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Taliban allows bakeries for women to reopen

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) — Afghanistan's ruling Taliban Thursday allowed U.N.-funded bakeries for women to reopen, just days after ordering them shut as part of a religious ban on women working for foreign aid agencies.

A spokesman for the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) told Reuters in Islamabad that Taliban Foreign Minister Abdul Wakil Muttawakil had conveyed the decision in a meeting with WFP officials in Kabul.

The WFP said Wednesday that the Taliban had ordered the closure of 25 bakeries in the capital Kabul that employed 360 women.

That order was part of an edict under which the U.N. agencies and other nongovernmental aid organizations cannot employ Afghan female staff in their projects, except in the health sector.

The bakeries, fully staffed by women, are among 157 WFP-run bakeries that supply highly subsidized bread to some 300,000 people in Kabul.

"We welcome this decision and we hope the ban on women's employment would be fully rescinded," the WFP spokesman said about the new move.

He said he hoped the bakeries, which have been feeding some 34,000 women and children in the war-shattered capital, would start working Friday morning.

WFP country director in Kabul Peter Goosens had Wednesday called the earlier Taliban order to ban the women's bakeries "a serious impediment for our operation."

He said the women working in the bakeries and those who received bread from them were among the poorest residents of the capital.

The Taliban have banned women from outdoor work and barred them from education since sweeping to power more than three years ago.