Kabul, December 29
Even before the Taliban barred Afghan women from working at non-governmental groups, their forces visited the office of one local organisation here several times to check female staff were obeying rules on dress codes and gender segregation.
Already, the women in the office had been extra careful, hoping to avoid problems with the Taliban. They wore longer clothes and masks along with the Islamic headscarf and stayed separate from male co-workers in the workspace and at meals, a female NGO employee told The Associated Press.
"We even changed our office arrival and departure times because we didn't want to be followed" by the Taliban, she said, speaking on the condition her name, job title and the name of her organisation not be used for fear of reprisals.
That wasn't enough. On Saturday, Taliban authorities announced the exclusion of women from NGOs, allegedly because they weren't wearing the headscarf, or hijab, correctly.
The move prompted international aid agencies to halt operations in Afghanistan, raising the possibility that millions of people will be left without food, education, health care and other critical services during the harsh winter months.
The agency coordinating development and relief work in Afghanistan, ACBAR, estimates that many of its 183 national and international members have suspended, stopped or reduced their humanitarian activities and services since the order came into effect.
These members employ more than 55,000 Afghan nationals between them, around a third of whom are women. The agency says female staff plays an essential role in NGO activities, providing humanitarian services while also respecting traditional and religious customs.
Still, women in some local organisations are trying to keep providing services as much as they can under the radar and paying their staff as long as donor funds continue.
Despite initially promising a more moderate rule, the Taliban are implementing their interpretation of Islamic law or Sharia.
They have banned girls from middle school, high school and university, restricted women from most employment and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks, gyms and other public spaces.
An NGO worker said many educated women left after the Taliban takeover in August 2021, costing Afghan civil society much of its capacity and expertise.
Enforcement of the ban is so far not universal, she and others said. It is strictest on women in offices in cities but some women in rural areas have been able to operate.
She said provinces outside Kabul and Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, are more positive about NGO work and that gives her hope.
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