Taleban ban women from working for aid groups
By Scott McDonald
ISLAMABAD, July 10 (Reuters) - Afghanistan's ruling Taleban has issued orders telling all non-government organisations (NGOs) to sack all female staff working in Afghanistan, a Pakistan-based Afghan news agency reported on Monday.
The Afghan Islamic Press said the order was issued by the Taleban's Planning Ministry to NGOs operating in the capital Kabul.
An official at one NGO confirmed the order but said it was not known how strictly it would be enforced.
``We hope it is not a big deal as they have said this before,'' the official said. ``We are still hoping it will die down.''
Other aid workers said they believed the order was directed at local women working for the NGOs and not international staff.
The order comes with the Taleban already under the international spotlight for its human rights record and treatment of women.
But the official said the order could cause serious problems as many NGOs use hundreds of local women in their community projects.
``If it goes into force, it could really affect us,'' the official said.
The Islamabad-based head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan, Eric de Mul, will travel to Kandahar on Wednesday to discuss the order with Taleban officials, a UNOCHA spokesman said.
Kandahar in southern Afghanistan is the spiritual headquarters for the Taleban.
Aid is a key part of the economy for Afghanistan, ravaged by more than two decades of war, and this year also hit by its worst drought in more than 30 years.
The treatment of women by the Taleban movement has drawn strong international criticism, and caused some groups to withhold aid.
The hardline Taleban movement, which wants to create the world's purist Islamic state, placed restrictions on women's employment, travel and education, and enforced a strict dress code for them soon after taking over Kabul in 1996.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright accused the Taleban in 1997 of gender apartheid, saying the movement's restrictions on women had virtually confined them to their homes.
The order comes about three months after the United Nations said that the Taleban had softened its stringent attitude on women's access to education and health but had not altogether abandoned its hardline stance.
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