Photo: UNOCHA/Christophe Verhellen

UN Says Taliban’s Ban on Women Aid Workers Hampers Humanitarian Operations

WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES – Edem Wosornu, the Director of the Operations and Advocacy Division at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), says that the Taliban’s ban on women aid workers has intensified the complexity of humanitarian operations in Afghanistan.

Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York on Thursday, May 23, following her recent visit to Afghanistan, the UN official noted that Afghan female aid workers face numerous challenges and assume personal risks daily while commuting to and from work.

She mentioned that during her four-day visit, she engaged in discussions with Taliban authorities, including the regime’s foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, concerning the education and employment of women and girls.

“It was a constant part of my messaging: Afghan women need to work, and it is essential,” she said.

Regarding women’s education, she said that the Taliban reiterated the need for time, to which she responded, “we don’t have time because the numbers speak for themselves.”

“I was also very clear that the more we wait, the more millions of children will be affected and the more it will impact the society,” she said. 

“So, there is hope to continue pushing. And the message, as I said before, at all levels was that you need to lift these restrictions because we need to do our job in the education sector and the health sector,” she added.

Since their takeover of Afghanistan nearly three years ago, the Taliban have imposed a series of restrictions on the most basic rights and freedoms of women and girls, including blocking access to secondary and most tertiary education, restricting employment opportunities, and limiting freedom of movement outside the home.

UN experts, legal scholars, and activists all say that the Taliban’s oppression of women and girls amounts to a system of apartheid, designed to deliberately subjugate them based solely on their gender.

Concerning the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the UN official described it as fragile, highlighting that a total of 23 million people, primarily women and children, depend on humanitarian assistance, which is five times more than in 2019.

Ms. Wosornu highlighted that only 16% of the over $3 billion appeal for the country has been funded so far, underscoring the importance of the international community’s continued engagement in Afghanistan.

“This is not a hopeless crisis,” she said. “At least I was encouraged to see that the people of Afghanistan continue to fight and push for what they believe in. The world cannot abandon the people of Afghanistan at this point,” she emphasized.

Afghanistan was already struggling with an economic and humanitarian crisis, but recent natural disasters such as earthquakes, heavy rains resulting in flooding, and landslides have exacerbated the country’s existing challenges.

The recent devastating floods in northern Afghanistan have inflicted widespread devastation. These floods, triggered by unusually heavy seasonal rains, have claimed the lives of over 300 people and ravaged over 1,000 homes, compounding the financial woes of an already struggling population.

The UN official said that the Afghan people are seeking three things from the international community: continued humanitarian assistance, sustainable solutions, including livelihood and agricultural support, and, finally, to be heard.