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Photos of a class in Herat in October 2022, provided by Sweeta Naimi.Sweeta Naimi

Sweeta Naimi was the primary breadwinner for her family before the Taliban declared that women could no longer work for non-governmental organizations in the country.

Since the day she learned of the Taliban directive, the 33-year-old has been depressed, agonizing over her lost wages and being forced to stay home. Still, she does everything she can to stay strong for her parents.

“They are very old. I don’t want to show that I’m upset in front of them. I love, I smile and I tell them, ‘This is not a big problem, this will be solved.’ … But mostly I go to a room, lock the door and I cry,” she said, adding that her parents have medical problems and she doesn’t want to worry them.

It’s been one month since the Taliban issued an edict banning women from working for NGOs, sparking outrage around the world. There have been some exceptions for women who work in health care and education, but aid leaders say more women are needed to deliver life-saving support.

A group who recently visited Afghanistan to look into the effects of the ban held a briefing at the United Nations this week to discuss the trip.

Martin Griffiths, a UN emergency relief co-ordinator, said they met with nine Taliban leaders, expressed their opposition to the ban and asked for additional sectors to be granted exceptions or for women to be authorized to work. He said they were told arrangements were forthcoming – that the Taliban are developing guidelines for women’s work in the humanitarian sector.

Mr. Griffiths said he doesn’t want anyone to underestimate the gravity of the situation. “It’s a potential death blow to many, many very important humanitarian programs,” he said, adding that without exceptions to allow women to work, the outcome will be “catastrophic.”

“The case has been made, and we’re waiting for the judge to come out with a verdict,” he told reporters.

Ms. Naimi, who worked as a supervisor in rural schools for internally displaced people in Herat, a program run by Catholic Relief Services, said she has kept in touch with her colleagues and hopes they will return to work.

As the eldest of her siblings, her family relied on her salary. If she is not allowed to return to work, she has a backup plan: starting a sewing business. “Making dresses for women or clothes for men,” she said, something she can do without leaving home – which has become impossible without a male escort since the Taliban returned to power.

Afghan female students not allowed to sit university entrance exam, says Taliban ministry

Megan Gilbert, the regional communications officer for Catholic Relief Services, said that because female employees are essential to carrying out the humanitarian agency’s work in a culturally appropriate way, it is unable to continue its operations in Afghanistan. “We hope the negotiations are successful and that we will be able to resume activities in the near future,” she said.

In the country’s north, Shabana Habibi, 22, said the decree means she is prevented from working for the Afghan Bureau Collaboration Office (ABCO). She said her work involved encouraging girls to go to school and talking with them about the challenges they faced.

Ms. Habibi said that, without being able to study or work, she feels as though two doors have been slammed in her face. “There’s nothing I can do,” she said, adding that when she thinks about the future, she can only “see black.” Her family is very poor and can barely afford wood and food on her brother’s salary.

Amer Yahya, a program director of the ABCO, said the ban has partly affected all of his organization’s work in the country. The ABCO has restructured its activities to continue solely with male staff, but that’s only temporary.

“In the long run, female staff are a must for the success of our projects,” Mr. Yahya said. The ABCO is attempting to get local waivers for some of its female staff for specific tasks, he added.

A 26-year-old woman, whom The Globe and Mail is not identifying to protect her safety, said she was a nutrition program director in Kandahar, helping mothers and their children with programs to prevent malnutrition and the spread of disease.

She cried on the phone with her colleagues when they learned of the ban, she said. She is the sole provider for her family and is responsible for buying her parents’ medication. “I am worried about them. For now they have medicine, but next month, we can’t afford it.”