Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Economy, Development, Environment

Bans on Women Working, Then and Now: The dilemmas of delivering humanitarian aid during the first and second Islamic Emirates

Kate Clark 2 min

Anyone who lived in Afghanistan during the first Islamic Emirate will find the current stand-off between the Taleban and NGOs – and now the United Nations – over the issue of women working familiar. There is the same clashing of principles: the Emirate’s position that women must largely be kept inside the home to avoid the risk of social disorder and sin, and the humanitarians’ that the equitable and effective delivery of aid is impossible without female workers. The choices on the humanitarian side also feel familiar, and all unattractive: comply, boycott or fudge. AAN’s Kate Clark has spoken to people who were working in the humanitarian sector in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and who continue to follow Afghanistan, to get their insights into the similarities and differences – and what, possibly, might help.

A woman carries her child and a sack of rice distributed by the Afghan Ministry of Refugees in cooperation with China, in Kabul. Photo: Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP, 8 June 2022.

Three months after the Islamic Emirate ordered NGOs to stop employing Afghan women until further notice, it has extended the ban, to cover women working for the United Nations. The Taleban’s extension of the ban to include women working for the UN is a major escalation. While the Secretary-General had claimed, via his spokesperson on 4 April, that banning women from working for the UN was “frankly, inconceivable,” it had been widely feared ever since the Emirate announced, on 24 December 2022, that women could no longer work for NGOs, citing serious complaints regarding non-compliance with the Islamic hijab and other applicable laws and regulations.”

Written before the recent extension of the ban, this report focuses on how the Taleban and NGOs could or should deal with each other, but what is at stake applies just as much to UN agencies. It first outlines the NGO sector, including who makes decisions and NGOs’ initial response to the ban. It then hears from eight people who were working in Afghanistan in the 1990s and now, in the hope that their experiences will help further our understanding of what the ban might mean not only for women in Afghanistan but also for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghans in need.

Edited by Martine van Bijlert

You can preview the report online and download it by clicking the link below.


Aid Human Rights NGO Taleban Taliban UNAMA United Nations women