The Taliban’s ban on women humanitarian workers poses a major dilemma for the US

WASHINGTON – A worker at the Abaad aid group, which is based in Kabul and helps victims of abuse of Afghan women, receives frightened and often tearful calls not only from her clients, but also from her colleagues.

A Order of December 24 by the Taliban, which bans aid groups from hiring women, paralyzes supplies that help keep millions of Afghans alive, and threatens humanitarian services across the country. Another result of the ban is that thousands of women working in such organizations across the war-torn country face the loss of much-needed income to support their families.

Prohibition of staging one of the biggest political challenges facing the US in Afghanistan and other countries from Withdrawal of US troops in August 2021 opened the door to a Taliban takeover. These countries face the challenge of crafting an international response that does not worsen the situation of the millions of Afghans who depend on aid and does not succumb to the Taliban’s crackdown on women.

According to United Nations estimates, 85% of non-governmental aid organizations in Afghanistan partially or completely stop work due to the ban, which is the latest move by the Taliban to push women out of public life.

Abaad was among those who suspended their work. Its employees provided support and counseling to women who had survived rape, beatings, forced marriages or other domestic violence.

Female clients told an Abaad employee that without the group’s help, they were afraid they would end up on the streets of Kabul. For the worker herself, and for thousands like her across Afghanistan, they depend on their wages to survive in a shattered economy where aid officials say 97% of the population is now in poverty or at risk of poverty.

One colleague told her she was thinking about suicide.

The aid worker and others interviewed expressed hope that the US, the United Nations and others would support them and persuade the Taliban to ease the ban.

“That’s all we ask. They have to find a solution, find a way to support the people here in Afghanistan,” she said. She spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for her safety.

Several of the world’s leading aid organizations, which have suspended operations, are calling on UN agencies to do the same. They are asking the Biden administration to use its influence to ensure the firmness of the international community.

The US is the largest humanitarian donor to Afghanistan. He also has an ongoing interest in countering security threats from extremist groups in Afghanistan, one of the tasks for which he hopes to maintain some limited relations with the Taliban.

A U.S. official involved in the discussions predicted a final international response that would fall between suspending all aid operations, which the official said would be inhumane and ineffective, and the other extreme, total tacit agreement to ban the Taliban.

One proposal being considered by the administration is to end all but rescue aid to Afghans, according to another US official and non-government officials familiar with the discussions.

The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the ongoing discussions and all spoke on condition of anonymity.

However, aid groups and analysts note the difficulty of narrowing down what constitutes life-saving care. Food aid, of course. But what about other forms of support, such as maternity care, which has helped to more than halve Afghanistan’s maternal mortality rate since the 1990s?

Major non-governmental aid organizations say that it will do without female workers they cannot effectively reach women and children, who make up 75% of those in need. That’s because Afghanistan’s conservative customs and Taliban rules forbid contact between unrelated men and women.

“Our suspensions are an operational necessity,” said Anastasia Moran, senior humanitarian policy officer at the International Rescue Committee. “This is not a punishment. This is not a denial of service attempt. This is not a negotiation tactic.”

The crackdown on the Taliban recreates conditions from when they first came to power in the mid-1990s, when successive decrees drove women out of schools, out of work, out of aid services and increasingly out of their homes. Taliban leaders then ordered households to paint their windows black to none of the passers-by could see the women inside. This left women and children in female-headed households with little means of accessing money or assistance to stay alive.

The US invasion that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks ended the first era of Taliban rule. The Biden administration and aid groups have cited a determination to avoid a repeat of the fractured, adversarial and often ill-timed international response to Taliban abuses in the 1990s, including a crackdown on women.

Members of the UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Friday to consider the international response after 11 of the 15 member states reiterated the council’s demand for “unhindered access for humanitarian actors regardless of gender”.

The humanitarian crisis caused by the Taliban ban comes at a politically sensitive time for Biden, now that Republicans are in charge of the House of Representatives and are promising to investigate the chaotic withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Representative Michael McCaul, a foreign policy veteran who recently chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the crackdown on women part of the “disastrous” consequences of the US withdrawal. McCall. R-Texas, said his committee will seek answers from administration officials about their handling of Afghanistan policy.

“This administration has promised consequences if the Taliban renege on their promise to uphold the human rights of Afghan women and girls,” McCaul said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Unfortunately, it is not surprising to see the Taliban break this commitment, and now the consequences must be delivered quickly.”

Almost all participants expressed hope that quiet diplomacy led by UN officials over the next few weeks could force the Taliban to soften their stance, allowing women’s humanitarian organizations and organizations in general to resume their responsibilities.

UN officials and other officials are meeting daily on the issue with the Taliban’s top leadership in Kabul, which has access to Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzad and his associates in the southern city of Kandahar, a US official said.

Some caution that the international community could face years of weak influence over Afghanistan’s rulers.

Meanwhile, the mission for those helping isolated abused women was clear. said Masuda Sultan, an Afghan woman who also works with the Abaad aid group.

“Our goal is to help these women,” Sultan said, speaking from Dubai. “If they don’t get help, they will die.”

Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, copied or distributed without permission.

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