Thursday, October 15, 2009

The struggle for women’s rights in Iran

The rights of women under Iran’s Islamic Republic have been a roller coaster. Cultural and legal restrictions are imposed, are eased over time, and then resurface in one form or another. It is all the more frustrating for Iranian women because the pre-revolution culture of education for women continues to this day. The educated female population is all too aware of discrimination in the workplace, of the unfair legal disadvantage women experience in marriage, and how adult women are treated as children in how they choose to dress.

Saeed Valadbaygi at Revolutionary Road discusses the treatment of women during the last few years of the Ahmdinejad government:
In 1386 (2007-March 2008), Ahmadinejad’s government entered a new phase in the treatment of women. With the change of the police commander of Greater Tehran, comprehensive efforts were made - in the name of public security - to limit the way women cover-up in public more than ever. The first phase of the Social Security Plan started at the beginning of the month of Ordibehesht, according to General Raddan, the head of the police forces of Greater Tehran, and was designed to confront women who were inappropriately dressed. At his first press conference, in 1386, General Raddan announced that bad dress consisted constituted wearing short trousers, short scarves and shawls and other short, tight or revealing clothing. According to him, bad dress disturbs society psychologically. But instances of bad dress were not limited to these items. Other long fabrics with slits on the side or back were a “New style for some women” which would be challenged. In the execution of this plan many women were arrested by police forces and taken to detention centers until their families brought them longer, "more appropriate" dress. There were numerous cases of women getting in trouble for the way they were dressed and even being by the police forces, prompting Hashemi Shahroodi to announce: “Bringing women and young adults to police stations only produces social harm”. This plea was ignored and the public prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, announced: "Many of the women have come to Tehran from the provinces and if they don’t obey the law here they will be dealt with by the courts in their own home towns.

However, the oppression of women wasn’t limited to their cover. In the autumn days of that year there were whispers of a plan for "improving" gender quotas against female students. By implementing this plan, there would be 40 percent quotas for men without any competition for places, to prevent female students. Protest and gatherings took place against this decision, which made the head of the organization responsible to confirm gender acceptance in universities for entrance exams in 87, and a minimum acceptance of 30 percent male and female for the following year.

… announcement of the details of a bill named the “Family Support Bill” launched a new phase in the public confrontation of the government against women. According to article 23 of this bill, which was reviewed by the Guardian Council on 4 Shahrivar, remarrying of men would be dependent on his wealth, the permission of the court and the first wife’s consent. This bill which was a bigger step to oppress women rights further, was added and submitted to the judiciary and parliament by the government illegally. Continued protest against this bill caused the 7th parliament to ignore the bill in the final months of its review. Their excuse for not reviewing this bill was the existence of other more urgent bills.

In the past year of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the Social Security plan and the severity of restricting women's clothing, took a broader dimension. According to this plan, the Interior Ministry and chastity legislation are responsible for controlling bad dress and other crimes, and 88 people were arrested for committing these types of crimes. Harsh confrontations and the beating of a few women by police forces, raised public sensitivity to society and media objection, forced the president to send a letter to Sadegh Mahsooli, the Country Minister demanding the respect of citizens' rights in the last few months of his presidency. However, General Radaan, who was the patron of this plan, in many statements after the president’s letter announced: "The performance of police forces in this field is acceptable and other cultural units are responsible for lack of work and neglect". These continued statements prompted a rumour that government and police forces were in disagreement on this plan. As a result Ahmadi Moghadam, Head of police forces had to react and in a short interview with said: "Government and Naja (police forces) have no disagreement". Some political analysts believe that the government's retreat from implementing this plan was just an election tactic, otherwise they would’ve taken action during the past two years. Despite continued objections even by the Head of Judiciary, Ahmadinejad has never considered the freedom of women’s cover and their presence in society and public places, such that the very same women whom he doesn’t consider equal to men, but as a ornamental objects, to be put down even more because of their gender and end up at police forces detention centers.

Despite all the hard work during the presidency of Ahmadinejad to marginalize women from the public and social spaces around them, the wave of freedom supporters against female discrimination in social and legal rights was so extensive that for the first time in the last 30 years all three presidential candidates, in detailed statements talked of eliminating such discriminations. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the only candidate who did not make any promises to women and did not present any statement or plan in this regard.
You can read her entire blog post here.

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