Labelling the discrimination against women under the Taliban as “gender apartheid” could work as a catalyst for change in Afghanistan
This was reaffirmed by Richard Bennett—the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan—who in his recent report published on 6th March 2023 highlighted that the humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan have continued to deteriorate since his previous report of 2022. Stressing upon the plight of the Afghan women, he further indicated, “in mid-November 2022, the authorities banned women’s access to parks, gyms, and public baths and, on 21st December, they announced the suspension of women from academia. Three days later, on 24th December, women were banned from seeking employment opportunities.” Bennett concluded the report by stating, “the cumulative effect of the Taliban’s systemic discrimination against women raises concerns about the commission of international crimes” and implied that “the cumulative effect of the restrictions on women and girls (...) was tantamount to gender apartheid.” The word apartheid has been derived from the Afrikaans word for “apart” and was first used to highlight the treatment of black people in South Africa under the white minority rule that ned from 1948 to the early 1990s. Thus, according to the Rome Statute, apartheid—majorly revolves around the issue of racial oppression—and is broadly defined as “inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to the Statute, committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” Meanwhile, gender has not been included and finds no mention whatsoever in this definition. But, the Rome Statue does recognise crimes of gender persecution as crimes against humanity where the term persecution refers to “the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectively” and “gender” meaning “the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society.” Gender apartheid, however, has not yet been recognised as an international crime and in fact, currently only has the power of being a descriptive term. To put it simply, as per the international law, the crime of apartheid is only applicable to racial hierarchies but not the hierarchies that have been based on gender. But, over the past few years, the topic has been receiving some attention. The Lewis M. Simes Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, Karima Bennoune has described gender apartheid as “a system of governance, based on laws, which imposes systematic segregation of women and men and may also systematically exclude women from public spaces and spheres.” She further states, “gender apartheid is anathema to
Despite their initial promises to establish a more moderate rule that would allow women to continue with their education and employment, the hard-line Islamist group soon rolled back all democratic rights that were once freely enjoyed by these women.
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Akanksha Khullar is a Visiting Fellow with the ORFs Strategic Studies Programme where her work focuses on the intersection of policy advice and academic research ...Read More +