Since the de facto authorities ban on female aid workers was issued on the 24 December, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) continues to pursue all efforts to relaunch its programmes. IRC has expanded operations into two new sectors and is now delivering health, nutrition, education, environmental health, and emergency response activities. The details of these developments are outlined below. 

Note: This operational note follows a previous one issued on 1 February.

IRC is seeking all opportunities to resume programmes in a phased, sector-by-sector manner, as approvals for female aid workers are granted and their safety is assured. We continue to engage with the de-facto authorities at the national, provincial, and district level to seek the permissions we need to deliver our programmes. Without female staff we cannot accurately assess needs and deliver aid and programmes at the necessary scale. 

This month IRC was able to resume emergency response activities - providing assistance to those facing winter conditions - in one province, and environmental health programmes in another. These developments build on the previous assurances provided by the Ministry of Public Health that female health staff could resume work that allowed IRC to restart health and nutrition services through our static and mobile health teams. Similar assurances from the Ministry of Education paved the way for IRC to resume our community education programmes in two provinces. Our programmes are reaching over 70,000 Afghans a week in 10 provinces. 

We continue discussions with de-facto authorities to expand our activities in these sectors in additional provinces and to secure reliable assurances that would allow our female staff to safely return to work in other sectors. 

We urge the UN and donors 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 8,000-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.