The Guardian reported on Wednesday that in London, on International Women’s Day, a campaign was launched calling for gender apartheid to be recognized as a crime under international law.
The campaign, which was announced in an open letter, wants to see anti-apartheid laws extended to cover discrimination based on gender, which would put pressure on countries like Afghanistan and Iran to end their long-standing practices of sexism.
Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Fawzia Koofi, the first female deputy speaker of the Afghan Parliament; and Benafsha Yaqoobi, a commissioner on the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, are among the international lawyers and prominent political figures who have signed the statement.
The word “apartheid,” from the Afrikaans word for “apart,” came to be used as a descriptive term for the systemic racism that existed in South Africa in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Nonetheless, the campaign has accused Afghanistan and Iran of practicing forms of gender apartheid, and the term has been used to describe countries such as Israel because of its policies toward the Palestinians.
Among the issues raised in the open letter are the Taliban’s restrictions on women’s access to education and employment in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the government, as well as the strict guardian laws in Afghanistan that prevent women from traveling long distances alone.
Human rights attorney and campaign supporter Gissou Nia said, “It is paramount to understand that gender apartheid currently only has power as a descriptive term.
The international crime of apartheid applies only to racial hierarchies, not to gender hierarchies.
The goal of this movement is to “increase the moral, political, and legal instruments for mobilizing international action against and ending systems of gender apartheid.”
In Iran, “women are banned from many fields of study, sporting events, from traveling without a male guardian, are worth half a man under the law, and are forced to wear a compulsory hijab,” the open letter states.
These prohibitions, along with the larger legal frameworks to which they belong, are designed to ensure that women remain subservient to men and the state. To violate these laws is to risk physical harm, incarceration, and even death.
The signatories state that the campaign will not attempt to impose Western cultural values on Muslim societies around the world, but rather will target discriminatory policies based on gender that exist independently of religion.