Media reports say at least half a dozen major foreign aid groups have said they are temporarily suspending their operations in Afghanistan after the Taliban barred female employees of local and international NGOs from coming to work.

A joint statement released by aid organizations Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE International on Sundays, in particular, says, “We cannot effectively reach children, women and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without our female staff.”  

“Whilst we gain clarity on this announcement, we are suspending our programs, demanding that men and women can equally continue our lifesaving assistance in Afghanistan,” said the statement, which was signed by the heads of the three NGOs, according to CNN

Another aid group, the International Rescue Committee, reportedly said that of the more than 8,000 people it employs in Afghanistan, more than 3,000 are women.  “If we are not allowed to employ women, we are not able to deliver to those in need,” it said in a statement on Sunday, announcing it was pausing operations in the country.

CNN says Afghanaid also suspended its work in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s move, while Islamic Relief said it had been forced to “temporarily suspend non-lifesaving activities in Afghanistan.”

Recall, the Taliban administration on December 25 ordered all local and international NGOs to stop their female employees from coming to work.

A letter by the Ministry of Economy sent to all licensed NGOs notes that non-compliance will result in the licenses of said NGOs being revoked. 

The Islamist rulers justified the move by saying female NGO staff had broken dress codes by not wearing hijabs.

The decree comes just days after female students were banned from universities.

The move has sparked international outrage. 

Amnesty International said on Twitter that the latest order by “the Taliban Ministry of Economy suspending all female employees of national and international NGOs in Afghanistan is yet another deplorable attempt to erase women from the political, social and economic spaces.”

The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in its statement that the UN office in Afghanistan and its partners condemn the decision of the Islamic Emirate to suspend women's jobs in local and international non-government organizations.

UN agencies have a significant presence in the country, carrying out relief and development work. An urgent meeting of the Humanitarian Country Team was planned for Sunday to respond to the news.

According to the BBC, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was deeply concerned, adding that it "will disrupt vital and life-saving assistance to millions".

"Women are central to humanitarian operations around the world.  This decision could be devastating for the Afghan people," Mr. Blinken said.