An order by the Taliban banning women from working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has been condemned by the United Nations, which said the move violated fundamental rights.
The Islamist rulers justified the move by saying female NGO staff had broken dress codes by not wearing hijabs.
The decree comes just days after female students were banned from universities.
The US Secretary of State also criticized the move saying it would be “devastating for the Afghan people”.
Female Afghan NGO workers acting as the main earners in their household spoke of their fear and helplessness.
One asked: “If I cannot go to my job, who can support my family?” Another breadwinner called the news “shocking” and insisted she had complied with the Taliban’s strict dress code.
A third woman questioned the Taliban’s “Islamic morals”, saying she would now struggle to pay her bills and feed her children.
“The world is watching us and doing nothing,” said another female.
Saturday’s order came in a letter from the Ministry of Economy to both national and international NGOs. It threatened to cancel the license of any organization that did not swiftly comply.
By way of explanation, it said women were breaking Sharia law by failing to wear the hijab.
The move has sparked international outrage, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying he was deeply concerned, adding that it “will disrupt vital and life-saving assistance to millions”.
“Women are central to humanitarian operations around the world. This decision could be devastating for the Afghan people,” Blinken said.
It was also described as a “clear breach of humanitarian principles” by a senior United Nations official.
UN agencies have a significant presence in the country, carrying out relief and development work. An urgent meeting of the Humanitarian Country Team was planned for Sunday to respond to the news.
An employee of Save the Children said the organization was planning to meet Taliban authorities, saying that if women were not allowed to work then some NGOs would have to close.
It is also feared that Afghan women could be left unable to receive aid directly, if organizations are only allowed to employ men. Taliban rules prevent men from working with women.
Female employees were “essential” for reaching other women and girls, explained Melissa Cornet from Care International.
She added: “Without them, the humanitarian situation might deteriorate rapidly, in a situation where most of the country is already facing life-threatening levels of hunger.”
The South Asian branch of Amnesty International described the ban as “yet another deplorable attempt to erase women from the political, social and economic spaces” of Afghanistan.
One doctor working in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and nearby remote villages said she was “sad and devastated” at the development.
She predicted “great difficulty” for women trying to access medical treatment, as they “can’t fully tell their problems to men”.
Meanwhile, one imam said the Taliban was “not committed to any Islamic value”.
He explained: “Islam has not said that men can educate and women cannot. Or men can work and women cannot. We are confused about this decision.”
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES