• Press Release

Global: Gender Apartheid Must Be Recognized as a Crime Under International Law

June 17, 2024

(FilippoBacci via Getty)

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

“The international community has failed to adequately recognize, acknowledge and address the institutionalized and systematic domination and oppression of women, girls and LGBTI people. We are calling for the recognition of gender apartheid under international law to fill a major gap in our global legal framework. No one should ever be permitted to violate, segregate, silence or exclude people because of their gender,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“Yet, generations upon generations of women and girls, the world over, have been subjected to institutionalized and systematic violence, domination and oppression. Incalculable numbers have been killed, with many more denied dignity, freedom and equality in their daily lives. It is truly shameful that the world has failed both to recognize systematic oppression and domination on the basis of gender as a crime under international law and failed to respond appropriately to its gravity.

“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.

“States must heed this call. This form of institutionalized oppression must be named. A mandate for its investigation and prosecution must be affirmed, and due penalty for its commission set. We owe that recognition, rigor and respect to the activists on the frontlines of the struggle for gender rights and equality, and we owe that justice to the victims and survivors of gender apartheid.”

Amnesty International advocates the legal recognition of gender apartheid – being the institutionalized pattern of systemic domination and oppression on the basis of gender – 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, recognizes 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 institutionalized and ideological nature of the abuses that may be committed under a system of apartheid.

“The world must finally recognize gender apartheid under international law to fully extend the shield of law to women, girls and LGBTQI people and to rally and support efforts for the eradication of this heinous crime, wherever it occurs,” said Agnès Callamard.

“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. UN Member States must seize this chance to incorporate gender apartheid into international law, as well as seeking other opportunities, such as at the Human Rights Council, to reinforce the concept.”


The concept of apartheid on the grounds of gender 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 institutionalized discrimination or oppression of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran does or 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.