Afghanistan: International community must urge Taliban to lift ban on women’s access to employment

CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, is appalled by the decision of the Taliban to ban women from employment in local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The move is discriminatory and regressive and will have a detrimental impact on women’s rights and the crucial work of civil society in the country. The international community must condemn this and urge the Taliban to lift the ban immediately.

On 24 December, the acting Minister of Economy issued a letter barring woman from working in international and national NGOs, citing the non-observation of Islamic dress rules and other laws and regulations of the Islamic Emirate as reasons of the decision. Non-compliance will result in revoking the licenses of said NGOs, the ministry said. Following the decision, some major humanitarian organisations have suspended or reduced their operations because their services depend on their female workers

UN human rights experts have highlighted how the ban will prevent delivery of life-saving aid and will have a dire impact on local NGOs, particularly women-led NGOs, which have provided services and support for women, children and marginalised groups. The ban will further push women out of jobs and completely erase them from the public sphere. Three days after the ban was announced, the U.N. Security Council called for the full, equal and meaningful participation of women and girls in Afghanistan, denouncing the ban.

“The Taliban must immediately retract this discriminatory ban on women that will not only deprive women of their income but also have a devasting impact on the critical work of both local and international NGOs in the country. This decision highlights the ongoing disregard by the Taliban of its pledges to protect women’s rights and failure of the international community to hold the Taliban accountable for its abuses and discriminatory policies”, said Cornelius Hanung, Asia Advocacy and Campaigns Officer of CIVICUS.

The ban was added to the longlist of discriminatory treatment and regression against women and girls by the Taliban. On 20 December 2022, the Taliban imposed a ban on women and girls, in which prevents them from accessing higher education. This is another move that is contrary to the Taliban’s commitment to allow women to continue their education when it seized power in August 2021. Last year, several women's rights programmes conducted by various organisations were halted by the Taliban. Further, women protesters and activists have faced intimidation and threats including raids, arbitrary arrests, and abduction by the Taliban with impunity. In a recent protest in Herat responding to the ban on education, the Taliban used excessive force including water cannons to disperse the protesters. This shows how patriarchal and misogynistic the ruling of Taliban can be.

“The Taliban must halt its ongoing crackdown on women’s rights and instead take steps to restore and protect the rights of women and girls including their rights to assemble peacefully, and to access education and employment. The international community must step up its efforts to address the deteriorating situation for women and girls. Without stronger measures, women and girls in Afghanistan will be in further risk,” said Cornelius Hanung of CIVICUS.

The state of civic space in Afghanistan is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.