The de facto authorities’ ban on female NGO workers in Afghanistan, first issued on December 24, remains in place. Negotiations have allowed the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to resume and expand operations in new provinces and sectors including health, nutrition, education, emergency response, economic recovery and development and environmental health. The details of these developments are outlined below.

This operational note follows a previous one issued on February 14th.

The role of women in the humanitarian sector in Afghanistan, and in all contexts in which we work, is an operational necessity. Without female staff, we cannot accurately assess needs and deliver aid at the necessary scale to those that need it most. 

While the ban forced IRC to pause its programs on December 25, we are committed to restarting all activities. Approvals granted by the de-facto authorities at national, provincial and district levels have allowed some female aid workers to safely return to work for the IRC enabling us to operate in 13 provinces, reaching over 174,000 clients per week as of February 26. 

Agreements reached with de-facto authorities mean we are now providing emergency response programming in five provinces, as well as environmental health and economic recovery & development activities across four provinces. 

The Ministry of Education’s decision to allow female teachers to return to work has allowed us to expand community education activities, now being delivered in six provinces, an increase of five provinces since our last update.  

The IRC continues to scale up health and nutrition services through static and mobile teams following assurances from the Ministry of Public Health that female health staff, and those working in office support roles, could resume working. The IRC is now providing health and nutrition services in 11 provinces, one additional province since our last update, reaching nearly 90,000 Afghans in the week of February 26 with health support.

We are in ongoing discussions with provincial authorities to resume activities in these sectors in more provinces and to secure reliable assurances that would allow our female staff to safely return to work in other sectors. 

We urge the UN to continue engaging the de-facto authorities in a coordinated manner to restore the status quo ante in which male and female aid workers can safely and effectively work, and all Afghans can access lifesaving humanitarian assistance.

We reiterate our commitment to working in line with local cultural practices and norms (including complying with the hijab), as we have in Afghanistan since 1988. Most IRC staff are national staff (including 99% of IRC Afghanistan’s 8000-person staff), working in their own communities. 

The IRC began work in Afghanistan in 1988, and now works with thousands of villages across twelve provinces, with Afghans making up more than 99% of IRC staff in the country. As Afghanistan struggles to recover from ongoing conflict and natural disasters, the IRC: works with local communities to identify, plan and manage their own development projects, provides safe learning spaces in rural areas, community-based education, cash distribution provides uprooted families with tents, clean water, sanitation and other basic necessities, and helps people find livelihood opportunities as well as extensive resilience programming.