Aid chief to ask Taliban's Kandahar leaders to scrap female worker ban

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kabul, Afghanistan
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KABUL (Reuters) - The head of a major aid group that suspended work in Afghanistan after the Taliban banned female NGO workers said on Thursday he would write to the the administration's senior figures in Kandahar and ask them to change the policy.

Jan Egeland, the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Reuters it was crucial to engage with the leadership in the southern city, home to the Taliban's supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada.

"The letter I'm drafting will say: We know you, we worked in ... areas controlled by the Taliban for many years. You know us.

"You know that our female staff have always used the hijab. They've had ... a male chaperone on longer travel. Your people are suffering because of your ban on female workers. "

The Taliban administration last month ordered all local and foreign aid groups to stop letting female staff work until further notice.

It said the move, which was condemned globally, was justified because some women had not adhered to the Taliban's interpretation of Islamic dress code.

Many NGOs suspended operations in response, saying they needed female workers to reach women in the conservative country.

Egeland, who visited the capital Kabul this week, said officials there had told him they were in favour of women working at NGOs, but that the order had come from Kandahar. Spokespeople for the Taliban administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Egeland said he had arranged meetings in Kandahar with the Ulema Council, made up of religious scholars, and the provincial governor, as it was not possible for foreign humanitarian agencies to meet directly with Akhundzada.

But after bad weather halted flights, he said he would write instead and try to arrange online meetings.

He said he welcomed some signs of flexibility in health and others areas, where some female and male workers worked alongside each other. But he called for a full reversal of the ban.

"Our male staff cannot go to widows, single mothers and their children, to all of the vulnerable female groups here and thereby were prevented from doing all work," he said.

(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Andrew Heavens)