The United Nations’ human rights chief has decried increasing restrictions on women’s rights in Afghanistan, urging the country’s Taliban rulers to reverse them immediately.
Taliban authorities stopped university education for women last week, sparking international outrage and demonstrations in Afghan cities.
On Saturday, they announced the exclusion of women from NGO work, a move that has already prompted four major international aid agencies to suspend operations in Afghanistan.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk pointed to “terrible consequences” of a decision to bar women from working for non-governmental organisations.
“No country can develop — indeed survive — socially and economically with half its population excluded,” he said in a statement issued in Geneva.
“These unfathomable restrictions placed on women and girls will not only increase the suffering of all Afghans but, I fear, pose a risk beyond Afghanistan’s borders.”
“This latest decree by the de facto authorities will have terrible consequences for women and for all Afghan people,” Mr Turk said.
He added that banning women from working for NGOs would deprive them and their families of incomes and of the right to “contribute positively” to the country’s development.
“The ban will significantly impair, if not destroy, the capacity of these NGOs to deliver the essential services on which so many vulnerable Afghans depend,” he said.
Despite initially promising a more moderate rule respecting rights for women and minorities when they took power last year, the Taliban have widely implemented their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.
They have banned girls from middle school and secondary school, restricted women from most employment and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms.
“Women and girls cannot be denied their inherent rights,” Mr Turk said.
“Attempts by the de facto authorities to relegate them to silence and invisibility will not succeed — it will merely harm all Afghans, compound their suffering, and impede the country’s development.”