UN official: Aid groups press Taliban on ban on women’s jobs

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Heads of major aid groups are pressing the Taliban to reverse their decision to ban Afghan women from working for national and international nongovernmental groups, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Wednesday.

The Taliban move last month to bar women from NGO work prompted major international aid agencies to suspend operations in Afghanistan, though some have since resumed their work in parts of the country. It also raised fears that millions will be deprived of critical services — some 28 million Afghans, or over half of the country’s population, need urgent humanitarian assistance.

The U.N. humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, and the heads of Care International, Save the Children U.S. and UNICEF programs are in Afghanistan this week, following a visit by a senior U.N. delegation last week that sought to persuade the Taliban to end their crackdown on women and girls, including its ban on Afghan women working for national and global humanitarian organizations.

Speaking from Kabul, Griffiths said the focus of the visit was to get the Taliban to understand that getting aid operations up and running and allowing women to work in them was critical. The delegation’s message was simple, he said, that the ban makes their work more difficult.

“What I heard from all those I met, that they understood the need as well as the right for Afghan women to work, and that they will be working on a set of guidelines which we will see issued in due course, which will respond to those requirements,” Griffiths said.

Griffiths and the delegation did not travel to Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement and where the ban was issued on the orders of the reclusive Taliban supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzdaza.

Griffiths acknowledged Akhundzada’s top status but said there are many important voices among Taliban officials from across the country.

“I don’t think it’s a simple matter of simply asking one man to take responsibility and to change an edict,” he said. “There is a collective responsibility for this edict, and I hope we’re building up a collective will to compensate for its ban.”

Save the Children’s Janti Soeripto, who is part of the visiting delegation, said there were meetings with eight ministries in two days and that some among the Taliban understood the need to reverse the ban better than others.

“There’s resistance, they don’t want to be seen doing a U-turn,” she said. “If people don’t see the consequences as viscerally as we see them, people will feel less inclined.”

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