Afghan and Iranian Women call for ecognition of gender-based violence as a crime in international law

A coalition of prominent Afghan and Iranian women’s rights activists have launched an internet campaign on International Women’s Day, calling for gender-based violence to be recognised as a crime under international law.

Joined by international lawyers and women from around the world, the group calls for global action and says that women and girls in Afghanistan and Iran live in “an extreme, systematic and structural war against them.” 

In an open letter, the women calls the treatment of women by the Taliban and the Iranian government “gender apartheid” and demands it to be treated the same as racial apartheid under international law. 

The letter states that “the components of segregation and systematic subjugation that make apartheid, exist in Afghanistan and Iran.”

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The signatories include high-profile public figures from Iran and Afghanistan, such as Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Fawzia Koofi, a former Deputy Speaker of the Afghan Parliament.

They highlight that under the Taliban, women are barred from education, working for NGOs, and travelling without a male guardian, while in Iran, women are prohibited from participating in many fields of study and sporting events, are forced to wear compulsory hijab, and cannot travel without a male guardian.

Gissou Nia, a campaign supporter and human rights lawyer, told the Guardian that “it is important to understand that gender apartheid currently only holds descriptive power.”

“Under international law, the crime of apartheid only applies to racial hierarchies, not hierarchies based on gender. This campaign will seek to expand the set of moral, political and legal tools available to mobilise international action against and ultimately end systems of gender apartheid.” She added. 

The Afghan and Iranian women urge the international community to put pressure on the Taliban and the Iranian government. 

“Looking to the example of the international community’s condemnation of apartheid South Africa, women living in Iran and Afghanistan are requesting similarly internationalized responses to end the gender apartheid regimes they are subject to.”