Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Promoting tolerance and justice through knowledge and understanding

Open Letter: Countries Must Recognize Crime of Gender Apartheid

EndGenderApartheid campaign
March 8, 2023

As a diverse coalition of Iranian and Afghan women leaders, international legal practitioners, activists and other stakeholders, we are calling on states to recognize the crime of gender apartheid to counteract and eventually end the systems of gender apartheid currently in place in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Taliban in Afghanistan are often described as “gender apartheid” regimes for their treatment of women as second‑class citizens under law and policy. However, apartheid standards in international law, developed primarily in the 20th century, were designed to address racial apartheid.

Apartheid comes from the Afrikaans word for “apart.” The term was born out of apartheid South Africa, and its system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination, which sought to establish and maintain dominance by white South Africans over black South Africans. That system eventually came to an end, in part because of decades of pressure and isolation from international actors through shaming and severing diplomatic and economic relations.

While representing a distinct form of apartheid from that in South Africa, the components of systematic segregation and subjugation that make up apartheid are present in Afghanistan and Iran today. Under the Taliban, women in Afghanistan are banned from education, employment in NGOs and in government, and from traveling long distances without a male guardian, all while having to abide by a severe dress code. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, women are banned from many fields of study, sporting events, and from obtaining a passport and traveling outside the country without their husband’s permission. Women’s lives and their testimony are worth half a man under the law and they are forced to wear compulsory hijab. These bans, and the broader legal systems they belong to, seek to establish and maintain women’s subjugation to men, and the State. Violation of these laws can lead to violence, imprisonment, and death.

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. In order to fully realize the goals of the woman‑led revolution in Iran and to support the courageous defiance of Afghan women who have had their rights brutally stripped away, the international community must properly recognize the harms of a legally enshrined system in which women are treated as second‑class citizens and acknowledge this not only through condemnation but through effective, concerted action.

The situations in the Islamic Republic of Iran and under the Taliban in Afghanistan are not simply cases of gender discrimination. Rather, these systems are perpetuating a more extreme, systematic and structural war against women designed to dehumanize and repress them for purposes of entrenching power.


  1. Amplify and center the experiences of women in Iran and Afghanistan living under gender apartheid.
  2. Make statements, issue resolutions and shape other policy responses to condemn the gender apartheid regimes in Iran and Afghanistan.
  3. Interpret and/or expand the legal definition of apartheid under international and national laws to include severe forms of institutionalized gender‑based discrimination.

 Key signatures:

  • Shirin Ebadi Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • Najla Ayoubi Judge, Co‑founder Every Woman Treaty
  • Mehrangiz Kar Lawyer, Women's Rights Defender & Author
  • Fawzia Koofi First Woman Deputy Speaker, Afghan Parliament
  • Masih Alinejad Journalist, Human Rights Activist
  • Wahida Rahimi Former Judge, Afghanistan
  • Shadi Sadr Human Rights Lawyer
  • Nazanin Boniadi Actress & Human Rights Activist
  • Wahida Amiri Women’s Rights Defender, Afghanistan
  • Atena Daemi Human Rights Activist
  • Karima Bennoune Law Professor & Former UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights
  • Sharan Tabari Journalist
  • Roya Boroumand Executive Director, Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
  • Ladan Boroumand Historian & Human Rights Activist
  • Azar Nafisi Writer & Activist 
  • Azadeh Pourzand Co‑founder & Director, Siamak Pourzand Foundation
  • Asieh Amini Poet, Writer & Women's Rights Activist
  • Nazanin Afshin‑Jam Mackay Human Rights Activist
  • Pashtana Dorani Executive Director LEARN, Afghan Activist
  • Nayera Kohistani Afghan Civil Rights Activist
  • Gissou Nia Human Rights Lawyer
  • Nina Ansary Author & Human Rights Advocate
  • Azita Ghanizada Actress & Activist
  • Zahra Joya Journalist & Founder, Rukhshana Media
  • Every Woman Treaty Coalition of over 1,700 advocates
  • Zehra Zaidi Co‑Founder, Action for Afghanistan
  • Kobra Moradi Human Rights Lawyer
  • Mina Sharif Paragon Institute
  • Julia Parsi Leader in Afghan Women's Protest Movement
  • Naeema Asadi Women’s Rights Defender, Afghanistan
  • Sodaba Bayani Women's Rights Activist, Afghanistan
  • Shirin Neshat Artist
  • Nafisa Kabuli President, Afghan Women Judge’s Association
  • Lily Pourzand Gender Equality Expert
  • Sepideh Moafi Activist & Actor
  • Lida Kharooti Sayeed Judge & Founder & Vice President of the Afghan Women's Judges Association
  • Zahra Nader Editor‑in‑Chief of Zan Times
  • Zubaida Akbar Woman Human Rights Defender & Afghanistan Program Officer for Freedom Now
  • Metra Mehran Afghan Women's Rights Defender
  • Sheeba Raufi Civil & Women’s Rights Activist
  • Natasha Latiff Human Rights Lawyer, Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights (SAHR)
  • Humaira Ameeri Afghan Human Rights Lawyer
  • Nazanin Nour Actor & Activist
  • Mozhan Marno Actress, Writer & Activist
  • Nasim Pedrad Actor & Activist
  • Akila Radhakrishnan President of the Global Justice Center
  • Maryam Namazie One Law for All
  • Soraya Fallah Researcher & Women's Rights Activist
  • Goli Ameri Former US representative UN General Assembly 
  • Mariam Khosravani Founder of Iranian American Women Foundation
  • Horia Mosadiq Director of Conflict Analysis Network (CAN)
  • Open Stadiums Movement to let Iranian women into stadiums
  • Mariam Safi Director, Organization for Policy Research and Development Studies (DROPS)
  • Neelam Raina Professor & Founder of Afghan Solidarity Coalition
  • Raakhi Shah Chief Executive, The Circle
  • Mahya Ostovar Human Rights Activist, Assistant Professor at University of Galway
  • Fardin Hashimi CEO & Founder, Afghanistan Development Studies Center
  • Roshan Mashal Women's Human Rights Activist, Afghanistan
  • Firuzeh Mahmoudi Founder & Director, United for Iran
  • Global Justice Center Lawyers advancing gender equality and human rights
  • Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN) Protecting & empowering immigrant survivors of crime and persecution
  • Organization for Policy Research and Development Studies (DROPS) Afghan organization committed to strengthening democratic ideas and values
  • Malini Mehra Chief Executive, Globe Legislators
  • Magda Zenon Women, Peace and Security Expert
  • Nushin Sarkarati Human Rights Lawyer
  • Homa Sarshar Author, Activist
  • Zainab Salbi Author, Activist
  • V (formerly Eve Ensler) Author, Activist
  • Aliye Yilmaz Head of Afghanistan Education, Culture and Social Assistance Association in Ankara
  • Parwana Paikan Minister Counselor & Deputy, Afghanistan Embassy in France
  • Lailuma Sadid President, Network of Afghan Diaspora Organisations in Europe
  • Rada Akbar Afghan Artist & Activist
  • Humira Saqib Director, Afghan Women News Agency Organization
  • Afghan Women News Agency Organization Non profit media group raising the voices of women in the news
  • Visaka Dharmadasa Chairperson, Association of War Affected Women
  • Moj Mahdara Founder & Managing Director Kinship Ventures
  • Maryam Rayed Founder, Afghanistan Women's Think Tank
  • Angela Mehri Human Rights Activist
  • Fariza Akbari Ibrahimi Afghan Women's Rights Activist
  • Tamanna Rezaei Women's Rights Activist
  • Sabira Akbari Afghan Women's Rights Activist & Protestor
  • Lina Ahmadi Afghan Lawyer and Protestor
  • Sumaya Shirzad Afghan Women's Rights Activist & Protestor
  • Aliya Naibi Afghan Women's Rights Activist & Protestor
  • Fahranaz Haidari Afghan Women's Rights Activist & Protestor
  • Tara Grammy Actor & Activist
  • Niousha Noor Actor & Activist
  • Shella Kohestani Afghan Women's Rights Activist
  • Zahrah Mirzaei Afghan Women's Rights Activist & Protestor 
  • Zahra Mohammadi Haqparas Founder, Unity and Solidarity Team of Afghan Women 
  • Fatema Qurbani Afghan Human Rights Activist
  • Gulsom Zahra Afghan Human Rights Activist
  • Sima Noori Head of Women's Affairs Committee, Hazara World Council
  • Nilofar Ayoubi Afghan Women's Rights Activist & Protestor
  • Munisa Mobariz Founder, Afghanistan Powerful Women's movement
  • Fawzia Wahdat Journalist & Women's Rights Activist
  • Tahera Nasiri Afghan Women's Rights Activist & Protestor 
  • Atefa Tayeb Former Afghan Deputy Minister for Parliamentary Affairs
  • Task Force Nyx Women‑led NGO that fights for the futures and freedoms of Afghan women and girls
  • Yasmeen Ghyasi Afghan Women's Rights Activist & Protestor
  • Maliha Zafari Civil Society Activist
  • Maryam Shafipour Human Rights Activist
  • Azam Jangravi Women's Rights Activist
  • Benafsha Yaqoobi Former Commissioner on Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission