Afghan women learn how to read the Koran in a madrasa or religious school in Kabul
Afghan women learn how to read the Koran in a madrasa or religious school in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 8, 2022. Reuters

The United Nations' mission to Afghanistan has launched a review of its operations and asked all Afghan staff not to come to work at least until May after the Taliban administration barred its women staff from working, it said in a statement on Tuesday.

The United Nations said last week that the Taliban, who swept to power in 2021, had communicated that Afghan women would not be able to work for the global organisation. Taliban officials have not commented on the order.

"Through this ban, the Taliban de facto authorities seek to force the United Nations into having to make an appalling choice between staying and delivering in support of the Afghan people and standing by the norms and principles we are duty-bound to uphold," the U.N. mission (UNAMA) said.

The U.N. has said that implementing the order would put the global organisation in breach of its charter.

It has asked some 3,000 staff - men and women - to stay home until May 5 while it made "necessary consultations", made any required adjustments to its operations and accelerated contingency planning.

The restriction on female U.N. workers, coming in the wake of a ban on most female NGO workers in December, has prompted heavy international criticism.

Some officials have flagged concerns donors may pull back on support to Afghanistan's humanitarian aid programme, the largest in the world, and that implementing some programmes and reaching women in the conservative country without female workers would not be possible.

The Taliban have imposed a series of restrictions on women's access to work, education and public life. Taliban officials have said they respect women's rights in line with their strict interpretation of Islamic law.