EU warns Taliban on assistance after group bans female aid workers

Millions of Afghans will suffer if agencies are unable to continue working

Afghan women protest against the ban on university education, in Kabul. AFP
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A Taliban ruling banning women from working for aid agencies has drawn widespread condemnation, with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell saying the bloc would be forced to “consider consequences”.

On Sunday, aid agencies including Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE International said that without female staff they would be forced to suspend operations.

On Monday, the UK charity Christian Aid became the fifth foreign aid group to suspend operations, after the International Rescue Committee, which employs 3,000 women across Afghanistan, said could no longer function under the ban.

The acting head of the UN mission in Afghanistan also met with the Taliban government on Monday to call for a reversal of the ban, the UN said, without providing further detail about the meeting.

Millions of Afghans are dependent on foreign aid after the country slid into a deep economic crisis following the withdrawal of a US-led coalition in August last year.

As the Taliban regained power, routing the Afghan army and marching into Kabul, foreign financial assistance to the country, which was effectively propping up the economy, was withdrawn.

The World Bank estimated that foreign aid comprised around 43 per cent of Afghanistan’s GDP before the Taliban victory.

The EU, IMF and World Bank were quick to join the US in freezing aid transfers.

Some of this assistance has since been restored but the Taliban’s decree has created a crisis for continuing assistance.

“Together with other providers of assistance to the people of Afghanistan, the EU will have to consider what consequences this decision, and the recent decision by the Taliban to close universities for women, will have on their engagement with our countries and organisations,” Mr Borrell said.

Kabul said the move, which was condemned globally, was justified because some women had not adhered to the Taliban theocracy’s strict dress code for women.

Mr Borrell said he was appalled by the latest decision, which follows last week's ban on women attending university, and a violent crackdown against peaceful protests by women against that move.

He urged the Taliban to lift their decision immediately as part of their obligation to respect international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles.

The move drew condemnation from across the world, including the US. The ban will “disrupt vital and life-saving assistance to millions”, US Secretary Antony Blinken said in a tweet. “This decision could be devastating for the Afghan people,” he said.

The US should stop interfering in Afghanistan matters, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter. The militant group will not allow “anyone to talk rubbish or make threats regarding the decisions of our leaders under the title of humanitarian aid”, he added.

Millions of Afghans relied on NGOs for health and nutrition services, education, child protection and other life-saving services at a time when the country is reeling from severe poverty. The UN warned that 97 per cent of the country’s population is at risk of poverty.

Appearing to break with a long record of working closely with the Taliban, Qatar on Sunday expressed “extreme concern” over the order by Afghanistan's Taliban-run administration. The foreign ministry “stresses the need to respect women's right to work, given that the freedom to choose and accept work is a human right”.

Qatar hosted a representative office for the Taliban during the US-led war in Afghanistan and served as a venue for peace talks before the group took power in 2021.

Updated: December 26, 2022, 3:19 PM