The de facto authorities recent and ongoing ban on female NGO workers in Afghanistan comes at a dangerous moment as winter conditions set in on a population already devastated by decades of conflict and an unprecedented economic collapse. This operational note follows a previous operational note on December 25.

The role of women in the humanitarian sector in Afghanistan, and in all contexts in which we work, is an operational necessity. IRC’s ability to reach those most in need and deliver in the hardest-to-reach areas is intrinsically linked to our staff.  82% of female-headed households in Afghanistan are food insecure—32 percentage points more than male-headed households. Without female staff at all levels and across all sectors, we cannot deliver principled, needs-based aid and programs at scale for those hit hardest by this crisis. The challenges hold true for every sector of the humanitarian response, not only for programs related to protection, gender-based violence and women's empowerment. 

Because our ability to reach all Afghans in need relies on female staff at all levels of our organizations, IRC has paused programs in Afghanistan. In the last year we have supported over six million Afghans. This means with each day our programs cannot be delivered tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans face even more hardship.  

IRC is committed and eager to restart programs once the status quo ante is restored. In the interim, to avoid undue suffering and loss of life, IRC is proactively seeking permission from the de facto authorities and IRC staff will get back to work, in a phased, sector-by-sector manner if necessary, as approvals for female aid workers are granted and their safety is assured. 

To this end, IRC urges the UN to engage the de facto authorities in a practical and coordinated manner to secure a path towards the status quo ante in which female aid workers can safely and effectively work, and all Afghans can access the lifesaving humanitarian assistance they desperately need and to which they are entitled. 

For decades, IRC has worked in countries and settings around the world where Islamic law is followed - including in Afghanistan since 1988. All IRC staff, men and women, are afforded a safe and respectful work environment. Most IRC staff are national staff (including 99% of IRC Afghanistan’s 8000-person staff), working in their own communities in full respect and accordance with local laws and cultural and societal norms (including complying with hijab) to reach all populations in need. 

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.