Almost three weeks since the de-facto authorities in Afghanistan announced a ban on female NGO workers, the impacts are being felt across the country. However, there have been some material changes in the International Rescue Committee's ability to operate in parts of the country, which are explained below.This operational note follows a previous one issued on January 5.

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. As a result of the ban, IRC had to pause programs in Afghanistan on December 25. 

In the last year IRC supported over 5 million Afghans. We are committed and eager 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. 

This week, the Ministry of Public Health offered assurances that female health staff, and those working in office support roles, can resume working. Based on this clarity, IRC has restarted health and nutrition services through our static and mobile health teams in four provinces. We continue discussions with provincial authorities to open health and nutrition activities in more provinces, and through additional modalities, including community health care, while also engaging to secure the assurances required to allow our female staff to safely return to work in other sectors. 

We urge the UN to maintain engagement with 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.