"Shocked, outraged, heartbroken" - The ban on female aid workers in Afghanistan
Words by Fatima*, a teacher working for Save the Children in Afghanistan
Just over a week ago, the Taliban banned me from working for Save the Children. I work in education, and I love my job more than anything in the world. They banned me as an Afghan woman, saying female aid workers in Afghanistan aren’t necessary.
I was shocked. Outraged. Heartbroken.
Our students are mid-way through their exams. Now they may not be able to complete their exams, which means they may not be able to graduate to the next grade. A whole year of study wasted. Girls and women in Afghanistan are no strangers to fighting long and hard for our right to learn, to move freely, to exist. I was nine years old before I knew what school was. I couldn’t read or write, and I didn’t even know what a school building looked like. The community in Afghanistan where I grew up didn’t have a school and everyone was illiterate.
Then one day, a Turkish organisation built a school close to my home – and my whole life changed. Back then, the Taliban were in power for the first time and had prohibited girls from going to school. But my brave father defied them and others in our community who didn’t think girls had a right to be educated. He would walk my sister and me to school every day, determined that we would have opportunities in life. He didn’t want us to be married to men older than our grandfathers, which was often the fate for girls in my village.
It was hard, and dangerous. My father’s life was threatened. But we did it. We were the first girls in our community to ever go to school. And I was the first girl in my community to go to university. I studied midwifery but later chose to become a teacher to ensure girls in my community had the chance to be educated.
Fast-forward to present day and history is repeating itself. Once again, the Taliban are in power and have banned girls from secondary school and women from university. They have banned us from parks, gyms, from travelling alone. They have banned us from living our lives. The latest decree prohibiting women from working for any international or national nongovernment organisations in Afghanistan not only further limits the rights of women – it will cost lives.
Without our female staff, organisations like Save the Children cannot safely and effectively operate in Afghanistan. That’s because women and girls in our communities can only interact with women and girls outside their family. That means we can only see female midwives, doctors, or nurses. Our girls can only be taught by female teachers. Female-headed households cannot receive cash and food assistance unless there is a female aid worker at the distribution who she can speak with. The ban on female aid workers is effectively cutting off women and children from vital support at a time when we’re facing our biggest food and economic crisis on record.
I’m calling on the world to stand with us, advocate for us, be our voice and demand that the ban be reversed. Our lives depend on it.
*Name changed to protect identity