U.N. aid chief raises women's rights concerns with Taliban in Afghan capital

Displaced Afghan women stand waiting to receive cash aid for displaced people in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 28, 2022. REUTERS/Ali Khara/File Photo

KABUL, Jan 23 (Reuters) - The United Nations' aid chief visited Kabul on Monday and raised concerns over women's education and work with the Taliban administration's acting minister of foreign affairs, an Afghan ministry statement said.

The Taliban-run administration last month ordered NGOs not to allow most female employees to work, prompting many aid agencies to partially suspend operations in the midst of a humanitarian crisis unfolding during a bitterly cold winter.

U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths raised the issue of women's education and work and how this affected the U.N.'s operations, according to a ministry of foreign affairs statement.

Speaking generally about Griffiths's visit to Afghanistan, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Griffiths would engage the Taliban administration "with the same message that we've been delivering since the beginning on the need to to rollback the policies that were put in place" on women.

He said Griffiths would "underscore the message that humanitarian aid cannot be delivered without women."

Griffiths's travel follows a visit to Afghanistan last week by U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, who expressed alarm to Taliban officials in Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar over the administration's orders restricting women from work and education.

Acting Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Amir Khan Muttaqi said he asked Griffiths to share with the international community the Taliban administration's "achievements and opportunities" like a general amnesty for former opponents, "instead of complaints and shortcomings."

The foreign ministry statement said Griffiths had acknowledged security had improved in the country, which had seen decades of fighting before the Taliban took over as foreign troops withdrew in 2021.

No foreign government has formally recognised the Taliban administration since it seized power, with some diplomats saying it must change course on women's rights. Many countries have expressed major concerns over most girls and women over the age of 12 being stopped from attending school or university.

Enforcement of sanctions and a cut in development aid have contributed to the country falling into an economic crisis which has left more than half the population dependent on humanitarian aid, aimed at meeting urgent needs.

Reporting by Mohammad Yunus Yawar and Charlotte Greenfield, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols, editing by Deepa Babington

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