Humanitarians under pressure

By Audrey SomnardLex Kleren Switch to French for original article

The return of the Taliban to Afghanistan means great difficulties for women. The NGOs present there still continue their activities but in an increasingly precarious context.

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The Taliban, who took power in Kabul in mid-August 2021, have banned women and girls from pursuing university studies within days of each other and, since 24 December 2022, from working in national or international NGOs. This is a major blow to all the organisations present in the country, which are helping a population that has been greatly weakened by a country that has been in constant conflict for several decades. The NGOs depend on local female staff who are essential for the proper functioning of the aid provided. This is particularly true in the field of health. "Most health partners have advised their female staff in their country and field offices to work from home, " the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, also noting that "most national NGOs have not suspended the provision of health services through fixed health structures or mobile health teams."

"Women make up more than 51% of our medical staff, some 900 doctors, nurses and other health professionals who are working to provide the best possible care to thousands of Afghans. This latest directive is one more step in the implementation of a policy that aims to expunge any female presence from public life, to the detriment of all, " according to Filipe Ribeiro, MSF country representative in Afghanistan.

We met Eric Weerts, rehabilitation specialist at Handicap International, back in Luxembourg between two missions in Afghanistan. He knows the country well: "I have been working with Handicap International since 1991, first mainly in South East Asia, I was dispatched to Afghanistan during a crisis. It was during my second experience that I started to be more regular in Afghanistan. My first contact was in 2001–2002, just after the fall of the Taliban, when I worked on a project for one or two months on the reception of our Afghan collaborators who had fled to Pakistan after the resumption of the northern coalition. That's where I learned a little bit about working on the different programmes in Afghanistan, including a rehabilitation centre and community activities in the IDP areas or vulnerable people with disabilities."

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