EDITORIAL: Obsessed with the idea of controlling women the Afghan Taliban have been putting all sort of restrictions on them. Soon after takeover in August last year women were ordered to wear all- enveloping burqa, and barred from travelling long distances on buses without a male chaperon. Last March, all public sector girls secondary schools were slammed shut. A few days ago, the education ministry ordered public and private universities to bar female students from attending classes.
The move was denounced by the international community, including several Muslim countries. Yet in the latest anti-women decision the Taliban rulers have banned women from working with international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the pretext of not observing the Islamic dress code ‘correctly’. Five major NGOs – CARE International, Save the Children, International Rescue Committee and the Norwegian Refugee Council – have reacted to the stricture by suspending their operations in Afghanistan. A press report points out that although the order does not apply directly to the UN, many of its programmes are carried out by NGOs.
They have been providing emergency nutritional relief as well long-term services for healthcare, education, and child protection to the Afghan people at a time they are struggling for survival amidst fast deteriorating economic conditions. Even before the Taliban’s return to power, Afghanistan was dependent on foreign aid. Now the economy is in a tailspin because of sanctions and curbs on access to Afghan foreign currency reserves sitting with the Federal Reserve Bank in New York and other sources of aid. Those keeping an eye on the situation reckon that at least half of the population needs humanitarian assistance to feed their families and afford basic necessities of life.
Having lost their male breadwinners to nearly four decades of foreign powers imposed wars and internecine conflicts women have to work not just for self-empowerment but also to fend for their families. With the Taliban having closed all doors on female employment, NGOs offer them the only hope of finding jobs even if on a limited scale. The international Rescue Committee, for instance, employs over 8,000 people, nearly 3,000 of whom are women. Other organisations recruit women in large numbers. According to them, they cannot effectively reach children, women as well as men in desperate need without the women in their workforce.
In his order to NGOs not to let female staff work for them the Taliban economy minister Mohammad Hanif had added: “until further notice”. This suggests the Kabul government may change its decision if effectively persuaded by friendly countries and the UN, though it cannot be trusted much considering that it had reneged on its initial promise to open all educational institutions to girls and women after making arrangements for their security. However, since its latest move affects not only women but millions of all Afghans, it can be hoped the UN’s efforts to have the latest barrier on women work removed will succeed.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022