The Taliban prohibit women from working for domestic and foreign NGOs

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The Taliban government on Saturday ordered all foreign and domestic non-governmental groups in Afghanistan to stop hiring women, allegedly because some female employees did not wear the Islamic headscarf correctly. The ban was the latest restrictive step taken by Afghanistan’s new rulers against women’s rights and freedoms.

The order came in a letter from Economy Minister Qari Din Mohammed Hanif, which said any NGO not complying with the order would have its license to operate in Afghanistan revoked. The content of the letter was confirmed to The Associated Press by ministry spokesman Abdul Rahman Habib.

The ministry said it had received “serious complaints” about women staff at NGOs not wearing the “proper” headscarf or hijab. It was not immediately clear whether the order applies to all women or only to Afghan women working in the NGOs.

More details on the recent Taliban ban were not immediately available amid fears it could be a springboard for more restrictive measures against women in Afghanistan.

Also on Saturday, Taliban security forces used a water cannon to disperse women protesting the ban on university education for women in the western city of Herat, eyewitnesses said. The Taliban rulers banned female students from attending universities on Tuesday effective immediately.

Since then, Afghan women have been demonstrating in major cities against the ban, a rare sign of internal protests since the Taliban seized power last year. The decision has also sparked outrage and resistance in Afghanistan and beyond.

According to eyewitnesses in Herat, about two dozen women went to the provincial governor’s house on Saturday to protest the ban, shouting “education is our right” as they were pushed back by security forces firing water cannons.

Video shared with the AP shows the women screaming and hiding in a side street to escape the water cannons. Then they continue their protest, with chants of “Shameful!”

One of the protest organizers, Maryam, said between 100 and 150 women took part in the protest, moving in small groups from different parts of the city to a central meeting point. She did not give her last name for fear of reprisals.

“There was security on every street, every square, armored vehicles and gunmen,” she said. “When we started our protest in Tariqi Park, the Taliban took branches from the trees and beat us. But we continued our protest. They increased their security presence. At around 11 a.m. they brought out the water cannon.”

A spokesman for the provincial governor, Hamidullah Mutawakil, claimed there were only four to five protesters.

“They didn’t have an agenda, they just came here to make a film,” he said, without mentioning the violence against women or the use of water cannons.

The university ban has been widely condemned internationally, including by Muslim-majority countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, as well as warnings from the United States and the G-7 group of major industrialized nations that the policy will have consequences for the Taliban have.

A Taliban government official, Minister of Higher Education Nida Mohammad Nadim, first spoke about the ban in an interview with Afghan state television on Thursday.

He said the ban was necessary to prevent gender mixing at universities and because he believes that some subjects go against the principles of Islam. He added that the ban would apply until further notice.

Although the Taliban initially promised a more moderate regime respecting the rights of women and minorities, they have largely implemented their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, since seizing power in August 2021.

They have banned girls from middle and high school – and now from universities – and also excluded women from most jobs. Women were also ordered to wear head-to-toe clothing in public and were banned from parks and gyms.

Afghan society, though largely traditional, had become increasingly committed to girls’ and women’s education over the past two decades of a US-backed government.

In the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, dozens of Afghan refugee students protested on Saturday against the ban on higher education for women in their homeland and called for the immediate reopening of campuses for women.

One of them, Bibi Haseena, read a poem depicting the dire situation of Afghan girls seeking education. She said she was unhappy at having graduated outside her country while hundreds of thousands of her Afghan sisters were denied an education.

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