Several international aid organizations have temporarily Aid Groups in Afghanistan Suspend their programs in Afghanistan, warning that relief work in the country could crumble without female staff after the Afghan government barred women from working in local and international humanitarian organizations.

The decree puts the country at risk of losing billions of dollars in critical aid should major international relief organizations close down their operations, relief groups say — funds that are crucial to propping up Afghanistan’s public services and keeping the country’s most vulnerable from the brink of famine amid an economic collapse.

Last week, the Afghan government barred women from attending private and public universities. Both measures were further signs that the government seems set on returning to its hard-line rule of the 1990s.

The organizations Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and CARE International condemned the ban on Sunday and said that they were suspending their programs while they sought more clarity on the announcement.

“We cannot effectively reach children, women, and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without our female staff,” the groups said in a joint statement. “Beyond the impact on the delivery of lifesaving assistance, this will affect thousands of jobs in the midst of an enormous economic crisis.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council in Kabul organization employs about 1,500 staff in Afghanistan, one-third of them women.

“It has really backed us into a corner,” she said.

Aid Groups in Afghanistan Suspend programming was not a choice made lightly, she said, adding that they were concerned about the effect on the populations they serve. But the organization could not accept discrimination against a third of its workforce, she said, which would mean that female staff — many of them the breadwinners for their families — could face long-term unemployment.

“We are desperately hoping that there will be a positive resolution to this,” Ms. Roby said. “The outcome that no one wants is for the door to close on international assistance to Afghanistan. That would be a devastating reality for this country.” Aid Groups in Afghanistan Suspend

The global aid organization said more than 3,000 of its staff in the country were women and warned that their exclusion could have “catastrophic consequences for the Afghan people.”

Other humanitarian groups, such as Islamic Relief, also said they would pause non-lifesaving services for the moment.

The agency did not give more details but has said it was profoundly concerned by the order, warning that it violated fundamental rights for women. It was unclear whether the ban applied to the U.N.’s aid agencies.

The International Committee of the Red Cross called the announcement concerning and said that it was still employing about 3,000 female health workers in the country. But it warned that questioning the participation of women would “jeopardize the whole humanitarian action.”

The Afghan government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suspensions of aid operations or the U.N. meeting.

He added: “We do not allow anyone to talk rubbish or make threats regarding the decisions of our leaders under the title of Humanitarian aid.”

The edict on Saturday also warned that the ministry would revoke the operating licenses of any organizations that did not comply. It was not immediately clear whether the measure applied only to Afghan women working for aid organizations or to any women working for them.

The new ban came days after a far-reaching decree barred Afghan women from attending universities, devastating a generation of girls who grew up under a Western-backed government that had encouraged them to receive an education. But the collapse of that government last year has led to the rollback of women’s rights in public society under the Taliban administration.

Aid workers say this could effectively sever a lifeline for roughly 28.3 million Afghans — or two-thirds of the population — who will likely rely on some form of assistance next year.

A hunger crisis looms over Afghanistan, with more than six million people facing famine-like levels of food insecurity, the U.N. reported in December.

Even for groups that remained in Afghanistan, the loss of female humanitarian workers could seriously hinder the delivery of aid, particularly to women and children in need. In many parts of the country, as women’s activities have become more restricted, and where many women interact only with men in their families, female humanitarian workers play a crucial role in delivering household aid. World News Spot

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