Afghanistan Womens Rights

International Women’s Day: Afghan Women Endure Gender Apartheid

As the world marked March 8th, International Women’s Day, women in Afghanistan feel they have “nothing to celebrate.” Women’s Day is meant to be a day dedicated to the fight to achieve gender equality and advance women’s well-being and progress in various social, political and economic aspects of life. 

But in Afghanistan, the increasingly austere policies of gender apartheid against women are a stark reminder of the discrimination faced by women in the country. 

Gulsoom, a 13-year old who completed sixth grade when the Taliban shut down her school, expressed worries about her future: “When girls are denied education, it deeply affects their mental well-being. I urge the United Nations to reopen girls’ schools and universities.”

This International Women’s Day, Afghan women from an activist group known as the Purple Saturdays staged a protest in the northern province of Takhar, demanding “Rights, Justice, Freedom,” one sign read. “Our silence and fear is the biggest weapon of the Taliban,” said one of the protestors. 

Samira Hamidi, with Amnesty International’s Afghanistan, laid out the brutal treatment of women and girls who have protested Taliban policies e.g. violence, death and arrest. UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, insists that the Taliban government release all women who have been arbitrarily detained for defending human and women’s rights. 

Last summer, women held a demonstration after beauty salons were closed down, where gunshots were fired into the air to disperse the crowd. Even those protesting and speaking up from their homes are being detained and kept in jail. 

At other protests in Mazar-i-Sharif city, women pointed out that schools, universities and offices should be open to women, and that it is “very painful that a woman has no value in our society today. She cannot use any of her rights.” 

They added, “women make up half of human society as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and teachers. The holy religion of Islam is not against women’s work and education,” countering an argument used by the Taliban in their interpretation of Sharia law.

International Women’s Day allows us to reflect on the challenges facing women around the world and on the mechanisms that can be used to fight those challenges. For example, the Independent Coalition of Afghanistan Women’s Protest Movement called for action from the international community against the violation of human rights the Taliban commit against Afghan women. 

Since the Taliban takeover of the government in 2021, gender apartheid has been at the forefront of the debate over Afghanistan’s future, and it remains crucial that it is recognized as an international crime to fight against it. It is imperative to recognize gender apartheid as an international crime as regimes systematically and deliberately oppress and alienate women only because they are women. It would also complement the 11 crimes against humanity listed under the Rome Statute.

Women in Afghanistan grapple with this International Women’s Day in obscurity. Advancements in women’s rights are incomplete without the inclusion and solidarity of Afghan women, who have seen setbacks in their fight for dignity.


UN Women 3/8/2024; NBC News 3/8/2023; Arab News 3/8/2024; Amu 3/8/2024

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