Under international law, apartheid is defined as a system of legalized racial segregation originating from South Africa, but there is a growing consensus among international experts, stakeholders, and activists that the concept can also be applied to gender in cases such as Afghanistan, where women are systemically discriminated against.
Counterpart, in partnership with the Afghanistan Policy Lab at Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs, brought together Afghan women leaders and women’s rights advocates on August 15 to explore the inclusion of gender apartheid within international legal frameworks. This was the fourth in the Unifying our Voices series of gatherings, which aims to help Afghan women leaders and activists collectively advocate for the rights of women in Afghanistan. The hybrid event drew participants from the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Afghanistan.
“We created a platform to exchange information and ideas, and to make sure we are moving forward with advancing women’s rights,” said Lida Hedayat, Counterpart’s associate director of women’s empowerment.
The participants engaged in day-long discussions at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs’ DC office, aimed at developing recommendations to combat gender apartheid in Afghanistan. Members of the public joined online for the panel discussion at the end of the day.
Moderated by Palwasha Kakar, interim director for religion and inclusive societies at the US Institute of Peace, the panel featured speakers Naheed Farid, former Afghanistan parliamentarian, Dr. Karima Bennoune, professor of law at the University of Michigan and former UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights, Rangita de Silva de Alwis, member-elect to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and Uche Uzoebo, financial inclusion expert and chief distribution and stakeholder engagement officer at Shared Agent Network Facilities Limited.
Hedayat and Adela Raz, former Afghanistan ambassador to the United Nations and director of the Afghanistan Policy Lab, opened the panel discussion.
“We’ve had a wonderful day of solidarity and collectiveness despite our broken souls,” Raz said. “With all the struggles in front of us, we are not giving up.”
The inclusion of gender apartheid in international legal frameworks is not the solution itself, Bennoune said, but rather it would provide the tools for the international community to act, drawing comparisons to how the apartheid system was dismantled in South Africa thanks to a global movement that brought attention to the atrocities that were committed.
Gender-based discrimination is a problem that women face everywhere in the world. How gender apartheid differs from gender-based discrimination in general is that it implies a system of governance that systemically separates men and women and oppresses women.
The panelists spoke of the exemplary resilience of Afghan women and the need for the entire international community—including international organizations, governments, human rights groups, and activists—to form a global alliance to eradicate systems of gender apartheid.
“There has to be a vaccine that stops the spread,” Farid said regarding ending gender apartheid. “What is happening in Afghanistan cannot happen anywhere else in the world.”
Despite the challenges that lie ahead, there is hope that positive change can happen when people come together in partnership. Alwis said it best: “Even in the darkest of days, there is light.”
Counterpart continues to stand in solidarity with Afghan women in their tireless fight for rights.
Manizha Wafeq, gender technical lead at Counterpart said, “It is encouraging to see Afghan women leaders in exile taking part in the Unifying our Voices roundtable discussions to strategize their collective action to help women in Afghanistan regain access to their rights.”
To learn more about how we’re opening doors to women’s inclusion in conflict settings, read our Gender Integration Toolkit.