ISLAMABAD (AP) — Female Afghan employees of the United Nation have been banned by the ruling Taliban from working in the country, U.N. officials said Tuesday.
The U.N. mission expressed “serious concern” after its female staffers were prevented from reporting to work in eastern Nangarhar province.
“We will continue to pursue all avenues to ensure that we can reach the most vulnerable people, especially women and girls,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
He said U.N. officials were told through “various conduits” that the ban applied to the whole country.
Taliban spokesmen were not immediately available for comment, and the group did not issue a statement.
Despite initial promises of a more moderate rule than during its previous stint in power, the Taliban have imposed harsh measures since seizing power in 2021 as U.S. and NATO forces were pulling out of Afghanistan after two decades of war.
Girls are banned from education beyond sixth grade. Women are barred from working, studying, traveling without a male companion, and even going to parks. Women must also cover themselves from head to toe.
Afghan women were also barred from working at national and international non-governmental organizations, disrupting the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Women working for the U.N. were not included in the NGO ban, but the U.N. raised fears that women working for the U.N. could be targeted.
Dujarric told reporters Tuesday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that “any such ban would be unacceptable and frankly, inconceivable.”
“We’re still looking into how this development would affect our operations in the country, and we are expected to have more meetings with the de facto authorities tomorrow in Kabul in which we’re trying to seek some clarity.”
Dujarric said female staff members are essential to executing life-saving U.N. operations on the ground, saying that out of a population of about 40 million people, “we’re trying to reach 23 million men, women and children with humanitarian aid.”
The U.N. has about 3,900 staff in Afghanistan, approximately 3,300 Afghans and 600 international personnel, he said, including 600 Afghan women and 200 women from other countries.
Dujarric wouldn’t speculate when asked if the U.N. can continue to operate in Afghanistan if the Taliban don’t reverse the ban on Afghan women.
The U.N. contingency plan “is almost too tragic to contemplate,” he added later.
The U.N. political mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, is headed by a woman, Roza Otunbayeva, a former president and foreign minister of the Kyrgyz Republic. She was appointed by the secretary-general in coordination with the U.N. Security Council. Dujarric said there’s been no Taliban action regarding the U.N.’s senior leadership.
Taliban restrictions in Afghanistan, especially the bans on education and NGO work, have drawn fierce international condemnation. But the Taliban have shown no signs of backing down, claiming the bans are temporary suspensions in place allegedly because women were not wearing the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, correctly and because gender segregation rules were not being followed.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.