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Global: Gender apartheid must be recognised as a crime under international law

‘This form of institutionalised oppression must be named’ - Agnès Callamard

Gender apartheid must be recognised as a crime under international law to strengthen efforts to combat institutionalised regimes of systematic oppression and domination imposed on the grounds of gender, said Amnesty International today.

The concept of “gender apartheid” was first articulated by Afghan women human rights defenders and feminist allies in response to the subjugation of women and girls and systematic attacks on their rights under the Taliban in the 1990s. It has become more widely used since the Taliban reclaimed control of Afghanistan in 2021.

A number of Iranian feminists and UN experts have also argued that the institutionalised discrimination or oppression of women in Iran could amount to gender apartheid.

An international campaign for the recognition of gender apartheid in international law has drawn wide support from feminist activists and allies globally, including four women Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.

Amnesty supports the legal recognition of gender apartheid to address what is a major gap in international law.

The closest approximation under the current international framework is persecution on the basis of gender, which international law - such as in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court - recognises as a crime against humanity. However, the intent and scope of that crime differs in significant ways from apartheid. While specific groups may be targeted under both crimes, the concept of persecution alone does not fully capture the scope and reach of systemic domination, or the institutionalised and ideological nature of the abuses that may be committed under a system of apartheid.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“It is truly shameful that the world has failed both to recognise systematic oppression and domination on the basis of gender as a crime under international law.

“Generations upon generations of women and girls the world over have been subjected to institutionalised and systematic violence, domination and oppression. Incalculable numbers have been killed, with many more denied dignity, freedom and equality in their daily lives.

“Today we are joining the calls of courageous trailblazers - including women of Afghanistan, Iran and beyond - who have led the way in demanding recognition of gender apartheid in international law.

“We are calling for the recognition of gender apartheid under international law to fill a major gap in our global legal framework.

“The draft Crimes Against Humanity Convention - a major treaty effort currently under discussion at the UN - represents an important opportunity to invigorate the fight for gender justice.

“States must heed this call. This form of institutionalised oppression must be named.”

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