More NGOs halt Afghan work after Taliban ban on women staff

KABUL (AFP): Christian Aid and ActionAid on Monday became the latest foreign aid groups to suspend operations in Afghanistan after the country’s Taliban rulers ordered all NGOs to stop women staff from working.

Announcements by the two groups take to six the number of bodies who have paused their operations in the country.

Christian Aid was “rapidly seeking clarity… and urging the authorities to reverse the ban”, head of global programmes Ray Hasan said in a statement.

“Whilst we do this, we are unfortunately pausing the work of our programmes,” he added.

ActionAid said that if women were banned from working with the group it would “prevent us from reaching out to half of the population that are already reeling from hunger”.

“ActionAid has made the difficult decision to temporarily halt most of its programmes in Afghanistan until a clearer picture emerges,” it said in a statement.

On Sunday Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE all announced they were putting their operations on hold.

The International Rescue Committee, which provides emergency response in health, education and other areas and employs 3,000 women across Afghanistan, also said it was suspending services.

“Millions of people in Afghanistan are on the verge of starvation,” Christian Aid’s Hasan said on Monday.

“Reports that families are so desperate they have been forced to sell their children to buy food are utterly heartbreaking,” he said, adding that a ban on women aid workers would “only curtail our ability to help the growing number of people in need”.

The ban is the latest blow against women’s rights in Afghanistan since the Taliban reclaimed power last year.

Less than a week ago, the hardline Islamists also barred women from attending universities, prompting global outrage and protests in some Afghan cities.