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Taliban ban on female NGO staff deepens public health crisis in Afghanistan | science

Taliban ban on female NGO staff deepens public health crisis in Afghanistan |  science


The Taliban’s December 24, 2022 decree banning women from working in national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is another devastating blow to women’s rights in Afghanistan. It also threatens to plunge a country wracked by famine and natural disasters even deeper or public health crisis.

The United Nations (UN) and its humanitarian partners are engaged in intensive negotiations to persuade the Taliban to rescind the decree. But for now, many NGOs, which depend heavily on female staff, have taken the shocking decision to suspend their operations, which provide vital food, hygiene and medicine. The decree also jeopardizes the global campaign to eradicate polio, in which women play a crucial role in raising awareness and vaccinating children. Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan are the last two countries where the wild polio virus is still endemic, and the campaign continues to be completely eradicated. it released by the end of 2023.

Since August 2021, when the extremists took powerof Afghanistan economist there are collapsed and the country it has been hit by a punishing drought, an earthquake, floods and a brutal winter. More than 28 million people need humanitarian assistance, such as food, shelter, clean water, sanitation, warm clothes, child protection, education, cash transfers, immunizations and essential health services. About 6 million are on the verge of starvation.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Economy announced the decree in a Dec. 24 letter to the Afghan Development Agency’s Coordinating Body (ACBAR), which has 183 national and international NGOs as members. The letter alleged that some female NGO workers were not wearing the hijab properly, says ACBAR director Fiona Gall, and said it would revoke the operating licenses of non-compliant organizations. prohibition of female personnel. (It came just days after the Taliban banned women from universities and months after they banned girls from high schools.)

For cultural reasons, Afghan women cannot interact with male aid workers. By issuing the decree, “the Taliban have effectively suspended aid to half of Afghanistan’s population,” UN Women’s Sima Bahous said in a Dec. 25 statement, adding that “11.6 million women and girls are no longer receiving vital aid.” And many national and international NGOs say they had no choice but to temporarily suspend some or all operations. A quick survey of 87 NGOs conducted by the Humanitarian Access Working Group on January 12 found that 83% had done so.

“We are at a really difficult point. We have no intention of abandoning the communities we work with,” says Keyan Salarkia from Save the Children. Afghanistan, which has more than 5,000 staff in Afghanistan, about half of them women. But “we cannot contact women or children and we cannot keep our staff safe. This is not a compromise we can make.”

Kochay Hassan, executive director of the Afghan Women’s Education Center, says her organization continues to operate, but with most women working at home. “We have a lot of ambition,” says Hassan. The decree “will not stop us … if women can still work from home and engage with our male colleagues.” Vision Development, which works on issues such as women’s empowerment, girls’ education and health promotion, is also persistent, says founder and executive director Madina Mahboobi.

Women-led NGOs are under special scrutinyy. When A of the group director wanted to pick up some papers from her office shortly after the decree was issued, the Taliban were guarding the door, she says. Instead, a male colleague collected the papers. The Taliban regularly visit NGO offices to see if any women are at work. If so, they can be arrested.

The UN agencies themselves are technically exempt from the ban, but can styleI see their work crippled by it. of The UN World Food Program (WFP), for example, which aims to feed 15 million people during the winterworks with about 100 local partners. “The entire humanitarian community is affected by the decision in one way or another,” says a WFP spokesperson. The UN High Commission for Refugees, which works with 19 local NGOs and more than 500 women, says it has had to temporarily halt some critical activities..

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Health has said female NGO workers in the health sector are excluded from this decree also, but Exactly what the statement means is unclear since it’s not in writing, Gall says, and many organizations worry about the security of Theirs WOMAN the staff. It seems that Female health staff can work in hospitals and clinics, but the status of mobile teams is less clear, says Gall.

As a solution, Hassan and others HAVE adoptthe D new terminology for the work of their NGOs. In a number of provinces, “safe spaces” for women and childrenwhich provide health interventions among other services, now they are “health centers” that continue to operate with female staff who carefully follow Taliban dictates about dress code and male attendants.

Leaders of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) are trying to clarify what the decree means for their work. With only two cases caused by wildlife poliovirus in Afghanistan in 2022, they say they have no intention of giving up. Two days after the decree was issued, GPEI continued a campaign in four eastern provinces, using female vaccinators. But UNICEF decided not to send its female staff, who inform women about upcoming campaigns and their benefits. “This is not sustainable in the future,” says Hamid Jafari of the World Health Organization, who heads polio operations in the region.

GPEI is planning a major campaign targeting 5.3 million Afghan children by the end of January, Jafari says. “We are working closely with the Ministry of Health to ensure that women can stay in the campaigns.” If not, campaigns will continue with male vaccinators, as they already do in some parts of the country. Fewer children will be vaccinated, especially babies who can’t be taken out of the house, Jafari says, “But we’ll go ahead and do our best.”

The UN and humanitarian organizations still hope the decree will be overturned. The UN Permanent Coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, met with Qari Din Mohammad Hanif, the Taliban’s Minister of Economy, on December 26 and discussions have continued. Observers note discord among the Taliban; some ministers have said they disagree with the decree and some provincial leaders want female staff to continue their jobs. The Taliban appear to have left the door open, at least partially, for more discussion. “That means there’s room for compromise,” says Gall. “But that may not happen as quickly as we would like.”




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