(United Nations) The Taliban have extended a ban on working in the country to Afghan women employed by the United Nations, the UN announced on Tuesday, denouncing an “inconceivable” decision which risks hampering humanitarian operations in the country.

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan (Manua) had indicated earlier in the day that the Afghan UN employees, so far spared from this type of restrictive measures, had been prevented from working in the province of Nangarhar, in the east of the country.

“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 St├ęphane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Noting that no written orders had been received at this stage, he said UN officials were to meet with authorities in Kabul on Wednesday to try to get “clarity”.

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 about 400 Afghans.

“For the Secretary General, such a ban would be unacceptable and frankly inconceivable”, insisted St├ęphane Dujarric, denouncing a tendency to “undermine the capacities of humanitarian organizations to help those who need it most”.

Although the UN is currently analyzing the impact on its operations, “it is very difficult to imagine how to distribute humanitarian aid without our female personnel”, he insisted, pointing out that 23 million men, women and children are affected by humanitarian aid.

Contacted by AFP after Manua’s tweet about Nangarhar province, government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he was inquiring about what happened.

However, in Afghan society, deeply conservative and patriarchal, it is not allowed for a woman to speak 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.

On December 24, 2022, the Afghan Ministry of Economy announced that all 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.

The head of Manua, Rosa Otunbayeva, nevertheless expressed her concerns during a speech to the United Nations Security Council on March 8, International Women’s Day.

“We are also concerned that national female personnel working for the United Nations will also be banned,” she said.

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

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.