Protecting Women’s Work and Civil Society in Aghanistan

Elizabeth May and Mike Morrice signed onto this open letter to address the impacts of the Taliban’s order to suspend women employees from working in local and international NGOs in Afghanistan.

Strategic Advocacy Human Rights (SAHR) is a peer-led network of human rights defenders fueling a worldwide movement of women and diverse human rights defenders working to end gender-based violence through law and policy

For more information about the letter, click here.

Click here to read the Open Letter to Muslim and International Communities.

From SAHR:

“It was painful to tell our female staff not to come to work the following day. We immediately called for an emergency meeting to deal with the operational impact of the ban. It changes everything for us,” said one of our colleagues, an Afghan human rights lawyer.

The NGO sector in Afghanistan was ultimately the last remaining safe place for women to be sustainably employed in. Tens of thousands of Afghan women were employed as educators, advisors, mediators, aid workers, surveyors, midwives, doctors and first responders.

The Taliban’s decree essentially forced women to a state of permanent unemployment and poverty.

“Few months ago, when I was in court helping my client, I got into a discussion with a Taliban judge about women’s work. I challenged him and said: if women cannot work, how are we going to feed our children? He said: either get married, or ask for zakat (charity) but women cannot work,” said one of our colleagues, a human rights lawyer.

Despite international condemnation, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid indicated no sign that the ban would be reconsidered or lifted:

“All those institutions wanting to operate in Afghanistan are obliged to comply with the rules and regulations of our country. We do not allow anyone to talk rubbish or make threats regarding the decisions of our leaders under the title of humanitarian aid.”

Kabul and other major cities were under high-security and surveillance after the decrees were announced.

“I had a drive around the city today morning to assess the changes and security surveillance. There are small groups of Taliban surveillance moving in the city watching women’s movements in the roads, streets and localities,” said one of our colleagues in Afghanistan.

Our colleagues are affected mentally as they are experiencing an unexpected and sudden change. But the current constraints push us to be more committed, motivated, courageous. We are prepared to work harder and to work with a vision. Such challenges and limitations should not stop us from supporting the women in our community who are the most affected and marginalised in the country.

We are calling on the international community for a more serious coordinated response against the systematic violence and gender persecution of women in Afghanistan and to pressure the Taliban to reverse their decision.