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UN Halts Relief Programs in Afghanistan After Taliban Bans Women Aid Workers

Afghanistan women
Ali Khara/Reuters

The UN warned that further activities will likely need to be paused as it cannot deliver "principled" humanitarian assistance without female aid workers.

(CNN) — The United Nations announced Wednesday it has suspended some of its "time-critical" programs in Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban's ban on female NGO workers.

In a joint statement released by UN aid chief Martin Griffiths and other humanitarian groups, it warned that further activities will likely need to be paused as it cannot deliver "principled" humanitarian assistance without female aid workers.

"Banning women from humanitarian work has immediate life-threatening consequences for all Afghans. Already, some time-critical programs have had to stop temporarily due to lack of female staff," the statement read.

"We will endeavor to continue lifesaving, time-critical activities unless impeded while we better assess the scope, parameters, and consequences of this directive for the people we serve.

"But we foresee that many activities will need to be paused as we cannot deliver principled humanitarian assistance without female aid workers."

It noted that the move comes at a time when over 28 million people in Afghanistan require assistance as the country "grapples with the risk of famine conditions, economic decline, entrenched poverty, and a brutal winter."

The statement reiterated the UN's condemnation of the Taliban's restrictions on women's rights. "We urge the de facto authorities to reconsider and reverse this directive, and all directives banning women from schools, universities, and public life.

"No country can afford to exclude half of its population from contributing to society."

The Taliban last week ordered all local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to stop their female employees from coming to work and suspended university education for all female students in the country. The move drew condemnation from around the world.

In a statement Tuesday, the UNSC expressed its "deep concern" and called for "the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women and girls in Afghanistan."

The new restrictions are another step in the Taliban's crackdown on the freedoms of Afghan women, after taking over the country in August 2021.

Although the Taliban repeatedly claimed it would protect the rights of girls and women, the group has done the opposite, stripping away the hard-won freedoms for which women have fought tirelessly over the past two decades.

Some of the Taliban's most striking restrictions have been around education, with girls also barred from returning to secondary schools in March. The move devastated many students and their families, who described to CNN their dashed dreams of becoming doctors, teachers, or engineers.

At least half a dozen major foreign aid groups said they are temporarily suspending their operations in Afghanistan following the ban on female NGO employees.

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