The de facto authorities’ ban on female NGO workers in Afghanistan, first issued on December 24, remains in place, forcing most IRC programming in the country to remain paused. However, the International Rescue Committee’s ability to operate in some parts of the country continues to evolve. IRC  has  relaunched  some education and health and nutrition activities. The details of these developments are outlined below.

This operational note follows a previous one issued on January 20th.

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 at all levels and across all sectors, we cannot accurately assess needs and deliver aid and programs at the necessary scale. While the ban forced IRC to pause its programs in Afghanistan on December 25, we are committed to restart all programs in a phased, sector-by-sector manner, as approvals for female aid workers are granted and their safety is assured. 

IRC has been proactively seeking these permissions from the de-facto authorities at the national, provincial, and district level. Based on Ministry of Public Health assurances that female health staff, and those working in office support roles, could resume working, IRC restarted health and nutrition services through our static and mobile health teams in ten provinces earlier this month. Since relaunching, our programs have reached almost 53,000 Afghans a week. Additionally, last week, similar assurances from the Ministry of Education have allowed IRC to resume community education programs in one province. We continue discussions with provincial authorities to open health and nutrition activities and education programming in more provinces and  to secure reliable assurances that would allow our female staff to safely return to work in other sectors. 

We welcome visits by United Nations Deputy Secretary General, Aminia Mohammed and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths to Afghanistan, and 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.