Women’s rights: the plight of women in Iran


By Dr Hoda Hosseini

London, 08 Mar. (MEFD)2518b92

International Women’s Day (IWD) has become an official holiday in 27 countries across the globe. In the past century we have witnessed great improvements in women’s rights in some parts of the world due to a long struggle which started with a movement of 15,000 brave women, who marched through New York City in 1908, demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. It was a movement that would contribute towards significant progress on women’s rights for years to come.

However, as delighted as I am about these great improvements and that many countries celebrate IWD as an official holiday, the reality regarding women’s rights in 2014 remains that females still continue to face inequalities on social, economic and professional fronts compared to their male counterparts, which is a challenge that needs to be overcome by both men and women.

I had the privilege of growing up in an environment where respect for basic human rights is ordinary and where women can freely choose subjects they wish to study and determine the career path they aspire to. As an Anglo-Iranian I therefore feel particularly responsible for shedding light on the dire situation of women in my homeland Iran who are suffering from the misogynistic policies of the regime in Tehran.

During the second term of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian regime introduced new rules banning female students from 77 different degree courses with a variety of subjects including engineering, nuclear physics, computer science, English literature, business studies and archaeology. Even though the Iranian regime did not provide official reasons for such a ban, it is very clear that the main reason is to restrict women’s access to education.

It is particularly a setback since Iran was one of the first countries in the Middle East that allowed women to study at university. After the Iranian revolution of 1979, gender-discrimination by Khomeini’s regime became an official policy, which affected women in many areas of life, including education and employment. The Iranian regime feels threatened by highly educated women who wish to actively participate in society and aim for decision-making roles in their careers, as it considers these types of women as the main force that can truly crush their medieval system. This fear intensified among the clergymen after the 2009 uprising following the controversial Presidential elections in Iran, in which women proved to be a crucial part.

Since President Hassan Rouhani assumed office last year, some have argued that the overall human rights situation in Iran will improve, in particular women’s rights. However, contrary to the belief of those who consider Rouhani a civil rights champion, this so-called ‘moderate’ President has proved to be unwilling to reconsider policies of gender-discrimination to the great dissatisfaction of many women in Iran.

The UN Special Rapporteur of Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, raised his concerns in his October 2013 report regarding policies that continue to limit women’s access to decision-making roles, which according to him “erode advancements made by women in education”. Ahmed Shaheed argued that, “The government has not reconsidered policies that result in the admission of more men than women in certain fields at universities across the country, that prohibit women from enrolling in certain fields of study…..or that replace women’s studies curricula with courses on “women’s rights in Islam” at universities”.

The Iranian regime defends its reactionary position by stating that “women’s studies” as taught across the rest of the world, has serious conflicts and contrasts with Islam. 60 percent of the college population in Iran is female, however less than 20 percent of females are part of the working force. It is therefore not surprising that the World Economic Forum has recognised Iran in its Global Gender Gap Report 2013 as a country which has “the worst representation of females in the labour force and worst female estimated income in the region”.

However, despite the fact that women in Iran suffer from gender-discrimination under the law, which considers a woman the half of a man and does not recognise women’s civic rights in matters such as divorce, workplace, custody of children and the right to travel, women in Iran do not stand idly by. They have had, and continue to have, a leading role in organising university demonstrations and campaigns that challenge the regime’s primitive constitution and establishment.

I do not believe that a regime which has for three decades considered women subservient and second class citizens to be capable of reforming its gender-discriminatory laws. No matter how hard it supresses the freedom-seeking and brave women of Iran, the ayatollahs should note that a new day will come at the hands of these women who will play a leading role in establishing freedom and justice.

Hoda Hosseini lives in London and is a family doctor and human rights activist


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