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The call for criminalizing gender apartheid is a call for equity and justice

Jailed Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi received this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her fight against the oppression of women in Iran. She is the 19th woman to win the prize since 1901. In her acceptance statement, Ms. Mohammadi stressed that the global support for her human rights advocacy makes her “more resolved, more responsible, more passionate, and more hopeful.”

Ms. Mohammadi has now joined leading activists, diplomats, politicians, rights defenders, and women leaders in a joint letter, calling on the UN to criminalize gender apartheid. Urging the international organization to amend a draft treaty on crimes against humanity to include gender apartheid, the letter warns that “the failure to codify gender apartheid perpetuates an accountability vacuum that leaves many victims and survivors without remedy or reparation.”

In Human Rights Law, gender apartheid is defined as “the systematic segregation of the sexes imposed through law and policy as a governing ideology.” Gender apartheid is a direct onslaught on the rights and freedoms of women,expressed in actions and abuses that prevent women from engaging in public life. It drastically limits their prospects and aspirations, and undermines their ability to fulfill their roles as full members of society.

In Iran and Afghanistan, the continued oppression of women and girls is stifling progress and erecting insurmountable barriers to their access to basic rights, including education, healthcare, employment, and legal protection.

The call for gender apartheid to be recognized as a crime under international law will not only help to open a path toward accountability, but will also encourage further support for equity as a key pillar of peace and socio-economic progress, as well as for increased participation of women in all aspects of public life.

By advocating for women’s rights and for their meaningful inclusion in all levels of decision-making processes, activists, policy-makers, and leaders can help societies push back against their systematic oppression and open avenues for peace and prosperity. The participation of women in public governance in countries across the globe proves that when women’s voices are heard, development thrives and transformative changes occur.

Liberia’s recent history offers a prime example of the power of women’s leadership. Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – herself a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate – worked tirelessly during her presidential mandate to lay the foundations of peace, justice, and reconciliation in a conflict-ridden nation and to tackle the root causes of gender inequalities.

The Amujae Initiative – the flagship program of the EJS Center which she founded – is working to break down the barriers for African women, offering tools, advice, and inspiration to reach for the highest levels of public leadership. With the mentorship and support it provides to women in positions of power, this program is one of the driving forces behind regional, continental, and global efforts to fight against the exclusion of women from participating in their countries’ social, economic, and political life.

Awarding the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize to Ms. Mohammadi proves that the global fight for equity and women’s rights continues despite challenges and setbacks. The EJS Center is pleased to see, once again, a woman receiving this prestigious peace prize in recognition of her leadership in advancing equity and justice in her country.

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