The United Nations said Tuesday it is reviewing its presence in Afghanistan after the Taliban barred Afghan women from working for the world organization – a veiled suggestion the UN could move to suspend its mission and operations in the embattled country.
Last week, Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers took a step further in restrictive measures they have imposed on women and said that Afghan women employed with the UN mission could no longer report for work. They did not further comment on the ban, The Associated Press said.
The UN said it cannot accept the decision, calling it an unparalleled violation of women’s rights. It was the latest in sweeping restrictions imposed by the Taliban since they seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops were withdrawing from the country after 20 years of war.
The Taliban have banned girls from going to school beyond the sixth grade and women from most public life and work. In December, they banned Afghan women from working at local and nongovernmental groups — a measure that at the time did not extend to UN offices.
Tuesday’s statement by the UN said its head of mission in Afghanistan, Roza Otunbayeva, has “initiated an operational review period” that would last until May 5.
During this time, the UN will “conduct the necessary consultations, make required operational adjustments, and accelerate contingency planning for all possible outcomes,” the statement said.
It also accused the Taliban of trying to force the UN into making an “appalling choice” between helping Afghans and standing by the norms and principles it is duty-bound to uphold.
“It should be clear that any negative consequences of this crisis for the Afghan people will be the responsibility of the de facto authorities,” it warned.
Aid agencies have been providing food, education and health care support to Afghans in the wake of the Taliban taking over and the economic collapse that followed it. But distribution has been severely impacted by the Taliban edict banning women from working at NGOs — and, now, also at the UN.
The UN described the measure as an extension of the already unacceptable Taliban restrictions that deliberately discriminate against women and undermine the ability of Afghans to access lifesaving and sustaining assistance and services.