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Combatting Gender Apartheid: The Situation of Women & Girls in Afghanistan 


Heather Barr, Associate Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, Metra Mehran, Fellow with NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, Social Entrepreneur and Human Rights Activist, Maryam Rayed, Founding Director of Afghanistan Women’s Think Tank, Amb. Adela Raz, Last Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United States and the United Nations (respectively), and Director of Afghanistan Policy Lab at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, Yalda Royan, Senior Development Professional and Women’s Rights Activist.

This event was co-organized by the Afghanistan Policy Lab at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations, and in co-sponsorship with the Permanent Missions of Malta, South Africa, and the Dominican Republic to the U.N., as well as the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security.

View the full event here. 

The resurgence of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has marked a significant turning point, rekindling profound concerns about the rights and prospects of the Afghan population, with a particular focus on the vulnerable status of women and girls. This event aimed to examine why today’s Afghanistan is a state of “Gender Apartheid” and shed light on the pressing issues pertaining to women’s rights and human rights under the Taliban regime. As the international community gathers for the United Nations General Assembly, it becomes increasingly imperative to confront the multifaceted challenges faced by Afghan women and to ardently champion their fundamental rights and dignity. Under the Taliban regime, Afghan women find themselves grappling with a multitude of challenges that culminate in their almost complete elimination from society. These challenges are deeply ingrained and encompass various aspects of women’s lives, reflecting a systemic Gender Apartheid.

Their decision to bar girls from middle school through higher education has led to the closure of schools and the erosion of educational opportunities. Women’s ability to engage in gainful employment outside their homes has been significantly curtailed, as such that recently women’s beauty salons were shut by the Taliban which not only limits an additional space of social gatherings for women, but also deprives around 60,000 women of livelihoods. This not only undermines their economic independence but also contributes to rising poverty rates among Afghan families.

Movement restrictions by the Taliban, with the need for a male chaperone have drastically limited women’s mobility and autonomy. These measures confine women to their homes and severely restrict their participation in public life. Meanwhile, the dearth of accessible healthcare facilities and skilled medical providers places Afghan women at a considerable disadvantage. This is particularly true in terms of maternal and reproductive health, exacerbating health risks for women. The erosion of legal safeguards has left women vulnerable to violence and abuse, with minimal avenues for seeking justice or protection. This leads to a culture of impunity for perpetrators. The suppression of women’s voices, talents, and contributions has not only stripped them of their cultural and social significance but has also exacerbated a cycle of marginalization and silencing.

Children on the Move: A Child-centered Policy and Learning Workshop

There are more children on the move than ever before – fleeing violence, climate disasters, and poverty – and seeking safety and protection within and across borders. Currently, nearly 40 percent of the 100 million displaced persons worldwide are under the age of 18. However, the global discourse on forced displacement and migration rarely focuses on children’s best interests, rights, and needs. 

This workshop provided the opportunity to consider what child-sensitive policies and responses to children on the move would look like within U.S. foreign and domestic policy contexts. Young people who have experienced displacement, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers will engage with each other through a series of interactive panel discussions, and registered attendees will be able to share ideas and learn from each other during breakout sessions.

This event was convened by the Georgetown University Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues in partnership with Georgetown University’s Human Rights Institute, Institute for the Study of International Migration, Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, Laboratory on Global Performance and Politics, and InterAction’s Forced Displacement Working Group, International Rescue Committee, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Save the Children, and UNICEF USA.

past events

Afghan Women Refugees Two Years On: Where Are They Now?

August 15, 2023

When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021, they assured the international community they would govern differently than they did in the late 1990s. They said they would honor women’s rights within the norms of “Islamic law” and allow for women’s participation in public life. Yet two years on, there are more restrictions on women’s rights in Afghanistan than ever before. And the Taliban has targeted, detained, and tortured women who resist these violations. 

Some Afghan women have managed to escape. They are all over the world in various states of safety and precarity. Yet the international community has failed to provide a unified, standard approach to assisting Afghan women and granting them international protection. 

Refugees International, Mina’s List, and Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security hosted a panel discussion featuring a diverse group of Afghan women about their experiences in displacement and their recommendations for a better way forward. 


Palwasha Hassan, Senior Technical and Program Director at Mina’s List, Salma Niazi, Journalist and Founder of The Afghan Times, Shabnam Khalilyar, Journalist and Graduate Student, Dr. Khaleda Noorzai, Dentist, Lecturer, and Women’s Rights activist. Moderated by Devon Cone, Senior Advocate for Women and Girls, Refugees International

HRC Side Event: Violations of women and girls’ Rights to education and work: The case for gender persecution in Afghanistan

June 20, 2023

The side event tackled two particular goals. First, it assessed the devastating impacts of the violations of the rights to education and work, on the future of Afghanistan. Second, it explored avenues for effective action, including on documentation for the purpose of future accountability efforts.

Featuring (in speaking order):

Nasir Ahmad Andisha S.E. Ambassador of Afghanistan, María Jesús Conde S.E. Ambassador at large for Feminist Foreign Policy, Spain, Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve S.E. Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium, Richard Bennett Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, Nazhat Shameen Khan Deputy Prosecutor General of International Criminal Court, Bandana Rana Member of the Committee of the Elimination of Discrimnation Against Women, Dorothy Estrada-Tank Chair of the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls, Fawzia Koofi Former Vice-President of the National Assembly of Afghanistan, Amb. Shukria Barakzai Former Afghan Ambassador to Norway and former MP.

This event was co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations Office
and other international organizations in Geneva, together with Spain, Belgium, and the Delegation of the European Union.

HRC Side Event: Ensuring Women’s Role in Afghanistan’s Future

June 19, 2023

In accordance with the 53rd Human Rights Council Session, GIWPS hosted a side event with Afghan women and experts to reflect on measures for holding the Taliban accountable for their human rights abuses and advancing women’s meaningful participation in all engagements for a more peaceful, inclusive, and prosperous Afghanistan.


Rina Amiri, U.S. Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights, Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, Shaharzad Akbar, Executive Director, Rawadari; Former Chairperson, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Fereshta Abbasi, Researcher, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch, Dorothy Estrada-Tanck
Chair of the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.

This event was co-hosted by the United States Mission in Geneva and the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security on the sidelines of the 53rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Afghanistan’s Education Crisis: Ensuring Access to Education for Women and Girls

March 27, 2023

This high-level event brought together Afghan experts, international partners, diplomats and leading policymakers to reflect on the urgency of this situation, and share their top recommendations for ensuring a future for Afghan girls’ education.

Featuring (in program order): 

Amb. Mariangela Zappia, Italian Ambassador to the United States of America, Rina Amiri, U.S. Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls and Human Rights, Amb. Adela Raz, Director of SPIA Afghanistan Policy Lab and Afghanistan’s Former Permanent Representative to the U.S. and U.N., Richard Bennett, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Dr. Habiba Sarabi, Former Minister of Women’s Affairs and Governor of Bamyan Province, The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Gianfranco Petruzzella, Italian Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Sarah Wahedi, Founder and CEO of Ehtesab, Jo Bourne, Chief Technical Officer, Global Partnership for Education, Palwasha Hassan, Senior Fellow, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Dr. Loredana Teodorescu, President of Women in International Security Italy and Head of the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network. Moderated by Amb. Melanne Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

This event was hosted by the Embassy of Italy, Women in International Security Italy and the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

CSW Side Event: The Situation of Women in Afghanistan

March 9, 2023

This CSW67 High-Level Side Event explored practical pathways forward for inclusive and quality education.

Featuring: Assistant Minister for Political Affairs and Permanent Representative of the UAE to the UN H.E. Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, UN Women Executive Director Dr. Sima Sami Bahous, Voices from Afghanistan, Director of Gender Equality at UNESCO Maria Begona Lasagabaster, GIWPS Executive Director Ambassador Melanne Verveer, UNESCO Member Hoda Jaberian, CEO and Founder of Ehtesab Sara Wahidi, Steering Committee Member of Women’s Forum on Afghanistan Fawzia Koofi, and Deputy Permanent Representative of the UK to the UN James Kariuki.

Moderated by Minister Margot Wallstrom

Afghanistan Affairs: A Roundtable Discussion with Dr. Habiba Sarabi

February 14, 2023 

Dr. Habiba Sarabi – a hematologist, politician, negotiator and reformer who served as the Minister of Women’s Affairs from 2002-2004 and the first woman provincial governor in Afghanistan upon her appointment as governor of Bamyan Province in 2005 – joined a roundtable discussion on top policy issues related to Afghanistan. Georgetown participants engaged in an intimate discussion to understand the core issues related to Afghanistan impacting women and girls, specifically the issue of education, as well as the path toward an inclusive Afghanistan for all women and girls. Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, moderated the timely conversation.

Hosted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. 

Education in Emergencies: A Global Call for 222 Million Children 

January 24, 2023

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security co-hosted an exciting discussion on the state of U.S. Government financing to the education in emergencies sector, with our partners, on January 24 on Georgetown’s main campus.

Featuring: Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), LeAnna Marr, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Center for Education, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Elizabeth CampbellDeputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) at the U.S. Department of State, Representative Grace Meng, Congresswoman from New York’s 6th Congressional District, Nehemia Abel, Co-Founder of Ubumwe, Olivia Issa, Program Lead, NASH Refugee Resettlement Initiative, Emmanuelle Dyer Melhado, Outreach Chair, Welcoming Campus Initiative and No Lost Generation at George Washington University, and Jessica Garcia Bocaletti, Senior at International High School at Langley Park and Posse Scholar.

Afghanistan Affairs: A Roundtable with Fawzia Koofi

October 11, 2022

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security hosted a roundtable discussion with Fawzia Koofi, Former Member of the Afghan Parliament, Vice President of the National Assembly, and Member of the Negotiation Team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Georgetown participants had the opportunity to engage in an intimate discussion to understand the core issues related to Afghanistan. Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, moderated the timely conversation.

Fawzia Koofia standing up while speaking at at event. Sitting next to her is Ambassador Melanne Verveer.

Partnering with Malala: Afghan Girls’ Right to Education

September 20, 2022

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security co-hosted a side event at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) exploring how countries with a feminist foreign policy can play a role in securing women’s and girls’ rights in Afghanistan, together with the Malala Fund and the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the UN. Our team also participated in a series of other conversations and events at UNGA designed to advance women’s rights globally. Malala Yousafzai joined international diplomats and Afghan women—including GIWPS Senior Fellow Palwasha Hasan and GIWPS Afghanistan Policy Associate Lina Tori Jan—for a private conversation on strategies to get Afghan girls back in school. The event was moderated by GIWPS Executive Director Ambassador Melanne Verveer.

Islam and Women’s Rights in Afghanistan:
Launching the Islam and Negotiation Action Guide for Muslim Women

August 17, 2022

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security launched the Islam and Negotiation Action Guide for Muslim Women – a practical tool for Muslim women negotiators to ensure that their rights are understood, effectively debated, and secured in settings where Islam informs the perspectives of the parties. It also offers non-Muslim negotiators and mediators a better understanding of the central Islamic values that may play a role in negotiation and mediation processes.

The launch of this toolkit came at a critical time as the Taliban continue to use a radical interpretation of Islam for political purposes, including justifying the exclusion of Afghan women and girls from social, political and economic life. The Taliban’s extreme interpretation of the religion has been used as justification in rolling back Afghan women and girls’ rights to education, the workplace, and public life. From mandating the burqa to requiring a male guardian during travels, the Taliban are regulating every aspect of women and girls’ lives.

Featuring: Researcher Dr. Ayse Kadayifici-Orellana; Former Afghan Ambassador to the United States Roya Rahmani; Women Living Under Muslim Laws Board Member Dr. Homa Hoodfar; Afghan Women’s Educational Center Director Palwasha Hassan; and Ambassador Melanne Verveer

Engaging Afghan Women & Civil Society in U.S. Policymaking: The Launch of the U.S.-Afghan Consultative Mechanism

July 28, 2022

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, USIP, the Atlantic Council, the Sisterhood is Global Institute, and the U.S Department of State officially launched the U.S.-Afghan Consultative Mechanism (USACM). 

Since the Taliban takeover last August, Afghan women, girls, journalists and at-risk ethnic and religious communities have seen the rapid erosion of their human rights. In a welcome response, forums designed to bring these vital Afghan voices into international policymaking are expanding globally. To coordinate and deepen these populations’ engagement with U.S. government officials, the four aforementioned forums of Afghan stakeholders are coming together with the U.S Department of State to form the USACM.

Comprised of a diverse set of representatives from various Afghan women’s coalitions, as well as civil society leaders, journalists, academics and religious scholars from inside and outside Afghanistan, the USACM will facilitate regular engagement with the U.S. government on issues ranging from human rights documentation to women in Islam.

Featuring: U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. BlinkenU.S. Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri; U.S. Institute of Peace President and CEO Lisa Grande; Palwasha Hassan from GIWPS and the Afghan Women’s Network; Naheed Sarabi from the Brookings Institution; and Asila Wardak from Harvard University and the Women’s Forum on Afghanistan

The English stream is above. The Dari stream is below.

Holding The Taliban Accountable: Utilizing International Leverage to Stop Rights Abuses

June 13, 2022

The Taliban continue to engage with impunity in serious human rights violations against the Afghan people. The Taliban have been particularly active in rolling back the rights of women and girls; erasing them from education, the workplace, and public life; and regulating every aspect of their lives from mandating the burqa to ending driver’s licenses for women. International sources of leverage have not been effectively tapped and have failed to change the Taliban’s behavior.

The upcoming 50th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council provides a critical opportunity to address the dire human rights situation in Afghanistan by identifying the most effective sources of international leverage against the Taliban. Join Afghan women experts and leading policymakers on Afghanistan for a discussion on urgent, concrete recommendations that the international community can deploy to chart a better path for the Afghan people.

Participating experts included Ambassador Adela Raz, Horia Mosadiq, Ambassador Earl Anthony WayneAnnie Pforzheimer, Ambassador Melanne Verveer

Upholding Women’s Rights as Human Rights in Afghanistan: An Urgent Moment for UNAMA Renewal

March 15, 2022

Download a summary of recommendations for UNAMA mandate renewal

The UNAMA mandate renewal on March 16, 2022 and the appointment of a new Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan offered a critical opportunity to address the dire human rights situation and enhance protection and security measures for women, girls, and marginalized groups. Afghan women experts and leading policymakers gathered to discuss the urgency of this moment, addressed key areas of concern, and recommended actions for UN and multilateral organizations to ensure international mechanisms remained effective in upholding human rights for women and girls in Afghanistan.

Leading Afghan women experts who briefed the UN included Horia Mosadiq, Fatima Faizi, Najla Ayoubi, and Yalda Royan. Remarks were delivered by Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex GCVO, H.E. Rosemary DiCarlo, H.E. Alya Al-Thani, H.E. Barbara Woodward, Rina Amiri, Dr. Sima Sami Bahous, and Amb. Melanne Verveer. 

The event was hosted by the Permanent Missions of the United Kingdom and Qatar, on behalf of the Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan, with UN Women and the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of the United States, Canada, Ireland, France, and Indonesia.

The State of Women’s Rights as Human Rights in Afghanistan

March 4, 2022

Afghanistan is facing a dire human rights crisis. Since the fall of Kabul in August, the Taliban have threatened basic rights and fundamental freedoms, with women, girls, and civil society among those most affected. Recent reports showed the escalation of extrajudicial killings, targeted attacks on peaceful protesters, the suppression of independent media, and the detention of women’s rights activists, including ethnic and religious minorities.

It is crucial to ensure that international mechanisms are effective in protecting human rights and holding human rights abusers to account. In this expert discussion, leading Afghan women and global human rights advocates shared their recommendations for preserving and advancing women’s rights as human rights in Afghanistan.

Participating experts included Hoda Khamosh, Spozhmai Wardak, Najiba Ayubi, Heather Barr, and Ambassador Roya Rahmani.

A virtual event with U.S. policymakers to debrief the discussions at the Oslo Afghan Talks

February 9, 2022

Amid a deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation in Afghanistan, representatives of the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States met in Oslo on January 24 at the invitation of the Norwegian government for a round of meetings that included the Taliban, civil society actors, and Afghan women leaders. Rina Amiri, U.S. Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights and Maria Longi, Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Asia Bureau, who were part of the U.S. delegation to the talks, held a debrief of their discussions in this virtual event.

Afghanistan’s Education Crisis Under the Taliban: Ensuring Access for Women and Girls

February 8, 2022

Download the Event Transcript

Download a summary of recommendations from the panelists

Over the last two decades, Afghan women and girls made tremendous gains in education, making up almost 38 percent of the students in the country by 2018 and increasingly pursuing higher education. In a consequential reversal, the Taliban have severely restricted education for women and girls – barring women from universities, banning girls’ secondary schooling, and preventing even younger girls from attending school in many provinces. Despite claims that schooling will eventually resume, the quality and type of education under their extreme Islamic views remains an open question.

Restoring education for women and girls is an urgent priority in the global response to the crisis in Afghanistan. Leading Afghan women on the frontlines of education shared their top recommendations and innovative models for ensuring a future for Afghan girls’ education.

Participating experts included Shabana Basij-Rasikh, Pashtana Durrani, Deema Hiram, Maria Raheen, and Palwasha Hassan.

Solutions for Addressing the Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan

January 20, 2022

Read policy recommendations from on humanitarian aid from event.

More than twenty million Afghans are on the brink of famine and the country faces near universal poverty in the next six months. The financial system has collapsed, with healthcare and education soon to follow. Afghan women and girls continue to suffer disproportionately.

This humanitarian emergency demands action. Leading Afghan women and U.S. policymakers discussed strategies for overcoming challenges and ensuring adequate assistance reaches all Afghans.

Participating experts included Rina Amiri, Mahbouba Seraj, Shaharzad Akbar, Muqaddesa Yourish, Maryam Rahmani, Dr. Suraya Dalil, and Palwasha Hassan.

A New Chapter in Afghanistan: Ensuring International Cooperation in Support of Afghan Women & Girls

October 21, 2021

On the sidelines of the 2021 United Nations Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, this urgent conversation on ensuring international cooperation in response to the crisis in Afghanistan gave specific attention to the plight of Afghan women and girls. Leading Afghan women and policymakers discussed the urgency of this moment, addressed critical questions, and recommended actions for a more cooperative, effective, and inclusive response to the developing situation in Afghanistan.

Participating Afghan women experts included Fawzia Koofi, Naheed Farid, Anisa Shaheed, Mariam Safi, and Asila Wardak. Remarks were delivered by Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, H.E. Alya bint Ahmed Al Thani, H.E. Jacqueline O’Neill, H.E. Mette Knudsen, and Dr. Sima Sami Bahous. 

Standing With Afghan Women: Ensuring Meaningful Inclusion in the Intra-Afghan Peace Talks

July 28, 2021

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) and Cordaid, a leading Dutch relief and development organization, hosted a high-level virtual discussion on Afghan women’s role in the upcoming intra-Afghan talks. The participants called for national and international officials to ensure Afghan women’s meaningful participation in an inclusive peace process and to preserve Afghan women’s rights. Read the event press release for a summary of their proposals.

Distinguished speakers included the Hon. Madeleine K. Albright, H.E. Staffan de Mistura, Amb. Marriët Schuurman, H.E. Shukria Barakzai, and Nargis Nehan.