A major aid group says the Taliban refers to the exemption of women in the heart of the south by Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An Afghan woman and girl walk down a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, on November 9, 2022. REUTERS/Ali Khara

Written by Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – An international aid agency in Afghanistan hopes to have a temporary arrangement within days to allow its female Afghan staff to return to work in the southern province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban and home to the supreme spiritual leader.

The Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, told Reuters after traveling to Kabul on Wednesday from Kandahar, where he met with senior leaders of the Taliban.

“If we can get a temporary local arrangement — which we were promised in Kandahar — that’s something we can use in the rest of the country,” said Egeland, who was the UN’s aid chief from 2003 to 2006.

The Taliban seized power in August 2021 as US-led forces withdraw after 20 years of war. Last month, Taliban authorities began imposing a ban on Afghan women working for the United Nations after banning women from working for aid groups in December. UN and aid officials said the orders came from Taliban commanders in Kandahar.


The United Nations and aid groups are trying to make exceptions for women to provide aid, particularly in health and education. The Taliban administration had been promising since January a set of written guidelines to allow aid groups to work with female staff.

“Whenever new instructions are issued by the authorities, we will inform you of this,” said Abdul Rahman Habib, a spokesman for the Economy Ministry, which announced the ban on female workers last year.

Egeland said that when he complained that the guidelines were taking too long, officials in Kandahar suggested that a temporary arrangement could be agreed within days to allow Afghan women to return to work in the office and in the field.

“When this happens in the Governor-General’s province, it should also be a basis for temporary arrangements being made elsewhere,” Egeland said. “I hope we can now open the door for other organizations as well. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Taliban officials said decisions regarding female aid workers were an “internal issue”.

The Taliban says it respects women’s rights in line with its strict interpretation of Islamic law. They also tightened controls on women’s access to public life, preventing women and girls from attending university and secondary schools.

The senior US aid official warned that the Afghan people are facing an “extremely difficult year,” as donors grapple with challenging Taliban campaigns against women and girls, more crises around the world, and generally reduced funding.

“Here we are collateral damage in this ongoing cold war between the de facto rulers of Afghanistan and those who left the country leaving behind 40 million civilians,” Egeland said, noting that the NRC received 40% less funding this year than in 2022.

The United Nations says nearly three-quarters of Afghanistan’s 40 million people need humanitarian assistance and has warned that funding is drying up. The UN’s $4.6 billion appeal for 2023 is currently less than 8% funded.

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