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Women rights in Iran and the consequences for society

mehriran.de/en - Contribution to the session of the UN-Human Rights Commission in Geneva about women rights in Iran.

mehriran.de/en - Speech held at the UN in Geneva.

"The current laws in Iran, even though there are claimed to be “Islamic” or associated with "Islam", are in reality contrary to Islamic principles, as they openly discriminate between men and women.

For example, under Iranian law the men have greater rights with regard to work and jobs and by law can receive greater salary for the same job, than women. Therefore, men are placed in a superior position in the workplace by the current Iranian laws.

Another obvious example of gender discrimination, is the lack of freedom of travel for married women. As a married woman cannot obtain a passport or an exit permit to leave the country, until she has a written permission from her husband. This restriction even applies to civil servants or members of the government who wish to travel for their work. This restriction exists because the current Iranian laws do not consider a married woman as an individual human being, but instead as a half of a person who must be obedient to her husband.

However, the current laws are in reality, in complete disagreement with the equality of men and women in Islam and the teachings of the Holy Quran. As the Quran has never given such a power to Muslim man, where he can forbid the travel of his wife or make her travel contingent on his permission.

It is clear that as the law stands the inability of married woman to travel without her husband’s consent places a woman in a big disadvantage, in terms of her individual independence, and places her in a weaker position relative to men.

However, one must be clear in these matters and realise that Sharia law as expressed in the Quran is not the root cause of these issues; but the cause lies in the continued reiteration of these false beliefs over the years by the clergy, and their wish to establish a patriarchal society, where all power is centralizing under the control of men.

In fact, these lies have been so often repeated that nowadays they have become part of the general belief and considered to be part of the Islamic principles. It is for this reason that in “Islam-oriented” cultures the women are often referred to as “Zaiefeh” meaning "very weak". All this is part of what is known as “Islamic Law”, in the Iranian legal system.

One must also note that other diverse social and ethnic groups, who believe in a religion other than the above "Islamic state", under the current Iranian totalitarian system known as "velayat-e faqih", are often regarded as second or even third class citizens. For example, Zoroastrians, Jews, Assyrians and Christians under the Iranian constitution are regarded as minorities and thus regarded as second-class citizens.

Even the Sunni Muslims, who are Muslims, are victims of this religious apartheid system and face discrimination based on their religious behaviour. As Sunnis rights are either not considered or rarely mentioned in the Iranian constitution. Furthermore, Sufis and followers of other mystical paths, just like the Sunnis, are also not considered to be first class citizens. For Sunni mosques’ and Sufi house of worships are often invaded and destroyed by the Basij paramilitary forces. Moreover, the Baha'is rights are not even recognized in the Iranian judicial system, and any interaction with them is regarded as interaction with enemies and spies.

In such circumstances, the situation of women belonging to various religious minorities is very irregular, as in many cases, they are doubly oppressed. For often they are oppressed both as the followers of other religions, and also for being a woman. For example, often it is enough for a man who wishes to separate from his wife and to forgo his legal obligations, to take her hand and abandon her in the middle of street, without any recourse, by simply stating that his wife is not a follower of Islam or she has changed her religion.

According to the Shahin Molavardi, the advisor to the 11th Iranian government, in regard to issues of women and familial rights, there are areas in the region of Sistan and Baluchestan in southeast Iran, that in many Sunni villages where men haven been executed, it has befallen on the women of the family to not only raise their children, but also work and provide for them. Because of this situation theses villages have befallen to extreme poverty and lack of hope, so much so that they have been driven to life of drugs and addiction.

Among these addicts there are many women and young girls. Usually these women after falling in the abyss of addiction, poverty and deprivation due to the need to satisfy their addiction, also fall into prostitution and corruption, where they are often turned into sex slaves. Furthermore, often their children also become street children without any form of supervision and in many cases their mothers even sell them for very little money to fund their habit.

So much so that there is growing trade in Iran where babies or children are openly sold often for very little. Where young mothers during their pregnancy meet with proposed customers and then sell their child all the while their unborn child is in their womb. The buyers of these street children and orphans, are also known to often brand these children with branding iron, just as a cattle famer marks his livestock, to show his ownership.

These branded children are then rented out for hire. Often these street children and orphans are rented to gangs of homeless people, who then travel with them while holding them in their arms and openly begging in the streets for cash; in the hope that with the child under their arms they will have better chance of playing on people’s emotions and thus increase their begging revenue.

In Iran, there is also growing number of unsupervised children, and women who live and sleep in cardboard boxes. Amongst these people there is a growing number of immigrants and asylum seekers who due to abnormal conditions in their own country have been forced to flee to Iran.

Usually these immigrants and asylum seekers will not possess any form of citizenship rights in Iran, and therefore are the most downtrodden part of society.  Furthermore, the children born to these immigrants, will also lack any natural or formal social identity and thus becomes the victims of this distorted society.

Therefore, in general, the women under the Iranian law suffer from legal injustice, and women who are part of diverse religious and ethnic groups suffer from double oppression. The consequences of which, I have tried to outline in my aforementioned comments."

Mrs Zahra Noorani, International Organisation for Human Rights, speech delivered at UN Human Rights session, Geneva, June 2017