Women Suffer For Equality In Iran

Wed, Sep 19, 2007


VOA News

Iranian law institutionalizes discrimination against women in a variety of ways. Under the law, women have fewer rights than men in matters relating to marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, and civil compensation. An Iranian woman’s testimony in court is worth half that of a man’s. The majority of university students in Iran are females, yet they are not treated equally when they enter the workforce.

In Iran, a woman must obtain a male relative’s permission to travel abroad. In Iran, women may not run for president, nor are they allowed to be judges. And punishment for so-called immoral behavior is meted out disproportionately to women in Iran.

To change these laws, a petition drive was started in 2006. The campaign was launched after a series of peaceful demonstrations by women’s rights activists were violently broken up by Iranian security forces. The campaign relies on volunteers to hand out pamphlets describing Iran’s current laws and to offer those interested a chance to sign the petition demanding changes. The goal is to collect one million signatures.

Mahnaz Afkhami is president of the international non-governmental organization Women’s Learning Partnership. She praises the signature campaign in Iran as “an educational process as well as a demand for change and for reform”:

“It is a grassroots campaign, which at the very least educates the public and gains public consensus. And at most, which is the highest hopes they have, and we all share, is that it will end up in more egalitarian laws regarding women.”

The response of the Iranian government has been harsh. Many women’s rights activists have been given prison terms and some have been sentenced to flogging. The situation has become so bad that Iranian lawyer and Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi has written to the U-N High Commissioner for Human Rights asking for an investigation. “Campaigning to end discriminatory laws should not send a woman to jail,” said Ms. Ebadi.

The U.S. agrees. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, in a statement, said that “the United States stands with the women of Iran, who courageously struggle for their universal rights and justice in their country.”

Despite the arrests of many women activists, women in Iran continue to struggle to achieve basic rights and dignity.

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About Mahnaz Afkhami

A lifetime advocate for the rights of women, Mahnaz Afkhami works with activists across the world, especially in Muslim majority societies, to help women become leaders. She is Founder and President of Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace (WLP), Executive Director of Foundation for Iranian Studies...more

Quotables – Human Rights

"We must pose the question: why is it that the denial of the most rudimentary rights to civil treatment for women is always based on some fundamental point of culture? Is this culture real, or is it a fetish that is used to maintain some economic, social, or simply psychological privilege?" - A Vision of Gender in Culture

"Women's status in society has become the standard by which humanity's progress toward civility and peace can be measured." - Architects for Peace

"The crass infringement of women's rights we see in the Muslim world has more to do with power, patriarchy, and misuse of religion as political weapon than with religion properly understood as individual faith." - Gender Apartheid, Cultural Relativism, and Women's Human Rights

"Rights and empowerment are interconnected: unless a substantial number of women in a community come to believe that they have rights and demand to exercise them, right remains an abstraction." - Faith and Freedom

Quotables – Iran Women’s Movement

"Now, when I look back [on the work of the WOI], it seems to me that our main mistake was not that we did not do other things which we should have done. Our main mistake was that we created conditions in which the contradictions related to modernity, progress, equality, and human rights, especially women’s rights, increased and the reaction to our work put perhaps too much pressure on the country’s social fabric." - Fate of the family protection law

"Iran’s One Million Signatures Campaign for the Reform of Discriminatory Laws is an extraordinary phenomenon. It is democratic, nonhierarchical, open, and evolving in a polity that is none of those things." - Iranian Women’s One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality: The Inside Story, Foreword

At the time of her execution, [Ms. Parsay] wrote one of the most moving letters to her children. And in that she expressed the same courage and the same steadfast belief in her principles that she had followed all of her life. And that was that: I’m a doctor. I know what it means to die, that takes only a minute. I’m not afraid of that. What I’m afraid of is to be pressured into denying 50 years of service to women. - Executed But Not Forgotten

“Prostitution was the code word for activism during the early part of the revolution” - I Was Iran's Last Woman Minister