UN keeps female staff indoors as the Taliban refuses to lift working ban

The United Nations has announced that it will continue to keep its staff in Afghanistan working from home, after the Taliban banned women from working for the organisation early in April.

The UN has some 3,300 Afghan staff, including 400 women, while about 600 international staff in the country are not affected by the ban. The UN had previously said it would review its operations and keep Afghan staff home until May 5.

The Deputy UN spokesperson, Farhan Haq, said on Friday that there had been no change to “our posture on the ground” and that the UN is “working to come to decisions on appropriate working modalities.”

“Obviously, we have a challenge because the needs of the Afghan people are immense, and we intend to fulfill those needs, but at the same time, our operations are clearly impeded.” Haq added.

In December 2022, the Taliban banned women from working for international NGOs, with the exception of the UN and some charities in the health sector. This came after the organizations lobbied and pleaded extensively.

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Samantha Power, the head of USAID, warned on Thursday that the people of Afghanistan were in for a “very difficult year” as the Taliban’s human rights abuses have made some donors reluctant to contribute to aid appeals.

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan and the chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, both mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, visited Afghanistan between April 27 and May 4.

“We are deeply concerned about the apparent perpetration in Afghanistan of gender persecution – a systematic and grave human rights violation and a crime against humanity,” they said in a joint statement on Friday.

Since retaking power in August 2021, the Taliban has put severe restrictions on women and girls, which includes bans from secondary and higher education, work in most sectors, and prohibitions from traveling or accessing public spaces.

And despite international condemnations as well as protests by women inside Afghanistan, the Taliban has refused to lift restrictions on women.