Major Aid Groups Suspend Operations in Afghanistan After Taliban Bans Women From Working For NGOs

( – The Taliban’s latest anti-women directive – a ban on women working for non-governmental organizations – has prompted several international humanitarian groups to suspend their activities in Afghanistan altogether.

The fundamentalist Islamic group that seized power by force in August 2021 announced on Christmas Eve that NGOs could no longer employ women because of improper compliance with its strict dress regulations.

The news came just days after the Taliban’s higher education minister announced a suspension of university education for female students, a move also attributed to modesty concerns, as well as the group’s notions of the subservient role of women according to its interpretation of Islam.

Saturday’s directive, which applies to foreign and international NGOs and is effective immediately, came from the Economy Ministry, which warned that organizations not complying would have their operating licenses canceled.

The ministry said it had received complaints that female NGO staff were not wearing the hijab correctly.


According to the United Nations, more than 28 million Afghans depend for their survival on humanitarian aid provided by the U.N. and its partners in national and international NGOs.

The International Rescue Committee, which has worked in Afghanistan since 1988, said that more than 3,000 of its 8,000 employees are women, and its ability to deliver services “relies on female staff at all levels of our organization.”

“If we are not allowed to employ women, we are not able to deliver to those in need. Therefore, the IRC is currently suspending our services in Afghanistan.”

The organization appealed to the Taliban to consider the humanitarian implication of its decision, saying that more than 97 percent of the population is “at risk of poverty.”

In a joint statement, the heads of Save the Children, CARE International, and the Norwegian Refugee Council said they too were suspending their programs while they seek “clarity on this announcement.”

“We cannot effectively reach children, women and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without our female staff,” they said. “Without women driving our response, we would not have jointly reached millions of Afghans in need since August 2021.”

“Beyond the impact on delivery of lifesaving assistance, this will affect thousands of jobs in the midst of an enormous economic crisis.”

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the Taliban’s order “would violate the most fundamental rights of women, as well as be a clear breach of humanitarian principles.”

It advised the Taliban that disempowering women and “excluding them systematically from all aspects of public and political life takes the country backward, jeopardizing efforts for any meaningful peace or stability in the country.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “deeply disturbed” by the decision, which would “undermine the work of numerous organizations working across the country helping those most vulnerable, especially women and girls.”

Since taking power in mid-2021, the Taliban has steadily chipped away at the rights and freedoms girls and women acquired over the two decades since U.S.-led forces in 2001 ended its earlier period in power.

Among the actions taken, it banned girls from attending school beyond grade six, banned women from attending university, banned women from visiting parks and gyms, and banned women from traveling unaccompanied by a male “guardian.”

As it has taken those steps, State Department officials have spoken repeatedly of the “leverage” that the U.S. and international community possess to prod the Taliban to change course, stressing that the group wants to have good relations with the United States.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman tweeted on Christmas Day that the latest Taliban decision “will have significant implications for the Taliban’s relations with the world.”

However, the Taliban spokesman’s curt response to the words of a senior U.S. diplomat suggest the group is not overly concerned with how it is perceived.

U.S. Charge D’Affaires to Afghanistan, Karen Decker, tweeting in several Afghan languages, said, “As a representative of the largest humanitarian aid donor to Afghanistan, I feel I have the right to an explanation about how the Taliban intends to prevent the starvation of women and children, when women are no longer allowed to feed others.”

Responding in English, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted, “American officials should stop interfering in our internal matters. All those institutions wanting to operate in Afghanistan are obliged to comply with the rules and regulations of our country.”

“We do not allow anyone to talk rubbish or make threats regarding the decisions of our leaders under the title of humanitarian aid,” he said.

See also:

Taliban: ‘A Woman is a Man’s Property and Must Serve Him, Not Get Educated’ (Dec. 23, 2022)

State Dep’t.: Taliban’s Ban on Female University Students Undermines Its Aim to Improve Ties With US (Dec. 21, 2022)

US, Partners Will Use ‘Leverage’ in Response to Taliban’s Strict Dress Code Decree (May 10, 2022)


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