WASHINGTON — The United Nations says its humanitarians will not leave Afghanistan and will continue delivering lifesaving aid despite Taliban restrictions on Afghan women’s work for nongovernmental organizations.
“The humanitarian community does not go on strike,” Martin Griffiths, a top U.N. official for humanitarian affairs, told representatives of member states on Wednesday.
The announcement comes as some international aid agencies have suspended their operations in Afghanistan to protest a December 24, 2022, order by the de facto Taliban government banning local women from working for NGOs.
The Taliban say the restrictions on women’s work and education are temporary until they figure out how this can be done within religious confines.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an intergovernmental body of 48 majority Muslim countries, and many Muslim scholars have condemned the Taliban’s restrictions on women as inherently against Islamic values.
Griffiths, who traveled to Afghanistan last week urging Taliban officials to reverse the ban, said some immediate exceptions have been offered for women to work in the health and education sectors.
“Where exceptions exist, we will work,” he added. “This year, the U.N. has appealed for $4.6 billion in humanitarian response to the crisis in Afghanistan.
The funding, if provided by donors, will be used to assist 28 million Afghans, 6 million of whom are close to famine, Griffiths said.
Last year, donors met nearly 60% of the $4.4 billion the U.N. requested for the Afghanistan appeal.
Despite the U.N.’s readiness to continue operating in the country, it is unclear how donors will respond to providing funding to a country under a system that women’s rights groups have called gender apartheid.
The United States, European countries and other donors have refused to recognize the Taliban government. They have imposed sanctions and have warned that there would be costs for the group’s misogynistic policies.
Over the past 18 months, the United States has given about $2 billion in humanitarian assistance to U.N. agencies and other relief organizations to feed and assist millions of Afghans who have been pushed to extreme poverty.
“The Taliban regime’s institutionalized abuse of women raises the important question for policymakers of whether the United States can continue providing aid to Afghanistan without benefiting or propping up the Taliban,” the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a report on Thursday.
Taliban authorities extract revenue from aid money to Afghanistan in the form of tax, license fees and administrative expenses, SIGAR said.
Germany, another major humanitarian donor to Afghanistan, has voiced concerns about whether aid can be delivered without violating humanitarian principles.
“It is clear to us that if women cannot continue to work and cannot participate in the implementation of humanitarian aid, then very fundamental humanitarian principles are being violated, principles that must be adhered to in the allocation of humanitarian aid,” German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Andrea Sasse told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday.
“The measures by the Taliban violate all of these principles. As the federal government, we are discussing how to respond to this behavior on the part of the Taliban,” Sasse said.
Sweden, which gave roughly $32 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan in 2022, may provide a similar amount this year but a decision will be made in March.
“We still hope that the edict will be rescinded, since it presents a serious obstacle to the delivery of principled humanitarian aid,” Rebecca Hedlund, a spokesperson for Swedish representation at the U.N., told VOA.
The State Department did not respond to written questions about whether Washington is considering reducing or ending humanitarian aid to a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Condemning the Taliban’s ban on women, the United States this week announced additional visa restrictions on unnamed Taliban officials and members of their families.
“We continue to coordinate closely with allies and partners around the world on an approach that makes clear to the Taliban that their actions will carry significant costs and close the path to improved relations with the international community,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Wednesday.
Activists have questioned the effectiveness of U.S. visa restrictions on Taliban leaders, saying most Taliban officials are already under a U.N. travel ban.