Articles

Women in Iran

Over the last 35 years, women in Iran have been demanding changes to the laws. Changes that would allow a compensation increase for female victims of crimes. This means if a woman and a man get into a traffic accident, the compensation given to the woman is half the compensation of a man’s.

The condition is particularly repressive for women because The Islamic Republic of Iran has targeted women since its inception. The early signs of repression and subjugation of women began with statements like, “female hair has evil energy which drives men to violate the sanctity of women.” 1 This particular statement was made by a member of the High Council of the Revolution who became the first President of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Driven by this fallacy, the Regime began forcing the veil on women in Iran.

From the beginning, women of Iran resisted the Islamic Regime’s introduction of Sharia Law: a medieval and barbaric legal framework that is incompatible with modern values and basic human rights. The Islamic Regime of Iran, to this day, jails mothers with their toddlers. I saw children growing up inside prisons while I was locked up at Evin and Ghezelhesar prisons as a teenager. These children often accompanied their mothers into interrogation rooms where they witnessed their mothers being beaten and tortured. When a mother was executed, the child would be left to be taken care of by other female prisoners. The torture that prisoners had to endure was physical, emotional, and mental.

Day and night, the prison hallways were constantly filled with the sound of screams and cries of others being tortured during interrogation and there was no choice but to listen to these sounds. There was nowhere to go to get away from them. Imagine sounds of lashes with thick electrical cables, cries of those whose nails are being pulled out, electrocuted, body parts being burnt and broken. And not being able to get the smell out of rotting burned flesh out of your nose.

During these horrific interrogations, no prisoner knew how to answer questions, no matter what answer was given, the torture did not stop. Answering yes to the question asked would agitate and anger the interrogators; denying involvement in the activities that led to the arrest would increase their anger even more.

Rape and gang rape by prison guards and interrogators is a common practice in IRI prisons.

Women in Iran demand changes to the laws that value the testimony of women as half the testimony of men. They demand changes to the divorce laws, which give men absolute control and the right to have four ‘permanent’ wives and an unlimited number of ‘temporary’ wives. 2

Iranian women are demanding changes to the laws that set the legal age [of maturity] for girls at 13 years old and 15 years for boys. This means that 13 year old little girls can be married off to men a number of decades their senior, with merely the consent of her male guardian, as provided by Article 1041 of the IRI Civil Code. 3 Islamic Republic of Iran’s laws allow a girl to only receive half of the inheritance a boy receives, and the inheritance [that a wife] receives from her husband is even less than [half]. 4  Such laws cannot be condoned by women who, by official counts, occupy 70% of the university seats in Iran.

In protesting these laws, and in search of finding creative ways to change the discriminatory laws, a campaign was launched called the “One Million Signatures Campaign”. The members aimed to gather signatures from regular men and women in the streets. They went door to door to create discussions on the discriminatory laws. They intended to hand the signatures over to the Parliament in Iran. However, they paid a very costly price for this campaign.

The consequence of such were arrests, court summons, convictions, travel bans, five years imprisonment, and lashes of the misogynist’s whip.

A 16 year-old girl was hanged for having had sexual relations with a 50 year-old married taxi-driver. 5

Under IRI law, the cheating husband would be executed by the reprehensibly act of stoning; however, he was not punished. The 16 year old Atefeh Sahaaleh, however, was executed in the early hours of the morning. The abused victim, Atefah, was murdered by the IRI State. 6

The Boroumand Foundation documented the case of a young prisoner by the name of Sara. Despite being tortured and raped repeatedly over forty times, Sara never did confess to the whereabouts of her brother, but she was left with the memories of what was done to her. 7 In Iranian prisons, it is common for young girls and virgins to be raped. Even, as a final indignity, right before being executed. This is the horrible reality that many women, including many young women, live with every single day in the prisons of Iran.

In May 2002 the UN held a special Session on Children. This culminated in the official adoption, by some 180 nations, of its outcome document titled, “A World Fit for Children”.

It established the following objectives:

To protect children from harm and exploitation, so that they will be protected against any acts of violence, abuse, exploitation and discrimination;

To raise awareness about the illegality and harmful consequences of failing to protect children from violence, abuse and exploitation. 8

According to the findings in UN Special Rapporteur Coomaraswamy (U.N. DocE/CN.4/2002/83), 9 the IRI criminal justice system discriminates reprehensibly against women: If a man found his wife being unfaithful, he would be permitted to execute her; however, the same legal system will execute a woman who murders her husband if she found him cheating on her. 10

A disturbing finding of a U.N. Report of the Economic and Social Council, 6 Nov. 1990 (Doc.A/45/697), 11 was that virgin women condemned to death were forcibly married to officials on the eve of their execution. These officials would then rape these women so that they would not be virgins when they die, sending them to hell. 12

In developed countries, such as Canada and the UK, women are still denied entitlement to the same salaries as men for the very same jobs. The U.S. has still failed to bind itself by a key women’s rights international law—the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women.

In a message sent by human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoodeh, she said:

“I believe that just like how your country’s lawyers made great strides through their tireless efforts and [were able to] revise criminal laws, we also, through our struggles and efforts, will be able to help revise the laws that we object to. Even though we are living in a difficult time, millions before us have also trotted on the path to freedom and democracy. Just like they have succeeded, we will also overcome the hardships.” 13

However, such hardships will only be overcome if the world governments who convene at the UN pull together and cooperate. Such hardships can be defeated if State abusers of women, such as Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Sudan are not appointed their much undeserved seats on UN bodies that were established to serve and protect women’s rights in honoring gender equality. States and citizens of developed nations must join forces and speak up against this gross injustice that has plagued the United Nations. This will only happen if we strengthen our bonds and our allegiance with the men who recognize our inalienable human rights to equality.

Eliminating this type of injustice will only happen if we exert inescapable pressure on local, national, and international governments and organizations. Rights and freedoms are never given, they are taken. Although these rights are inherent, they are not freely honored, and so strife and relentless effort is the only way to emerge victorious from the ashes of defeat. With the love, dedication and help of people—not men, not women, but human beings—gender equality will be the prevalent principle abided by all living people.

Is it not the height of arrogance and hypocrisy for this Islamic Regime to want to stand in judgment of the way other nations of the world treat their women while blatantly disregarding its own cruel and repressive policies towards women in Iran?

Let us stand for the voiceless ones, women whose fundamental human rights are persistently taken away from them, who are treated as objects. Let us stand for those whose blood is crying out for justice from their graves, the women and young girls who are tortured, raped, and executed. Let us send a clear message to repressive regimes, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran that continues to violate women’s rights. This must stop, and it is our duty as human beings to stop it.

 

References


  1. Assadollahi, Shabnam, “Subjugation of Women,” Neda For A Free Iran, Last modified March 3, 2011, http://nfafi.org/articles/subjugation-women
  2. “Islamic Laws Regarding Marriage,” IslamicTruth.Co.Uk, http://www.islamic-truth.co.uk/islamicstore/pdf_files/laws_marriage.pdf
  3. “The Civil Code of The Islamic Republic of Iran”: 103. http://www.alaviandassociates.com/documents/civilcode.pdf
  4. Ibid., 80-91.
  5. “Execution Of A Teenage Girl,” BBC News, July 27, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/5217424.stm
  6. Ibid.
  7. “Sara: A Victim Of State Violence In The Aftermath Of The 2009 Presidential Election,” Human Rights & Democracy In Iran, August 6, 2010, http://www.iranrights.org/library/document/1512
  8. United Nations, General Assembly, “A World Fit For Children,” October 11 2001, A/RES/S-27/2, http://www.unicef.org/specialsession/docs_new/documents/A-RES-S27-2E.pdf
  9. United Nations, Economic and Social Council, “Integration Of The Human Rights Of Women And The Gender Perspective: Violence Against Women,” January 31 2002, http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/e06a5300f90fa0238025668700518ca4/42e7191fae543562c1256ba7004e963c/$FILE/G0210428.pdf
  10. “The Civil Code of The Islamic Republic of Iran,”. http://www.alaviandassociates.com/documents/civilcode.pdf
  11. United Nations, General Assembly, “Situation Of Human Rights In The Islamic Republic Of Iran,” November 6 1990, http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N90/285/44/IMG/N9028544.pdf?OpenElement
  12. Ibid.
  13. Said in personal email to the author
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Shabnam Assadollahi
Shabnam Assadollahi is a multi-award-winning Canadian human rights activist and freelance writer/journalist of Iranian origin who was locked up at age 16 for 18 months in Iran's most notorious prison, Evin. She has a Master’s degree in Social Anthropology. Shabnam has worked extensively helping newcomers and refugees resettle in Canada and has distinguished herself as a broadcaster, writer and public speaker. Shabnam’s primary and heartfelt interest is to focus on the Iranian community and world events effecting women and minority communities.