Afghanistan: The Taliban's war on women is gender apartheid

Afghanistan the Taliban's war on women is gender apartheid

Le second anniversary of Taliban takeover in Afghanistan fast approaching. Since then, Afghan women have been deprived of the most basic human rights in what can only be described as gender apartheid.

Only by characterizing the situation in Afghanistan as a crime against humanity can the international community legally combat the systematic discrimination against women and girls in that country.

The eradication of women from the public sphere is central to Taliban ideology. Women's rights institutions in Afghanistan, including the Ministry of Women's Affairs, have been dismantled, while the dreaded Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission was dissolved and the 2004 constitution repealed; legislation guaranteeing equality between men and women has been invalidated.

Today, Afghan women do not have access to higher education, they cannot leave the house without a male chaperone, they cannot work, except in the health sector and in certain private companies; THE parks, sports halls and beauty salons are forbidden to them.

A closed beauty salon
Panoramic view of a closed beauty salon in Kabul city, Afghanistan in July 2023. The Taliban have closed all beauty salons in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Siddiqullah Khan)

Women targeted

Of the approximately 80 decrees issued by the Taliban, 54 particularly target women, severely restricting their rights and violating Afghanistan's international obligations as well as its previous constitutional and national laws.

The Taliban don't seem worried, continuing where they left off 20 years ago when they first took power. The results of their ambitions are almost apocalyptic.

Afghanistan faces one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. About 19 million people suffer from acute food insecurity, while more than 90% of Afghans feel it in one form or another, the female-headed households and children being the most affected.

Gender-based violence has increased exponentially, resulting in impunity for perpetrators and lack of support for victims, while ethnic, religious and sexual minorities suffer fierce persecution.

This sad reality highlights the urgent need to address the how civil, political, socio-economic and gender-based harms are interconnected.

A woman wearing a blue niqab feeds a baby with a bottle. Another baby is waving in the background
Malnourished mothers and babies wait to receive aid and examinations at an international humanitarian clinic in Kabul, Afghanistan in January 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Crime under international law

Karima Bennoune, an Algerian and American scholar specializing in international law, advocated recognizing gender apartheid as a crime under international law. This recognition would flow from States' international legal commitments to gender equality and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal XNUMX aiming to achieve gender equality globally by 2030.

The criminalization of gender apartheid would provide the international community with a powerful legal framework to effectively respond to Taliban abuses. If the United Nations has already labeled the situation in Afghanistan as gender apartheid, this term is currently not recognized by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as one of the worst international crimes.

During the presentation of his report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Richard Bennett – the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan – said:

Serious, systematic and institutionalized discrimination against women and girls is central to the Taliban's ideology and power, raising fears that they are responsible for gender-based apartheid.

Criminalizing gender apartheid on a global scale would enable the international community to fulfill its obligation to respond effectively and attempt to eradicate it once and for all. It would provide the legal tools needed to ensure compliance with international commitments to women's rights in all aspects of life.

Shaharzad Akbar, director of the Rawadari group for the defense of human rights and former chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, urged the Human Rights Council to recognize that the situation in Afghanistan is one of gender-based apartheid.

She points out that "the Taliban have turned Afghanistan into a veritable graveyard of the ambitions, dreams and potential of Afghan women and girls".

Support from South Africa

A number of Afghan women's rights advocates have also called the inclusion of gender apartheid in the draft UN convention on crimes against humanity.

Even more remarkable, Bronwen Levy, representative of South Africa on the Security Council, urged the international community to "take action against what the report (by Mr. Bennett) describes as gender apartheid, just as it has done to support South Africa's struggle against racial apartheid".

Elsewhere, the President of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality of the European Parliament, as well as the head of its delegation for relations with Afghanistan, described the situation in Afghanistan as "unacceptable" and representing gender apartheid.

Each time an apartheid system appears, it is a failure of the international community. The Afghan context must compel it to respond effectively to the persecution of women.

Recognizing that the Taliban regime is gender apartheid is not only crucial for Afghans, it is for the credibility of the entire United Nations system. As the Afghan human rights activist told the Security Council Zubaida Akbar :

If you don't stand up for women's rights here, you have no credibility to do so elsewhere.

The Taliban's two harrowing years since coming to power in Afghanistan have taught us that traditional human rights initiatives, while essential, are not enough to combat gender apartheid. The world needs unyielding international collective action to end the war on women. Not in two months. Not in two years. NOW.

Vrinda Narain, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Center for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, McGill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: Shutterstock/ kursat-bayhan

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