The Taliban Is Blocking Female Aid Workers From Doing Their Job


Loor Elbedour

Despite the Taliban’s reassurances to the United Nations (UN), female aid workers in Afghanistan continue to fear for their safety over restrictions placed on them that make it difficult to do their jobs properly.

On November 4, 2021, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that women are only allowed to work in 3 out of 34 provinces in Afghanistan without restrictions like requiring a male family member to accompany them to work. A written agreement was made to allow female aid workers in these three provinces to do their jobs; however, not all Taliban officials in each province have agreed, which is why only 3 out of the 34 have allowed women to work.

Outside of these three provinces, different rules, regulations, or even if women can work at all are varying. In some provinces, women are not allowed to work at all. In 16 provinces, they are allowed to work but they must have a male family member to accompany them to their jobs and even stay in the premises while they are working.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban utilize Sharia law in order to enforce their restrictions on women further. This Sharia Law is a subjective interpretation of how the Taliban view the Islamic faith and culture (it varies from Islamic country to country and some don’t implement it at all). And so, this specific Sharia Law that the Taliban continue to use sets a precedent for women who choose to work. The Taliban continue to impose their own interpretation of laws that oppress women and they punish women who choose to speak out against their view, who many view as a false and subjective interpretation of the Islamic faith. The Taliban would publicly beat women who spoke out against the Taliban and the immoral acts committed against women. They would do this to instill fear and place a stigma around advocating for women’s rights.

On Aug. 15 of 2021, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan by seizing the capital, Kabul. Since then, women have been the topic of discussion on whether or not the Taliban would allow them to resume their education and work or whether there would be impediments on these freedoms.

From the moment the Taliban took over, women have feared over their safety and independence. Heather Barr, the Associate Women’s Rights director at Human Rights Watch says that at first the plan (of the Taliban) was that all provinces would block and ban Afghan female aid workers from doing their jobs. Although, she says now, there has been “a sort of negotiation process between the Taliban and aid agencies.” The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has kept track of the negotiation process between aid agencies and the Taliban. An agreement was held and Taliban officials in three provinces signed a document, including the acting foreign minister for the Taliban, Amir Khan Muttaqi, that would “unconditionally [permit] women aid workers to do their jobs.” While the Taliban letter was an unseen “positive step”, female aid workers from other provinces want more “guarantees”. The absence of written and certain guarantees/rules for female aid workers in other provinces (that don’t have them) allow Taliban officials to harass these workers. Only 3 out of 34 provinces that have agreed to these terms. Many aid agencies resumed work with or without “essential” female staff. But, female aid staff request guarantees that they can work safely and independently before aid operations can fully restart.

The Afghan War resulted in over 100,000 male casualties, leaving behind widows and their families. The economic crisis in Afghanistan has caused hardship on all citizens. Like most humanitarian crises, women and children are the most affected. It is already hard enough for women to provide for their families in Afghanistan, and even more so with the current economic crisis. In some places, women can work if a male relative is escorting them, but this is counterintuitive because having a man become a chaperone for his female relative puts him out of a job as he is escorting her around all day. Also, many men do not accept that they technically become an “unpaid worker” and it forces the woman to eventually leave her job. The Taliban’s restrictions on paid work for women enables even more hardship on widows and their families. In an interview with Yalda Hakim from BBC World News, Barr mentions that “The Taliban’s severe restrictions on women aid workers are preventing desperately needed lifesaving aid from reaching Afghans.” The humanitarian crisis will only get worse if the Taliban continues to block women from doing their jobs. Women make up 21.62 % of the labor force in Afghanistan–that is approximately 650,00 female employees. Six-hundred and fifty thousand employees are in danger of losing their jobs because they are women.

Not only is the Taliban prohibiting women from working, they are also putting restrictions on the kind of work they can do. Women can only work in health and education programs. Female aid workers are not permitted to work in other areas of humanitarian assistance, such as distributing food and other necessities, water and sanitation, and livelihoods assistance. When women go to report on these occurrences they can only speak to their female counterparts. Since taking over Afghanistan, the Taliban has dismantled institutions in the country that prevent and fight against gender based violations. This has made it extremely difficult for victims of harassment in the workplace or women to report on unfair restrictions placed by the Taliban.

Pashtana Durrani and Fahima Rahmati run important non profits in Afghanistan: LEARN and the Heela Charity Foundation. They continue to speak out about women’s rights and the oppression women face, especially since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. Durrani tells The New Humanitarian,“In Kandahar, the Taliban asked the women in a bank to leave their work posts and go home, and to send their male counterparts to work instead of them.” In the Southern Afghanistan province of Kandahar, women have reported to universities turning them away and being let go from their jobs. Rahmati worked hard her whole life and sacrificed everything in order to become a doctor. She had her own private clinic but had to stop working because of the Taliban threat. Although this did not stop her from practicing medicine, Rahmati continued to help and treat patients in camp. Durrani and Rahmati make it known that the only way change can be implemented is if women don’t stay silent. They believe it is important to share their stories even if it puts them and educational rights.

Restrictions vary in every province. For example, in Bamiyan and Daikundi the Taliban have only allowed women to assess patients rather than actually alleviating their pain or delivering aid.

In all, Afghan female aid workers will continue to push for progressive change to lift the unfair restrictions placed on them. In order for them to do their jobs properly and aid everyone in need, they have to be allowed to work without misogynistic restrictions which are placed on them solely because of who they are, women–something that they can’t control.