The Taliban have reportedly agreed to consider letting Afghan women resume work at a major aid organisation in the southern province of Kandahar.
Afghan women were barred from working at nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) last December, allegedly because they were not wearing the hijab – the Islamic headscarf – correctly or observing gender segregation rules.
In April, the Taliban said the ban extended to UN offices and agencies in the country, though there are exemptions in some sectors, like health care and education.
Jan Egeland, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, met officials in the capital Kabul and Kandahar, the religious and political centre for the country’s rulers, to persuade them to reverse the ban on the organisation’s female staff.
“We have an agreement to start immediate talks on a temporary arrangement that will enable our female colleagues to work with and for women and others in Kandahar,” Mr Egeland said.
“If we get a provincial exemption in Kandahar, we should be able to replicate it elsewhere.”
In January, the Taliban said they were working on guidelines for women to return to work at NGOs.
Mr Egeland said earlier this week that key officials told him they are close to finalising these guidelines.
But they were unable to give a timeline or details when pressed.
The temporary arrangement would be in place while the nationwide guidelines are developed.
The interim arrangement would cover all sectors and all programming by the Norwegian Refugee Council, Mr Egeland said.
Aid agencies have been providing food, education and health care support to Afghans in the wake of the Taliban takeover in August 2021 and the economic collapse that followed it.
But distribution has been severely impacted by December’s edict.
Mr Egeland said he made it clear to the Taliban the agency needs to be able to deliver aid as it did before the ban, and with women.
Years of humanitarian diplomacy in Afghanistan have paved the way for the positive feedback from Kandahar, with the Norwegian Refugee Council negotiating with the Taliban to provide education and relief in areas under their control during the war, he said.
“They knew we never broke any rules in terms of Afghan culture, we go way back, but we have to be firm,” Mr Egeland said.
He insisted the organisation will not employ male-only teams or deliver male-only aid work.
Mr Egeland said there is agreement within the Ministry of Economy, which oversees NGOs in Afghanistan, that a regional deal could open a pathway to a national one.
“I have a strong sense they understand that if aid operations are cut for a longer period, they may not come back. They realise time is running out,” he said.
The Taliban have repeatedly told senior humanitarian officials visiting Afghanistan since December that the NGO restrictions are temporary suspensions, not a ban.