Female UN staff have been banned from working in the country by the ruling Taliban, UN officials said Tuesday.
The UN mission has expressed “serious concern” after its female staff were prevented from reporting for work in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province.
“We will continue to pursue all avenues to reach the most vulnerable people, especially women and girls,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
He said UN officials had been told “through various channels” that the ban applied to the entire country.
Taliban spokesmen were not immediately available for comment, and the group did not issue a statement.
The UN feared that staff could be targeted
Despite initial promises of more moderate rule than during its previous rule, the Taliban have used harsh measures since seizing power in 2021, as US and NATO forces were pulling out of Afghanistan after two decades of war.
Girls are not allowed to get an education beyond the sixth grade. Women are prohibited from working, studying, traveling without a male companion and even going to parks. Women must also cover themselves from head to toe when they step out of their homes.
Afghan women have also been barred from working for national and international non-governmental organizations, undermining the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Women working at the UN were not included in the NGO ban, but the UN raised concerns that women working at the UN could be targeted.
WATCH |: Afghan women took to the streets after the university ban.
Dujarric told reporters Tuesday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had said “any such ban would be unacceptable and frankly, unthinkable.”
“We are still looking at how this development will affect our operations in the country and are expected to have more meetings tomorrow in Kabul with the de facto authorities where we are trying to seek some clarity.”
Dujarric said female staff were essential to the UN’s rescue efforts on the ground, saying that out of a population of about 40 million, “we are trying to get humanitarian aid to 23 million men, women and children.”
The United Nations has about 3,900 staff in Afghanistan, roughly 3,300 Afghan and 600 international staff, she said, including 600 Afghan women and 200 women from other countries. Dujarric did not speculate when asked whether the United Nations could continue operating in Afghanistan if the Taliban lifted the ban on Afghan women.
The UN emergency plan is “almost too tragic to contemplate,” he later added.
The political mission of the United Nations in Afghanistan, UNAMA, is headed by a woman, Roza Otunbayeva, the former president and minister of foreign affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic. He is appointed by the Secretary-General in consultation with the UN Security Council. Dujarric said there had been no Taliban activity involving senior UN leadership.
The Taliban’s restrictions in Afghanistan, especially bans on education and the work of non-governmental organizations, have drawn fierce international condemnation. But the Taliban have shown no signs of backing down, insisting the bans are temporary suspensions, allegedly because women did not wear the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, correctly, and because gender segregation rules were not followed.