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  • Dec 26, 2023

Gender Apartheid

Gender Apartheid refers to hierarchies which socially and economically discriminate against individuals on the basis of their gender or sex. In Iran and Afghanistan, there is currently a war on women, who are at best afforded the status of second-class citizens. Patriarchal governments have created bodies of laws which dictate almost every aspect of female life, from the right to use contraception to the right to access education - thereby stripping women of their basic rights, fundamental autonomy, and essentially their dignity.

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Here are some facts to truly put this into perspective:

Child Marriage - Sharia-based Iranian law states that the legal age for marriage is 13 for girls, but marriages can still be carried out at a younger age with the consent of fathers and permission from court judges.

Compulsory Hijab and Body Autonomy - Girls have to wear compulsory hijab from as early as the age of 6 at the start of pre-school, or they will be arrested for not complying with the hijab rules and will have to go to court.

Education and Work - An Iranian educational policy implemented in 2012 restricted women’s access to higher education in 30% of Iran’s public universities, mostly for degrees in the sciences and engineering (which also happen to be male-dominated fields). Post-education, women are confronted with a blaring wage gap, and are often overlooked by employers for managerial positions, who prefer men with supposedly more logic and fewer emotions, instead.

Marriage, divorce and custody - Share of capital gains during a marriage does not belong to women. From the age of 7, the custody of children after divorce is granted to the father automatically, unless a court rules the father to be unfit. If a mother remarries, they forfeit the custody of their children. A man has the right to forbid his wife from obtaining a passport to travel abroad and can prevent her from travelling abroad at any time (even if she has a passport).

Honour killing - Honour killing is rooted in patriarchal law. A 2019 report found that almost 30% of all murder cases in Iran were honour killings of women and girls.


However, should women retaliate against such injustice, they will find themselves immediately silenced by the respective Hezbollah and Taliban governments through gender-based persecution, recognised in international law as ‘persecution on the grounds of gender, under article 7(1)(h) of the Statute’. Nevertheless, when gender persecution is structurally and systematically perpetrated by the regime, it morphs into

gender apartheid - a matter of segregation - when women’s rights are distinctively recognised as inherently different and inferior to that of their male counterparts. Such a crime against humanity has led to the campaign to End Gender Apartheid.

Thus, when an inquiry was made into the situation of women in Iran and Afghanistan on the 22nd June 2023, Azadi Network immediately applied itself to the task of supplying the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute with information on gender apartheid. Our response had three main focuses: one on the situation of women and girls in Iran and Afghanistan; another on the need to classify the situation as an example of both gender persecution and gender apartheid; and finally our recommendations for states to take action and address the international crime which is being committed.

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