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The condition of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran
   
 
 
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The condition of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran

 
Monday, 28 April 2014 10:38
 
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Epos converses with Farian Sabahi

by Nicolamaria Coppola (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations

Today, women in Iran live in a perpetual state of rights acquisition and disillusion. If on one hand, the Iranian government, for example, has created female police brigades and successes for women in the edicational field, particularly medicine, have been astonishing, on the other, a woman can still receive seventy-four lashes for going out in public without a hijab. In Iran, women have outnumbered men in entering college by as much as two to one in the last several years. However, after graduation, women are one-third less likely to work as men. Thirty two percent of Iranian women participate in the workforce, about half the average of advanced economies.

There is no doubt that women played a very important role in the triumph of the Islamic Revolution and that they offered unparalleled support to its leaders, as declared by the Revolutionary Leader Imam Khomeini. In 1980, he called for significant female participation in the political and social sphere: "Women have the right to participate in politics, and in fact must participate in decision making. Islam is a political religion. Everything in it is political, even religious practice", he said.

After the 1979 Revolution, the new Islamic Constitution paid special attention to women, allegedly because of "the greater oppression that they suffered under the old regime". According to Article 21 of the Constitution: "The government must ensure the rights of women in all respects, in conformity with Islamic criteria, and accomplish the following goals: 1) Create a favorable environment for the development of awoman's personality and the restoration of her rights, both the material and intellectual; 2) The protection of mothers, particularly during pregnancy and child-rearing, and the protection of children without guardians; 3) Establishing competent courts to protect and preserve the family; 4) The provision of special insurance for widows, senior women, and women without support; 5) Granting the guardianship of children to worthy mothers, in order to protect the interests of the children, in the absence of a legal guardian".

The section of the Constitution that guaranteed equality has omitted gender equality and provided equality to women only if Islamic law is observed.

The condition of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran is delicate and thorny. Like in many other countries in the world, women are still discriminated, and although President Hassan Rohani had pledged during his election campaign that the discrimination between men and women would be eliminated in all social arenas in his administration, the last report presented  to the UN Human Rights Council on March 26 by UN chief Ban Ki-moon showed that Iran was doing too little to improve its human rights record. There have been more executions, higher detentions of regime opponents and greater discrimination against women. Numerous women's rights defenders are being threatened, sentenced or imprisoned in Iran.

Moreover, according to the Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum in 2013, Iran has the lowest female representation in the labour forces and the lowest estimated female income in the region. "Countries and companies can be competitive only if they develop, attract and retain the best talent, both male and female", the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab writes in the preface to the 'Gender Gap Report'.

It seems that since the election of President Rohani the condition of women in Iran has not improved so much, and the political promises about the new role of women in society have not been kept so far. In order to have a fair and complete view about the current situation of women in Iran, EPOS has interviewed the Italian-Iranian journalist Farian Sabahi, who is an expert in Iranian politics and society, and Professor of Middle-Eastern Studies at Bocconi University in Milan, and Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the University of Valle d'Aosta. She works as a columnist about Iranian issues for Il Corriere della Sera, as a reporter for the magazines Io Donna and East, and as a journalist specialized in Islamic and Muslim culture for Il Sole 24 Ore. In this exclusive interview for our magazine, she talks about the role of women in the Islamic Republic, the challenge of Rohani administration, the problems that women have to face and the importance of women's movement in the country.

Nicolamaria Coppola: Dear Professor Sabahi, first of all thank you for accepting our interview!

Since the June 2013 election of President Rouhani, how has the situation changed for women in the Islamic Republic of Iran?

Farian Sabahi: The most recent news regards Women's Day, which this year coincided with Easter (20 April 2014). In Iran, women's day is official on the day of Fatima's birthday, Fatima being the daughter of Prophet Muhammad. On Saturday 19, and thus the day before, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, said that gender equality was "one of the biggest mistakes of the Western thought". "Justice is a right. But equality is sometimes right and sometimes wrong" he said, according to his personal website. He added that he did not oppose women's employment, but that it should not conflict with "the main issue", which was women's role in the "family environment and household". The day after, President Hassan Rohani criticised "those who consider women's presence society as a threat" and said Iran still had "a long way to go" to ensure gender equality. Thus, President Rohani looks more moderate and reformist compared to the Supreme Leader.

NC: What is the role of women both in politics and within the civil society in Iran?

FS: Iranian women are active in politics, but in a limited way, and much more in the civil society. However, the way to gender equality is still long.

NC: How much involved are women in public affairs? Are they strong enough and well represented in politics to ask for something needed?

FS: Not enough, especially if you take into account the fact that women are as educated as men. And sometimes more than the men.

NC: Is there a strong women's movement in Iran?

FS: Yes indeed, the women's movement in Iran has a long story, dating back to the end of the XIX century, when the women of the royal harem boycotted tobacco, helping those who were protesting against the concession of tobacco to a British citizen. However, it is not strong enough to overcome the many obstacle it is currently facing.

NC: How are the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rohani seen by women's groups?

FS: The Supreme Leader is perceived as a conservative. In the case of President Rohani, women's groups are waiting to see how he acts. Shirin Ebadi (the Iranian Nobel Prize), for instance, is not positive about him, mainly because he has not helped freeing the leaders of the so-called 'Green Movement', meaning Mousavi, Karrubi and Zahra Rahnavard (Mousavi's wife). However, the Supreme Leader and the President are not the only ones involved in women's rights and the parliament, as well as the Guardian Council, do play a role. Recently, for instance, a proposed amendment that offered homemakers without a job outside the house health insurance has been omitted in Iran's budget. The amendment was proposed by women's activists, publicized by women's lobbyists and unanimously agreed upon by the government and members of the women’s Majles faction. But the Guardian Council vetoed it.

NC: What are the main problems for women inside Iran?

FS: Women are discriminated by the law and do not enjoy equal rights in diyeh (blood price), inheritance, and in front of the judge. Furthermore, obtaining divorce and child custody is never easy. A married woman needs her husband's permission to travel (but this is law has been inherited by the shah's time, so not all the bad laws where made by the ayatollahs, also the past regime is to be blamed).

NC: What are Iranian women asking for? What do they want?

FS: Women are fighting for more rights in many fields. In case they marry a foreigner, they want to pass the Iranian citizenship to their children. They do not want to be discriminated. They claim, as mentioned, insurance for those women who work only at home. But these are only some examples.

NC: Will we ever see a woman as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran?

FS: There is ambiguity in the Constitution about the participation of women in presidential elections in Iran. However, in May 2013 the Guardian Council (which is charged with vetting election candidates according to their Islamic credentials) gave a new interpretation which appears to put an end to the debate. In fact, the Guardian Council has ruled that women could not run in presidential elections scheduled for 14 June. Mohammad Yazdi, a clerical member of the Guardian Council, said the Constitution ruled out the participation of women. In May 2013 thirty women registered as candidates but there were not allowed to stand.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Monday, 18 August 2014 15:08
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