructed all its Afghan staff, men and women not to report to the office after the ban was confirmed.

Under their austere interpretation of Islam, Taliban authorities have imposed a slew of restrictions on Afghan women since seizing power in 2021 including banning them from higher education and many government jobs.

Read: Taliban ban Afghan women from universities

Afghan women protesting

Afghan female university students crowd outside a university in Kabul guarded by Taliban security personnel after they were banned from getting university education. PHOTO | WAKIL KOHSAR | AFP

The increasing curbs are reminiscent of the Taliban's first government between 1996 and 2001, when the UN said they were responsible for repeated human rights violations particularly against girls and women.


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded the ban be immediately revoked.

"This is a violation of the inalienable fundamental human rights of women," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement on behalf of Guterres on Wednesday.

Violation of UN charter

The UN on Tuesday said the Taliban government had extended a ban on women working for non-governmental organisations to the world body's workforce of some 400 Afghan women.

UN humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said the UN charter is going to be violated because of the ban.

"It is absolutely clear that no authority can give instructions to the UN on who should be employed. We are not going to make an exception," Alakbarov said.

While it is unclear what the effect of a charter violation would be in the long term, the UN ordered all Afghan staff not to report to the office until further notice.

The UN Security Council planned to discuss the issue at a closed-door meeting Thursday morning. 

UN mission head in Afghanistan Roza Otunbayeva said in a separate statement that in UN’s history, no other regime has ever tried to ban women from working for the organisation just because they are women.

Read: Women march to defend their rights

"This decision represents an assault against women, the fundamental principles of the UN and on international law”, Otunbayeva said.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said the organisation's Afghan women staff would continue to be paid.

Blinken ‘disturbed’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was "disturbed" by the "reprehensible" order.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. PHOTO | EVELYN HOCKSTEIN | POOL VIA AFP

"This will threaten vulnerable Afghans who depend on humanitarian assistance. We urge the Taliban to put Afghans first and reverse this decision," he tweeted on Thursday.

The world body's 400 women Afghan employees are the bulk of its 600 women staff working in Afghanistan. In total, there are about 3,300 Afghans in the 3,900-strong UN workforce there.

The UN airlifted $1.8 billion into Afghanistan between December 2021 and January 2023, funding an aid lifeline for the nation's 38 million citizens and shoring up the domestic economy.

NGOs suspended operations

The Taliban authorities ordered all NGOs in December to stop employing Afghan women after receiving serious complaints that women employees were not observing a proper Islamic dress code.

"These justifications have no basis considering what we know about Islam," said Alakbarov.

“Several conservative countries in the region still allow women to study and work,” he added.

Read: Afghan girls' educator arrested in Kabul

Many NGOs suspended all operations in the country in protest after the ban was announced; piling further misery on Afghanistan's citizens and half of whom face hunger, according to aid agencies.

It was agreed after days of discussion that women working in the health aid sector would be exempt from the decree, although the UN enjoyed a general exemption.

Aid workers say women employees are crucial in delivering help to women in a deeply conservative and patriarchal country such as Afghanistan.

“The restriction will also hamper donation-raising efforts by the UN at a time when Afghanistan is enduring one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world,” Alakbarov said.

Taliban Fateh fighters

Taliban authorities on a street in Kabul Afghanistan. PHOTO | AFP

In other restrictions placed on Afghan women since 2021, authorities have barred teenage girls from secondary school while women have been pushed out of many government jobs prevented from travelling without a male relative and ordered to cover up outside the home, ideally with a burqa.

Women have also been banned from universities and are not allowed to enter parks or gardens.