Marriage at 13, forced veiling and a ban on cycling – welcome to Iran for women

It’s no secret that abuse of human rights – or lack of human rights rather – is a major problem in Iran. Living in a theocratic State, religion (and in particular the government’s interpretation of it I should add!) rules every aspect of public life. A twisted extreme ideology is used to permit/prolong – and in some cases enforce – child marriage, domestic violence and forced veiling amongst a wide range of other abuses. Whilst freedom of speech is a right that citizens are not blessed with – young and old, male and female – for women and girls, life is incredibly tough.

Wanting to find out what really goes in Iran, I spoke to the group Iran Human Rights Monitor to find out what life is like for women in Iran, day in day out on the ground. Here’s what they had to say…

Thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview! As a human rights organisation fighting for change in Iran, it would be very insightful to find out what it’s really like for women and girls living in Iran on a daily basis.

President Hassan Rouhani was quoted during a post-election speech giving supposed support for women’s rights:

“There must be equal opportunities for women. There is no difference between man and woman in their creation, in their humanity, in their pursuit of knowledge, in their understanding, in their intelligence, in their religious piety, in serving God and in serving people.” (Fars News, retrieved 25/20/2013)

How does this fair to the reality to the daily life of girls and women in Iran today? Could you outline some of the obstacles which women and girls in Iran face on a daily basis?

Women are deprived of their most basic rights in Iran. No matter what they say, whether for national or international consumption, women are systematically discriminated against both in law and practice.

Women are not allowed to study in at least 70 fields at university. The unemployment rate among educated women and female university graduates is 85.9%. According to official statements, women’s participation in the job market is only 13%, while the majority of women are hired in unregistered jobs with salaries lower than the minimum wage and no insurance or benefits.

So, women have a really hard time earning a living. Every year, an average of 100,000 women are fired from their jobs. The situation is particularly difficult for women who head households and have to feed and provide for their families. The latest figures indicate that there are at least 3.5 million single women acting as head of the household in Iran. Only 18% of these women receive some small form of assistance from the government – the rest do not have any sort of backing.

Women are also not allowed in sports stadiums. They are not allowed to ride bicycles in public, and they are not allowed to perform at musical concerts or sing in public and are also not allowed to work in cafés. There have been frequent instances of women flouting government rulings which ban women from cycling, swimming, etc.

Of course, it is common knowledge that women do not enjoy freedom in choice of clothing and are forced to wear the compulsory veil, something that they are becoming more and more defiant about. Today, the regime is trying to control women who drop their veils behind the wheel.

The religious police enforce compulsory observation of hijab (Islamic covering). At what age does this apply? What are the penalties for not fully observing hijab?

According to the mullahs’ [religious figures] interpretation of Sharia, girls are considered to be adults when they reach the age of nine lunar years. That is less than nine years old and is the age when they are obliged to wear the veil and cover their hair. At this age, they can also be subjected to any punishment applicable to adults. The legal age of marriage is 13 years old, but fathers and grandfathers are permitted to wed their daughters at even younger ages (even nine or 10 years old), by simply getting permission from a court.

The penalty for not fully observing the hijab is usually a warning on the street, then women are taken into detention. Usually these women have to sign written pledges to conform with the official dress code. They have to pay bail and are then released. However, sometimes, the young women and girls are taken under the pretext of improper veiling to unknown locations and are sexually attacked. There have been incidents where women who get out of such detentions commit suicide because of what they have gone through.

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Being ordered to correct her hijab – Image credit: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi (CC)

There are some severe lack of protections within Iranian law. There is no law against domestic violence and marital rape is not criminalised. If a woman has an abusive husband, where can she go for help? How does society respond to this?

There is absolutely no support for women who are subjected to domestic violence at home. The courts and police stations tend to encourage woman to return to their abusive husbands. There was a famous case in Mashhad where the woman had complained to the police station about the abuses of her husband but they sent her home, only to be tortured and burned by her husband for 21 days along with her two daughters. They were found accidentally by neighbours who heard their cries and moaning. As long as the laws discriminate against women, there is not much that can be done by the general public.

Women in Iran gained the right to vote in 1963 and can be judges/legal counsellors but cannot give final verdicts. Could you describe women’s role in the political and legal systems In Iran? How does this fair in Iran?

The Iranian regime ranks 137th on the international level among 145 countries in terms of gender equality and political participation, and 141st in terms of economic participation. Women are not allowed to run for president or become leader. As you already mentioned, women cannot issue rulings or be a de facto judge in Iran.

In the current Iranian parliament, there are only 17 women among 290 members of parliament, making up a mere 5.8% participation for women. In the administration of Iranian cities and provinces, women hold only 13 out of 2,653 positions as provincial governors, governors, district governors, and mayors. In a total of 500 big and small cities, only 64 women were elected as members of City Councils compared to 3,724 male members. That amounts to a meager 1.7% participation for women in City Councils. In reality, women have no role in political decision making and leadership in Iran.

Similar to Saudi Arabia, strict laws exist in Iran regarding nationality and marriage. Iranian nationality can be passed only through the father by law. For the child of an Iranian mother and father of another nationality, Iranian nationality can usually only be gained after residing in Iran for over one year after the age of 18. Why do you believe that such law exists? What is the impact legally, socially and culturally of such laws?

To understand the source of this kind of laws, you should first understand and study the nature of the Iranian regime which is a misogynistic regime. That means all the laws are based on the repression of women. To understand better please read this article.

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Female sports are restricted in Iran – Image credit: Anoo Bhuyan (CC)

For women (and men!) who speak out against the political system, what are the consequences?

They receive long prison sentences. There are many human rights and civil rights activists imprisoned in Iran. Prison conditions are very bad in Iran, and those who are imprisoned become very ill because of the inhuman conditions in prison and lack of basic medical services.

Could you talk a little about your organisation and what your goals and successes have been?

Iran Human Rights Monitor is a web portal working in collaboration with the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Our main goal is to condemn the violation of human rights in Iran at international level – mostly the ongoing wave of executions.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Right now, we need the UN Special Rapporteur of human rights in Iran, Asma Jahanguir, to get more involved in the issue of executions in Iran. July was a bloody month with 101 executions but unfortunately we have witnessed a lack of reaction, condemnation and severity in dealing with this from international organisations and the UN.

We we also have started a new project regarding the 1988 Massacre in Iran [an estimated 30,000 political prisoners were killed on order of Ayotallah Khomeini]. After this massacre, no one was brought to justice. The perpetrators are still playing important role with the government of the Iranian regime and we want them to face trial. This is a call for a movement of justice.

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Image credit: gato-gato-gato (Flickr, CC)

What achievements are you particularly proud of within the movement for human rights in Iran?

Since last year, our movement calling people to action has been expanded. Many people have been informed about this massacre, whilst the Iranian regime has tried to remove any trace of it happening. However, our main goal hasn’t been achieved yet.

Where can we learn more about the issues discussed and how can we help?

You can learn more by visiting our new website calling for justice after the 1988 massacre and also by signing and sharing out petition.

Thank you for your time and participation and all the very best in your work for the future!

For all the latest information, follow Iran Human Rights Monitor on Twitter and Facebook and please sign the petition!

Salam!

Credits

Featured image: Chris Marchant (CC)

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A 10-year prison sentence for blogging? Meet Raif Badawi

Picture this: being passionate about justice and equality, you start a blog. Disillusioned with the socio-political reality of your own country you take to the internet and express your concerns about the religious authorities/senior religious figures. You write your thoughts and then bam!

You’re taken in for questioning…

You’re forbidden to leave the country and your wife’s bank accounts are frozen.

You’re accused of insulting your religion, accused of apostasy (and so your wife’s family later want a divorce).

As a Muslim, you’re accused of “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and thrown in prison. Your original sentence is then increased and you’re eventually condemned to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes…

Sound surreal? Sound like an eerie film plot? No, this is the story of Saudi Arabian writer and activist Raif Badawi. Raif is currently in prison for writing a blog, criticising senior religious figures. He’s accused of insulting Islam and leaving his faith – a “crime” which comes with a death sentence in Saudi Arabia.

Raif has received 50 lashes and 17th June 2017 marked the fifth anniversary of his imprisonment. Raif’s wife Ensaf and three children are now living in Canada, having been granted political asylum, yet they want Raif back – free and safe. However, for being a Saudi citizen and speaking his mind in a theocratic country based on an extreme, toxic and Medieval form of Islam with no consent of private faith and free will in religious matters, Raif is now paying a heavy price. His sons and daughters long to see their dad again and his wife is carrying on his fight for freedom.

Take a look at the poem their 12 year-old son Doudi recently wrote:

 The Dream

A dream wakes me up every night
I wake up crying, feeling longing and desperate
I dream of you,
Father
I dream that you’re hugging me, kissing me and your tears filling me with love. Telling me that you love me, and I cry for joy. I can’t believe I’m with you, touching you, holding your face, kissing you, daddy daddy, you are with me and we are close again
How many years has it been?
I was only seven years old when we left you and left our country, Saudi Arabia
I didn’t know why we left you back then
I remember you hugging me, telling me goodbye, and asking me to be strong for my mom
I didn’t understand
I didn’t understand that you went for prison and didn’t understand the reason for that
But I know what is it like to miss you
To miss your love
Your company
Your smile
At school when the teacher asked us to talk about our families, I didn’t know what to say to them
My father is Raif Badawi, a writer and he’s Saudi Arabian. He went to jail because he loves his country and its people. He voiced an opinion that many people in Saudi Arabia agree with. But today my father is paying the price
My father is in jail because he loves his country.

A dream wakes me up every night
I see you in my dreams. I wake up. And the dream turns into imagination. The feel of your embrace was just my imagination
And I cry, feeling sad, feeling a longing
I pray for God, please bring back my father
I pray with love
With grief
May He answer my prayers.

Doudi ‘Trad’ Raid Badawi, aged 12
(written with the help of his mother, Ensaf Haider)

Incredibly, incredibly sad. Raif is not the first prisoner of conscience in Saudi Arabia and he won’t be the last but we must keep on his and his family’s fight.

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Ensaf Haider holding a photo of her husband Raif (Image credit: European Parliament – CC)

What can we do to help?

It’s really important to not let Raif’s case go silent. Raif needs to know that he’s not alone and the Saudi authorities also need to know that we’re not going to let his case go. Pressure needs to be continuously built, calling on the authorities to release Raif, in addition to public awareness to keep the issue in the spotlight and increase support.

Here’s a suggested list of actions courtesy of Amnesty International: 

1. Social media campaigning

Related Twitter accounts:

  • @Raif_Badawi (Raif’s account managed by his wife Ensaf)
  • @Miss9afi (Ensaf’s account)
  • @BorisJohnson (UK foreign minister’s)
  • @UKinSaudiArabia (UK embassy in Saudi Arabia)
  • @SaudiEmbassyUK (Saudi Arabian embassy in UK)

Suggested Tweets:

  • @KingSalman blogging is not a crime! We urge you to #FreeRaif today!
  • @Raif_Badawi has already spent 5 years in prison. Just for blogging. Tell @KingSalman that’s 5 years too many – he must #FreeRaif now!
  • Blogging can be costly in Saudi Arabia & @Raif_Badawi has paid the highest price: 10 yrs behind bars, 1000 lashes. @KingSalman: #FreeRaif!
  • @BorisJohnson: Help @raif_badawi see his family again – Call for his freedom today! #FreeRaif!
  • @Raif_badawi deserves freedom and dignity. 5 years is already too many – @UKinSaudiArabia should call for his release #FreeRaif

2. Contact Saudi authorities directly

You can send cards and/or letters to the Saudi Arabian embassy in your country or even give them a call.

Here are the details for London:

Mail:
His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz
Ambassador to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
30 Charles Street
LONDON
W1J 5DZ

Telephone: 0207 917 3000 or 0207 917 3288

Tweet, write – do whatever you can to let Raif and his family know that they are not alone. Even more importantly, let the Saudi authorities that we’re here and we stand with Raif. Freedom of religion, freedom of belief and freedom of expression are universal human rights. It’s about time that Saudi Arabia joined the 21st century and started recognising these rights…

Peace, salam ♡

Credits, acknowledgements and further information:

To find out more about Raif visit:

Campaign materials: Amnesty International (UK, 2017)
Poem courtesy of Amnesty International (UK, 2017)
Image credits: Amnesty Finland (CC) (featured image)

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