Afghanistan’s NGO ban for women exposes rifts in Taliban ranks

© Wakil Kohsar, AFP

The Taliban’s latest edict banning women from working for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has sparked international condemnation and domestic opposition in a country facing economic collapse. It has also revealed splits within the Taliban, with potentially high-stakes risks for Afghanistan’s rulers and its people.

The last week of 2022 began with an awful shock for Sahar H, a 24-year-old Afghan aid worker, and her new year started with severe anxiety.

On December 24 – the day after the Friday weekly holiday in Afghanistan – Sahar was on her computer in Kabul, preparing for an upcoming women’s support session. An NGO programme manager, Sahar did not want her real name, or that of her organisation’s, revealed due to security concerns.

Engrossed in her work, Sahar barely glanced at her mobile phone when it pinged a WhatsApp message. But when she saw the sender, a fellow NGO worker handling security issues at a partner organisation, it got her attention.

The message contained the latest Taliban edict from the economy ministry and it was a shocker. Citing "serious complaints regarding the non-observance of the Islamic hijab”, the Taliban ordered “all national and international organisations to stop females working” immediately until further notice. Failure to comply would result in revoked licences, the edict warned.

“I immediately stopped working, closed my computer and I just couldn’t stop my tears,” said Sahar in a phone interview from Kabul. “I never thought this would happen. That day, I lost my most important right: the right to work.”


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