ON THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT IN IRAN
The following are extracts from a report prepared by Roya Kashefi on 9 August 2006 to assist the Immigration Appeal Tibunal in the UK in an asylum hearing.
The information maybe used after permission has been given. Please email rk(at)aciiran(dot)com for further information.
After the departure of the Shah from Iran on 16 January 1979, the leader of the Revolution Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran from years of exile on 1 February 1979. In ten short days the army surrendered and the Revolutionary forces assumed power on 11 February. Within a few weeks of the Revolution Ayatollah Khomeini the leader of the Revolution called a national referendum. The question put to the nation was ‘Islamic Republic Yes or No?’ At that early stage no one had discussed what an Islamic Republic entailed. The people were riding high on the euphoria of their victory over a ‘despotic’ ruler and voting ‘No’ was not an option. Therefore on the 1 April 1979, after 2500 years of monarchist rule, with a mandate of 98% Iran became an Islamic Republic. The clerics set to draw up an Islamic Constitution. It came into effect on 3 December 1979 and was amended on 28 July 1989.
According to this Islamic Constitution, all the laws in Iran have to conform to the interpretation of the Islam according to the Shi’a believers of the ‘Velayat Motlagheh Faghih’ sect. This forms part of the duty of the Guardian Council.
The Islamic Republic governance structure is firmly based on the belief of the Shi’a sect who accepts the fundamental principles of ‘Velayat Motlagh Faghih’ – the Absolute Rule of the Religious Jurist (Absolute Supreme Leadership) with the Vali Faghih as the head of State.
To explain further world Muslims are divided into Sunni and Shi’a – around 90 percent of world Muslims are Sunni. The believers of the Shi’a faith divides into five sects one of them being the followers of twelve Imam Shi’ism. This group further divides into four one of them being the Usoli sect. The Usoli followers of the twelve Imam sect themselves further sub divide into three one of which is the followers of the Velayat-e Motlagh-e Faghih. The twelve Imam Shi’a followers believe that the twelfth Imam, Mahdi, is the Saviour. The death of the twelfth Imam has never been recorded and it is believed that he has disappeared to reappear on Judgment Day. According to this group the ‘Vali Motlagh Faghih’ or the Absolute Supreme Leader is his representative on earth until such day thus giving the Absolute Supreme Leader and the regime divine legitimacy.
Iran was a signatory to three of the UN Treaties before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In 1981 a new treaty came into force – Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – which to date the Islamic Republic of Iran has not ratified on the grounds that certain Articles in the treaty are contrary to Islam. This is an interesting point to note since other Moslem countries have ratified the treaty. There seems to be no effort either in obtaining information on comparative laws in an effort to interpret Islamic Law (Sharia’) in harmony with international human rights standards.
The Convention defines discrimination against women as ‘any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field’.
The Islamic Constitution
Article 4 of the Islamic Constitution states:
“All civil, penal financial, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political, and other laws and regulations must be based on Islamic criteria. This principle applies absolutely and generally to all Articles of the Constitution as well as to all other laws and regulations, and the fuqaha’ of the Guardian Council are judges in this matter.”
Article 19 states that ‘All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; and colour, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege’. Missing from this list is the mention of gender and religion. This means that either could bestow privilege or discrimination as is clear from the rest of the Islamic Republic’s constitution.
Article 20 states: All citizens of the country, both men and women, equally enjoy the protection of the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, in conformity with Islamic criteria.
There are two points to note on reading this Article:
As already mentioned, according to the Islamic Constitution, the majority decision of the ‘Guardian Council’ or ‘Shora-y-Negahban’ determines the interpretation of the Islamic law. Because of the patriarchal nature of Islam, this is therefore equal application of unequal laws. To explain this further, Islam values women as half of that of men. Her blood money (Diyeh laws) is half of his. Consequently, if a woman has been murdered and the perpetrator is to be executed (Qesas laws), the extra value of his life must be paid to his family by the victim’s family before sentence could be carried out; her testimony is worth half of his, even if she has been the sole witness to a crime.
Consequently, according to Articles 19 and 20 of the Islamic Constitution, on one hand, equality in the eyes of the law does not include gender and religion, and on the other hand, the equal protection of the law divides men and women into groups, and then only in the eyes of Islamic criteria as interpreted by twelve Islamic jurists of the Guardian Council.
Article 21 states: The government must ensure the rights of women in all respects, in conformity with Islamic criteria, and accomplish the following goals:
create a favourable environment for the growth of woman’s personality and the restoration of her rights, both the material and intellectual;
the protection of mothers, particularly during pregnancy and childbearing, and the protection of children without guardians;
establishing competent courts to protect and preserve the family;
the provision of special insurance for widows, and aged women and women without support;
The awarding of guardianship of children to worthy mothers, in order to protect the interests of the children, in the absence of a legal guardian.
Particularly on Women, the Introduction to the Islamic Constitution states:
‘Through the creation of Islamic social infrastructures, all the elements of humanity that served the multifaceted foreign exploitation shall regain their true identity and human rights. As a part of this process, it is only natural that women should benefit from a particularly large augmentation of their rights, because of the greater oppression that they suffered under the old regime.
The family is the fundamental unit of society and the main centre for the growth and edification of human being. Compatibility with respect to belief and ideal, which provides the primary basis for man’s development and growth, is the main consideration in the establishment of a family. It is the duty of the Islamic government to provide the necessary facilities for the attainment of this goal. This view of the family unit delivers woman from being regarded as an object or instrument in the service of promoting consumerism and exploitation. Not only does woman recover thereby her momentous and precious function of motherhood, rearing of ideologically committed human beings, she also assumes a pioneering social role and becomes the fellow struggler of man in all vital areas of life. Given the weighty responsibilities that woman thus assumes, she is accorded in Islam great value and nobility:
‘And of His signs is that He created for you spouses of yourselves, that you might repose in them, and He has set between you love and mercy… ‘(The Qoran 30:21)
‘And whoever does a right deed, be it male or female, believing, We shall recompense them their wages according to the beast of what they do.’
‘… Women have such honourable rights as obligations, but their men have a degree above them… ‘(The Qoran 2:228)
‘Do not charge women with matters beyond that which personally concerns them; for woman is a flower, not to be burdened with administrative duties.’ (Nahi al-balaghah, Kutub, No 31 – The teaching of Ali the first Imam of the Shia’ Moslems)’
In Article 21, the legislator stresses the role of the woman as a mother and uses vague undefined words, such as ‘worthy mothers’, to describe how she should be judged. For example, an unworthy mother is one who remarries while she has the custody of her child. On her marriage she has to give up her child (Article 1170 of the Civil Code) whom she can only keep until age seven in any event (Article 1169 of the Civil Code).
The introduction to the Islamic Constitution states clearly the Islamic thinking behind the laws and how women are to be treated; she is a flower not to be burdened by administrative duties, she should not be burdened with that which does not concern her; men have a higher degree in the society. How this interprets into the every day lives of Iranian women has been very contradictory. Women who, for example, pre-revolution sat in courts as judges, were demoted to court secretary. After twenty seven years of fighting women have been allowed back into the courts, but only family courts, and only where it is expedient for a woman to hear the evidence. The fact that men have a higher place in the society is translated into women not being allowed to run for high office or hold high decision making positions. The majority of the women MPs come from a strict religious party who actually accept these restrictions, and the female advisers to President Ahmadinejad are no different.
For example the person in charge of Centre for Women and Family Affairs – an advisory office to the President – stated on 31 May 2006 that while she was in charge, the Islamic Republic would never join CEDAW for it contained Articles that were un-Islamic. Yet girls form the higher proportion of university placements. The battle between the strict religious laws and values on one hand, and the strength of the women’s movement in Iran on the other hand, are constantly testing each other.
Hardline clerics hold key positions in the Iran who reject the rights of women. From their point of view, women’s rights and human rights activists are no more than rootless seculars, infatuated with modernity and Western permissiveness whose intended reforms are bound to endanger the foundations of religion, culture, family and society.
To them, modernising models presented by reformists using such ‘Westernised’ concepts as feminism, freedom, equality and individualism amount to a challenge in defiance of Islam that can only undermine the structure of the Moslem family system and ultimately the Moslem nation itself.
Under ex president Khatami, the reformists were not able, or willing, to overcome the attitude of extremist hardliners who base their arguments on ancient interpretations of the Qoran.
As a result, the two approaches, one supporting suppression of women (the hardliners) and the other talking about moderating that suppression (the reformists), have continued to co-operate in all areas, especially in the legislation of laws. At present, the hardliners hold key positions such as the presidency, the majority in Parliament and the Guardian Council.
However, the problem for the Islamic regime still remains. The Iranian women have not accepted the discriminatory laws and remain and fight to remain active and contributing members of the society. For this reason the urban society in particular has remained resistant to the preferred mental/symbolic and physical segregation of the regime, and women are and have been fighting a hard battle for their equal rights.
 The Guardian Council is made up of twelve members. Six clerics are directly appointed by the Supreme Leader and the other six are nominated by the Head of Judicial Power (himself appointed by the Supreme Leader). According to Article 94 of the Islamic Constitution, ‘All legislation passed by the Islamic Consultative Assembly must be sent to the Guardian Council. The Guardian Council must review it within a maximum of ten days from its receipt with a view to ensuring its compatibility with the criteria of Islam and the Constitution. If it finds the legislation incompatible, it will return it to the Assembly for review. Otherwise the legislation will be deemed enforceable.’ Article 99 further explains their duties, ‘The Guardian Council has the responsibility of supervising the elections of the Assembly of Experts for Leadership, the President of the Republic, the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and the direct recourse to popular opinion and referenda.’ Supervising the election has been interpreted as checking the Islamic suitability and competency of the candidates to ensure that only ‘suitable’ candidates who are loyal to the regime and its governance structure are allowed to stand. All others are filtered out. For example, prior to the presidential elections on 17 June 2005, in May 1014 people put their names forward and only six were selected to stand. By order of the Supreme Leader, two more names were then added to the list of suitable candidates.
 The introduction to the Constitution and Article 2
 Iran was signatory to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) before the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and none were subsequently revoked. Since the Revolution the Islamic Republic ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994.
 The Islamic Constitution of the Islamic Republic adopted on: 24 Oct 1979; Effective since: 3 Dec 1979; Amended on: 28 July 1989
 Shargh Daily Newspaper published in Iran. 31.05.06 reported from the first press conference of Zohreh Tabibzadeh Nouri the woman in charge of the Centre for Women and Family Affairs.