GENEVA — A United Nations (UN) expert said on Monday that the treatment of Afghan women and girls by the Taliban could amount to “gender apartheid” as their rights continue to be gravely infringed by the country’s de facto authorities.

“Grave, systematic and institutionalized discrimination against women and girls is at the heart of Taliban ideology and rule, which also gives rise to concerns that they may be responsible for gender apartheid,” UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The UN defines gender apartheid as “economic and social sexual discrimination against individuals because of their gender or sex.”

“We have pointed to the need for more exploration of gender apartheid, which is not currently an international crime, but could become so,” Mr. Bennett told reporters on the sidelines of the Council.

“It appears if one applies the definition of apartheid, which at the moment is for race, to the situation in Afghanistan and use sex instead of race, then there seem to be strong indications pointing towards that.”

A Taliban spokesperson said their administration was implementing Islamic laws and accused the United Nations and Western institutions of “propaganda.”

“Richard Bennett’s report on the situation in Afghanistan is a part of such propaganda, which does not reflect the realities,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

The Taliban seized power in August 2021, drastically curtailing women’s freedoms and rights, including their ability to attend high school and university.

In a report covering July to December 2022, Mr. Bennett found in March that the treatment of women and girls by the Taliban “may amount to gender persecution, a crime against humanity.”

“These serious deprivations of women’s and girls’ fundamental rights and the harsh enforcement by the de facto authorities of their restrictive measures may constitute the crime against humanity of gender persecution,” Mr. Bennett reiterated on Monday.

In April, Taliban authorities began enforcing a ban on Afghan women working for the UN after stopping women working for aid groups in December.

Taliban authorities say they respect women’s rights in accordance with their strict interpretation of Islamic law. — Reuters