UN experts urge recognition of ‘gender apartheid’ as crime against humanity

Women’s protest in Kabul. File photo.

UN experts on Tuesday called for the recognition of gender apartheid as a crime against humanity, particularly highlighting the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan.

“Gender apartheid is not just a theoretical concept but a lived reality for millions of women and girls globally – a reality not explicitly codified in international law,” the experts said. They argued that recognizing gender apartheid as a crime against humanity is a long overdue step by the international community.

The experts described state laws, policies, and practices that extremely marginalize and oppress women as the essence of apartheid systems. In Afghanistan, they noted, Taliban edicts and practices constitute an institutionalized system of discrimination and domination, equating to gender apartheid.

“The Taliban’s rule makes the codification of gender apartheid in international law particularly urgent,” they said, explaining that such a legal framework would better identify and address the regime’s attacks on Afghan women and girls.

Existing legal concepts of gender-specific crimes, while relevant, do not fully encompass the institutionalized and widespread nature of gender apartheid, the experts pointed out. “Only the apartheid framework fully captures the role of intent, ideology, and institutionalization in regimes like Afghanistan’s.”

The experts urged the inclusion of gender apartheid as a crime against humanity in Article 2 of the draft articles on the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity, currently under review by the UN General Assembly’s Sixth Committee.

“This recognition would honor the spirit of apartheid prohibitions and be a significant step towards affirming gender equality,” they concluded, calling on Member and Observer States to uphold human rights principles by recognizing gender apartheid as a systematic subjugation of women and girls.