(Kabul) Banning Afghan women from working for the UN goes against the UN charter, which rejects all segregation, a senior UN official said on Wednesday, warning that there is no would have no “exception”.

The UN announced on Tuesday that the Taliban is now banning its Afghan employees, so far spared from such measures applied to NGOs, from working with the organization throughout the country.

Earlier in the day, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Manua) reported that its female Afghan staff had been prevented from working in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

“La Manua has heard of an order from the de facto authorities that prohibits national female UN employees from working” and “we were told through different channels that the ban applies to the whole country”, said to the press Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres.

The head of Manua, Rosa Otunbayeva, and the deputy representative of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Markus Potzel, met on Wednesday with the Taliban authorities in Kabul, in order to clarify the situation.

Some 3,900 people work for the UN in Afghanistan, including 3,300 nationals, according to UN figures. About 600 women are among these employees, including nearly 400 Afghans.

Interviewed by AFP, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, underlined that this prohibition “would violate the charter of the United Nations”: “It is absolutely clear that no authority can give instructions in the United Nations, whether on the basis of gender or any other principle, on who should be employed”.

“This is a big violation of women’s rights”, and the UN “cannot accept this, neither in Afghanistan nor in any other country” and “make an exception”, Mr. Alakbarov insisted.

“Women are absolutely essential in all aspects” of the UN’s work in Afghanistan, he said.

In Afghan society, which is deeply conservative and patriarchal, it is not allowed for a woman to talk to a man who is not a close relative. A woman can therefore only come into contact with an aid recipient of the same sex.

Afghanistan is in the grip of one of the worst humanitarian crises on the planet: more than half of its 38 million people face acute food insecurity and 3 million children are at risk of malnutrition.

In this country plagued by one of the worst humanitarian crises on the planet, approximately 23 million men, women and children are affected by humanitarian aid, according to Mr. Dujarric.

Contacted several times, the Taliban government did not respond to AFP’s requests.

On December 24, 2022, the Afghan Ministry of Economy announced that the 1,260 NGOs operating in the country were now banned from working with Afghan women, due to “serious complaints” about non-compliance with the wearing of the hijab, which must fully cover the body and face. The UN, however, was not involved.

In the aftermath of the ban, several NGOs announced that they were suspending their activities, before resuming them in mid-January with the support of their female staff in a few sectors benefiting from exemptions such as health and nutrition.

“We were able to obtain certain exceptions, flexibilities in certain provinces, but we don’t know if that will hold with the latest developments,” the UN humanitarian coordinator said on Wednesday.

“Many donors and contributors” have already stopped funding the aid program for Afghanistan, Alakbarov also lamented. So far, the 2023 appeal for UN assistance has only been funded to “3-4%” of the expected amount, he said.

Since their return to power in August 2021, the Taliban have returned to the austere interpretation of Islam that marked their first spell in power (1996-2001) and have multiplied draconian measures against women.

Access to university and secondary school is forbidden to them.

They have also been excluded from many public jobs, or are paid a pittance to stay at home. They are not allowed to travel without being accompanied by a male relative and must cover themselves fully when leaving their homes.