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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Human Rights: It’s all for one or none for all

Life is but a lesson of learning… The more issues you explore, the more people you meet, the more you learn about them and about yourself. In light of a recurring lesson of mine, I’d like to share with you a beautiful, simple yet oh so powerful poem. You may know it. Take a look…

First They Came

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemoller

This short but very poignant poem refers back to the era of Nazi Germany and the failure of German intellectuals to stand up to the Nazis. Dating back to the middle of the last century, it is as relevant as ever in an era of rising hate crime, neo-Nazi/far-right groups and religious extremism to name a few, despite the public awareness of human rights, the availability of resources to learn about each others’ rights and the wide range of means/mediums to speak out (social media, lobbying organisations etc.).

This poem in fact highlights a few very serious key points, which can be summed up in the following famous quotes:

  • “Love for others what you love for yourself” (Prophet Muhammad, pbuh)
  • “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem” (Eldridge Cleaver)
  • “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” (Edmund Burke)
  • “I am not free while any women is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own” (Audre Lorde)

What is the overall message you may ask? Well, put quite simply it’s this: you cannot be free whilst someone else is oppressed. You cannot advocate for peace whilst hating others and you cannot call for the rights of one group, whilst advocating hatred or intolerance for another. No one is saying we all have to have the same beliefs or opinions, but common decency and universal rights are not exclusive. Where human rights are concerned it’s in the famous words of the three musketeers (!) that things go: “It’s all for one, and one for all!”.

Imagine this: you want others to accept and accommodate your religious beliefs but you won’t do the same. Not very logical is it? Or you want women to have the freedom to wear what you want them to wear but not what they may or may not want to wear. Not a simple pick and choose is it? Bearing that in mind, I’d like to lay out the following scenarios. For simplicity sake, we’ll use the names “Mr A” and “Mrs A”:

  1. “Mr A” advocates for the rights of Muslim minorities in Europe but perpetuates anti-Shia, anti-Sunni, anti-Ahmadi rhetoric.
  2. “Mrs A” is outraged at the discrimination hijabis face but forces her daughter to cover and won’t accept difference of opinion related to covering within Muslim circles.
  3. “Mr and Mrs A” are campaigning for the rights of Palestinians yet victimise the Jewish community, refusing to separate faith from politics and fail to stand up to rising anti-Semitism
  4. “Mr A” is outraged about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but doesn’t put pen to paper and seek genuine dialogue
  5. “Mrs A” expresses concern for UK foreign policy in the Middle East yet stays silent about the famine in Yemen caused by the Saudi led war, the abuse of women in Saudi law and Iran, the suffering of the Uyghurs in China, the cause of the Tibetans etc.
  6. “Mr and Mrs A” stands up for the religious/cultural/ethnic rights of their personal communities but stay silent about the abuse and difficulties that others face.

What is the message in all of these cases? Well, the message is quite clearly this: they’ve got it wrong! They’re missing the point. If it’s human rights you want, if it’s justice, freedom and equality, then it’s all for one and one for all! So when you’re advocating for a specific cause, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I advocating a message of peace, non-violence, tolerance and unity? (Unbiased educated criticism is allowed but violence is counter-productive!)
  • Am I utilising the correct tools, networks and organisations which advocate peace and tolerance? (Giving/sharing a platform with an intolerant, bigoted group is also a counter-productive no-no!)
  • Is my message inclusive or exclusive? (Am I alienating or spreading hatred of others?)
  • What is my ultimate message and purpose? (Am I aiming for a positive outcome which will resolve conflict and abuse?)

Remember: calling out abuse is always going to ruffle a few feathers. That’s not the problem! The problem is when your method goes against the principles and purpose of what you’re fighting for – or if you’re cause is exclusive in the rights and aims you’re fighting for.

Think about this and remember, when we’re talking about rights: it’s all for one and one for all!

Salam

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