On Sunday, several foreign assistance organizations declared that they were stopping their operations in Afghanistan after the Taliban ordered all nongovernmental organizations to stop employing women.
Their statement caused international officials and nongovernmental organizations to issue dire warnings about the impact on humanitarian relief.
Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and CARE stated in a joint statement, "We cannot reach children, women, and men in Afghanistan who are in critical need without our female employees."
"While we await clarification on this declaration, we are stopping our programs and insisting that men and women in Afghanistan have equal access to our lifesaving aid."
The International Rescue Committee, which provides emergency assistance in health, education, and other areas and employs 3,000 women throughout Afghanistan, has likewise announced the suspension of its services.
"For IRC, our ability to assist is contingent on the presence of women at all levels of our organization," the New York-based nonprofit said in a statement. We cannot assist needy people if we are prohibited from employing women.
The restriction is the most recent blow to women's rights in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power a year ago.
Less than a week ago, the Islamist extremists prohibited women from enrolling in institutions, sparking anger around the world and riots in certain Afghan cities.
The economy ministry, which announced the restriction on Saturday, threatened to remove assistance organizations' operating licenses if they failed to prevent women from working.
The ministry stated that it had received "severe complaints" that women working in NGOs were not adhering to the required Islamic dress code. This accusation was also used by authorities to justify limiting higher education.
Karen Decker, the United States charge d'affaires in Afghanistan, warned that the Taliban's choice would result in widespread famine.
"As a representative of the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, I believe I am entitled to an explanation as to how the Taliban intend to prevent women and children from starving, given that women are no longer permitted to distribute aid to other women and children," Decker tweeted in multiple languages on Sunday.
Ramiz Alakbarov, the deputy special representative of the UN head for Afghanistan, told AFP that the embargo would hinder the delivery of relief to millions of people and have a terrible effect on the country's deteriorating economy.
"It will be tough to continue and distribute humanitarian relief in an unbiased and fair manner, given the importance of women's participation," Alakbarov said, adding that the United Nations will attempt to rescind the prohibition.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock demanded a "concrete response from the international community" on Sunday.
In addition, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation deemed the ban "self-defeating and detrimental to the Afghan people's interests" and demanded that the Taliban rethink its decision.
According to Alakbarov, no decision was reached at a meeting of humanitarian officials on Sunday over whether or not all NGOs will halt activities. More discussions will be undertaken.
He agreed that the restriction would affect UN operations because the organization distributes help through a broad network of NGOs. It would also worsen the country's economy, which has been in a tailspin since the withdrawal of international soldiers last August.
"All support supplied to Afghanistan during this time is of the utmost importance, both for the nutritional and employment security of the people," he said.
Since the Taliban took power, Afghanistan's economic situation has deepened, prompting Washington to freeze billions of dollars in assets and foreign donors to reduce funding.
According to Alakbarov, dozens of such organizations operate in rural areas of Afghanistan, and many employ women whose families depend on their income.
Such is the case for 24-year-old Shabana, who told AFP that she is the sole breadwinner in her family.
"My family of 15 will starve to death if I lose my job," said Shabana, who has worked for a foreign NGO for decades and supplied only one name.
While the rest of the world celebrates the new year, Afghanistan has become a hell for women.
Sunday, the administration issued a forceful statement in response to worldwide criticism.
In response to the statement made by the US charge d'affaires, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted, "We do not permit anyone to speak nonsense or make threats against the decisions of our commanders under the guise of humanitarian help."
Uncertainty remained as to whether the directive affected foreign personnel at NGOs.
Respect for women's rights has been a sticking issue in the international community's negotiations with the Taliban leadership for its recognition and the return of aid.
In addition to the prohibition on women entering universities, there is already a ban on girls attending secondary school.
Women have also been barred from traveling without a male relative, compelled to cover up outside the home, preferably with a burqa, and prohibited from entering public parks.