By Shima Shahrabi
January 3, 2019
Iran’s mountain climbing association has announced that women in the province of Razavi Khorasan must gain permission from their husband or guardian before going hiking or mountain climbing.
The news, which was announced in a directive by a provincial chapter of the Iranian Mountaineering and Sports Climbing Federation (IMSCF) on November 13, has met with widespread criticism from members of the public and prominent figures alike.
The IMSCF announced that married women must obtain their husband’s permission to take part in hiking and mountaineering programs carried out under its remit. If a woman is under 20 and not married she must have the permission of her “natural guardian” — usually her father.
Among the politicians criticizing the move were Mohammad Ali Abtahi, legal advisor to former president Mohammad Khatami, Mostafa Tajzadeh, Minister of the Interior under Khatami, actress Mahnaz Afshar, journalist Faraj Sarkohi, and Batoul Gandomi, member of the City Council of Mashhad, the provincial capital. The criticism was so widespread that in the late hours of November 13, Farzad Fattahi, the head of the Sports Bureau of Khorasan Razavi, was forced to respond. “I strongly deny that the permission of a father or husband is required for mountaineering,” he told Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).
But before this denial, Ahmad Zahmatkesh, head of the local chapter of the IMSCF, had defended the directive, stating that it was merely “a reminder” of the law. “This is about Article 1105 of the Civil Code,” he told ISNA. “We did not set the law, but just advised [about it]. If somebody objects to this it means that that person is objecting to the law.”
Article 1105 of the Civil Code of the Islamic Republic rules that “In relations between husband and wife, the position of the head of the family is the exclusive right of the husband”.
“In our Civil Code, in the section about relations of matrimony, everywhere it talks about friendly relations and cooperation except Article 1105 that, like a mismatched patch, announces that the man is the head of the family,” Farideh Ghairat, a lawyer and a women’s rights activist, told IranWire. She refers to, for example, Article 1103, which states that “husband and wife are bound to establish friendly relations,” or Article 1104 that states: “Husband and wife must cooperate with each other for the welfare of their family and the education of their children.”
Family is not a Government Office
Ghairat has regularly written about this article in the Civil Code, and why she objects to it. The family, she says, is not like a government office that is comprised of a boss and subordinates. Accordingly, the term “head” is irrelevant because it introduces the idea of having subordinates, “with its connotations of bullying and domination.”
She believes the article provides the opportunity for some men to trample on women’s rights. Ghairat and other lawyers who are striving to change laws that discriminate against women have repeatedly demanded that this article be removed from the Civil Code. So far, however, they have had no success. Yet Ghairat is still hopeful.
We also talked to Parvaneh Salahshouri, a representative from Tehran and a member of the women’s caucus in the parliament, about the recent news from the mountaineering and hiking federation. “Yesterday, Khorasan’s Sports Bureau responded,” was all that she said, referring to Farzad Fattahi’s denial that a husband or guardian had to grant permission for women to take part in mountain climbing activities.
Fattahi also said that Zahmatkesh, the head of the local chapter of the IMSCF, had expressed “his personal opinion” and that “he was addressing groups and individuals who carried out online registration, in an unofficial capacity, for women, girls and boys to take part in mountaineering programs that promote immoral practices.” He further explained that Zahmatkesh had failed to explain his purpose clearly. “Unfortunately, he was misunderstood,” said Fattahi. “We denied it, too. The policy of the Sports Bureau is to support women’s sports.”
However, a number of mountaineers say that even before the directive was issued, this was a common practice in at least some chapters of the IMSCF. “Two years ago, Tehran’s Mountaineering Society told me that if I was married I needed my spouse’s permission to register,” tweeted a woman named Sara. “Only women needed [to do] this, of course.”
Another member of the Mountaineering Society confirmed that report. “They also told me to bring [proof of] my husband’s permission if I was married,” she told IranWire. “I was single but I asked why. They said it was because the programs are mixed gender and they do not want anybody to object afterward.”
The Mountaineering Society did not respond to IranWire’s request for a comment. But Mina, a mountaineering and nature tour guide in Tehran told IranWire: “They believe women mountain climbing is [sexually] arousing.” She added that women have always had a harder time when it comes to mountaineering. She said she has decided not to become a member of any mountaineering group and has always worked by herself. “I cannot stand discriminatory laws,” she said.
Sahar lives in Mashhad and has frequently participated in nature tours around the city. “Every time a few people from the Basij [the paramilitary and vigilante organization affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards] would butt in and ask about our relationships,” she said. “They would harass us a lot before going away. It is not for nothing that they call Mashhad ‘autonomous.’” This is a reference to the rules and regulations enforced in Mashhad by orders from its powerful Friday Imam, Ahmad Elmolhoda — even if they violate national laws and regulations. One example clearly demonstrates just how strict and overarching these regulations are: In Mashhad, concerts are banned.