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Ottawa urges Taliban to reverse ban on women in NGOs



(Ottawa) Canada’s Minister for International Development is calling on the Taliban to reverse their decision to ban women from working in non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan.

Harjit Sajjan’s comments come as several major international aid groups announce plans to suspend operations in the country taken over by the Taliban — a listed terrorist entity — in August 2021.

Millions of people have been pushed into poverty since then and now face hunger, with the United Nations estimating that up to six million Afghans are currently at risk of starvation. The International Committee of the Red Cross has also reported an increase in malnutrition and pneumonia among children, with concerns only growing with the onset of winter.

In light of the Taliban’s decision, Save the Children, CARE International and the Norwegian Refugee Council issued a joint statement saying they could not provide needed assistance without their female staff and were suspending programs.

“Our government is deeply concerned about the Taliban’s recent decision to bar female (non-governmental organization) employees from doing their important work in Afghanistan,” Sajjan said in a statement on Sunday.

“They are contributing to the essential work of meeting the urgent humanitarian needs of the Afghan people. We urge the Taliban to reverse this decision, as it will only aggravate the suffering of the Afghan people. »

Minister Sajjan will assess the impact the change will have and plans to contact international partners and international groups in the region, his office added.

Canadian aid groups have previously said they have been unable to provide aid because the Canadian government has yet to find a way around its anti-terrorism laws. Officials warned organizations they could violate them if they paid people in Afghanistan for services such as transport or for the purchase of goods.

Citing Canada’s sanctions, a spokesperson for the Canadian Red Cross — part of a coalition of aid groups pushing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to find housing so they can work in the area — said he was unaffected by the Taliban’s decision.

Mr Sajjan said his government planned to change the Criminal Code to provide a workaround for aid groups, but said no changes could be introduced until at least the spring of 2023.

The Taliban’s banning of women from non-governmental organizations sparked outcry among international aid organizations such as UNICEF, whose executive director called the move a “flagrant violation” of international humanitarian law and human rights. women.

“These decisions will have far-reaching implications for the provision of essential services to children and families across the country — particularly in the areas of health, nutrition, education and child protection — from areas where female humanitarian workers have an extremely important role to play,” Catherine Russell said in a statement.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it employs hundreds of women in Afghanistan and is particularly concerned about what the Taliban’s decision will mean for people in its healthcare system.

The Canadian government has long expressed concerns about the treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan, including last week when Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly joined her counterparts in allied countries in condemning the fact that the Taliban excluded women from universities and girls from secondary schools. They released a statement saying such policies “will have consequences for how our countries engage with the Taliban.”

With information from The Associated Press

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