Iranian MPs attend a parliament session in Tehran. (AFP)

By Ehsan Mehrabi

December 19, 2018

Most discriminatory laws against Iranian women were passed in the early years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The new Islamic Republic authorities sought to replace laws they had inherited from the monarchy with new legislation that would reflect the entire body of “Islamic principles.”

The first three Islamic parliaments, from 1980 to 1992, made wholesale changes in the country’s civil laws and passed new laws, including an Islamic Penal Code that in many cases specifically targeted women, aiming to adjust their lives and their lifestyles to correspond with the new government requirements and the worldview of the extremist clergy. Part of the “Islamization” of the society was entrusted to the members of the parliament, but when the process of legislation proved to be time-consuming, the Islamic Revolution Council took over, or the directives of Ayatollah Khomeini, as the founder of the Islamic Republic, became the rule.

This is the third in a series of IranWire reports about the laws passed by the Islamic Republic’s parliament regarding women and, also, the role played by women representatives in the parliament. For this purpose, we have divided parliaments into three periods. The first, second and third parliaments that followed the revolution passed the highest number of anti-women laws. The fourth, fifth and sixth parliaments, from 1992 to 1996, and the tenth, elected in 2016, tried to improve some discriminatory laws against women — but the same parliaments also passed some discriminatory and repressive laws as well. The seventh, eighth and ninth parliaments, from 2005 to 2016, returned to the extremist post-revolutionary positions.

Here we review the legislation passed by the seventh, eighth and ninth parliaments, from 2005 to 2016, which returned to the extremist post-revolutionary positions.

The seventh parliament (2004-2008) passed 20 pieces of legislation related to women and family. The number was 23 for the eighth parliament (2008-2012) and 20 for the ninth parliament (2012-2016).

In the first days of the seventh parliament, the Women’s Caucus was formed under the chairmanship of Nafiseh Fayaz-Bakhsh, but most of the bills put forward by this caucus opposed women’s rights. On a few occasions, bills that supported the expansion of the rights of women were proposed but they failed to secure enough votes to pass.

In the ninth parliament, the name of the caucus was changed to the Women and Family Caucus, and it was decided that male representatives could also join the parliamentary group and play a part in writing legislation relating to women and family. This parliament was dominated by the conservative principlists and passed numerous discriminatory laws against women.

Below we review the most important laws passed by these three parliaments under the headings of punishments, social freedoms, family, education and employment.

Punishments

The most infamous law that the parliament passed in the period under study was stoning to death for adultery. When the bill was sent to the Guardian Council, which must approve all legislation before it becomes law, Hamid Reza Tabatabai, the Deputy Chairman of the Parliament’s Judiciary Committee, told Fars News Agency that the punishment of stoning had been removed from the code because of the international community’s “biased” reaction to it.

But then the Guardian Council rejected the reform, after which members of the parliament slightly changed their stance and said that stoning had not actually been removed, but that the way it was to be implemented had been changed. According to Tabatabai, the Guardian Council ruled that, from the viewpoint of Islamic jurisprudence, stoning must remain in the law, but it can be carried out in “in a different manner.”

Provision 3 of Article 132 of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code states: “If a man and a woman commit adultery together more than one time, if the death penalty and flogging, or stoning and flogging, are imposed, only the death penalty or stoning, whichever is applicable, shall be executed.”

And Article 225 of the code declares: “The punishment for adultery of a man and a woman who meet the conditions…shall be stoning to death. Where the execution by stoning is not possible, upon proposal of the court of final judgment and approval of the head of the judiciary, if the offense is proved by testimony of witnesses, the man and a woman who have committed adultery and meet the conditions…shall be sentenced to the death penalty [by hanging]; otherwise, each one of them shall be given one hundred lashes.” In other words, death by hanging can be used to kill the offenders instead of actual stoning.

Death by stoning for married individuals who commit adultery was first passed in 1982, shortly after the revolution, as part of Article 100 of the Law and Regulations of Hudud (punishments mandated by sharia) and Qisas (retribution) and was then incorporated into the Islamic Penal Code in 1991.

Social Freedoms

The seventh, eighth and nine parliaments passed a relatively high number of laws restricting the social freedom of women. The seventh parliament approved the “Fashion and Dress Reform Law” to “protect and promote Islamic-Iranian culture and identity.” The law ordered businesses that make or sell clothing “to follow domestic patterns and design and avoid choosing and using patterns that are alien to Iranian culture and identity.”

In Article 5 of the “Management of Government Services Law,” approved by the seventh parliament, all government agencies were told to gather data on “gender justice” and determine the leading indicators in this regard. It also passed a law, the “Law to Support Women’s Rights and Responsibilities in Domestic and International Arenas,” which was supposed to codify women’s rights and responsibilities in the family and in society, “inspired by the all-encompassing Islamic sharia and its legal system.” However, the law did not lead to any particular action being taken, or any particular changes being introduced.

In Article 196 of the Fifth Development Plan, the eighth parliament emphasized that the “Basiji elite” must be engaged “to advise, come up with ideas and promote the culture of chastity and hijab for the strengthening of the foundations of the family.” In Article 209 of the same law, government agencies were given the task of carrying out a “comprehensive plan” for chastity and hijab and making the workplace an environment that would be in line “with the requirements of an Islamic Society.”

With the creation of a “Hijab and Chastity Caucus,” the ninth parliament (2012-2016) passed the controversial bill for “supporting promoters of virtue and preventers of vice.” The bill, which allows any citizen to act as a self-appointed morality inspector, became law, despite the fact that the government opposed it.

In 2014, women were banned from entering a stadium to watch a volleyball game between Iran and Italy. This led to widespread criticism —but the Women’s Caucus defended the action, calling any opposition to the move “a political exploitation” and a means of undermining the regime. The caucus even introduced a bill to turn the ban on the presence of women in stadiums into law.

Toward the end of its term, the ninth parliament was preparing to pass a government bill that would have banned single women under 40 from traveling abroad without the permission of their guardian. However, the term ended before the bill was put to the floor.

Family

The seventh parliament ratified many gender-related laws passed by previous parliaments with insignificant changes. One was that mahriyeh— funds and assets the husband promises the wife in a marriage contract — must be adjusted for inflation when the wife demands payment.

A law passed by this parliament regarding the children of Iranian women married to foreign men ruled that if these children have been born in Iran or are born in Iran within a year after the law is passed, they can request Iranian citizenship when they reach the age of 18. Women representatives in this parliament presented a bill that would have given women equal rights with men in inheriting the assets of their deceased spouses in full, but the parliament rejected the bill.

The seventh parliament also made changes to the law that allows the husband to prohibit his wife from holding a job and passed other laws, including the presence of female legal advisors at family courts and measures to facilitate the marriage of young people.

The eight parliament passed a law to increase the financial help and medical care to disabled people and women who are guardians and breadwinners of their families.

Article 946 of the amended 2008 Annual Budget Law ruled that “the wife inherits all properties of her deceased husband. If the husband had children, the wife [of the deceased husband] will inherit one-eighth of all his properties and assets.” In the same amended budget law, the eight parliament allowed the president’s Center for Women and Family Affairs to carry out its activities using the government’s share of the budget and through other executive agencies. This law was passed in the budgets for the subsequent years as well.

The eighth parliament also amended the law of Family and Population Planning and expanded “lawful protection” to the fourth child of families who already have three children and the triplets of families who already have two children.

In Article 39 of the law for the Fifth Development Plan, the eighth parliament emphasized the need to support “needy individuals and groups, especially the disabled and women who are guardians of their families.” Article 43 of this law was dedicated to the “establishment of centers that provide psychological and social counseling, in conformity with the Islamic-Iranian culture, with the aim of facilitating marriage among the youth and of strengthening the foundations of the family.” Article 230 of the same law covered the need for a “comprehensive plan to improve the affairs of women and the family” by strengthening the foundation of the family, review of related laws and regulations, and preventing social harms, among other needs.

The amended Family Protection Law was passed by the ninth parliament in 2012 after extensive debate and after changes to some of its articles. What angered many women and advocates for women’s rights was the article on “temporary marriage” (concubinage) and additional wives. According to an article in this law, men did not need the permission of their existing wife to marry a new wife and only needed to prove to the court that it was financially affordable for them. Eventually this article was removed from the Family Protection Law, but, after adding a few conditions, Article 23 retained the man’s right to take additional wives or marry temporarily.

The ninth parliament also passed a law to extend insurance to housewives. Based on this law, around 200,000 women who were guardians of their families were to be insured by the end of the Iranian calendar year of 1392 (March 20, 2014), However, no part of the budget was earmarked to implement the law and the Guardian Council rejected the bill for this reason.

Members of the ninth parliament voted for the general outline of a bill to increase the rate of childbirth and put an end to the country’s population control policy. The bill provided for a prison sentence of two to five years for anyone carrying out surgeries to prevent pregnancy, such as vasectomy and tubectomy. The bill was sent to the parliament’s Health Commission but the commission shelved it.

Efforts to pass a law for the protection of children and adolescents during the ninth parliament were unsuccessful.

Education

The seventh through the ninth parliament did not pass any legislation resulting in meaningful changes in education for women. The only law concerning women’s education was passed by the eighth parliament, which stipulated that the specialized medical fields of gynecology and obstetrics would become the exclusive domain of female doctors.

Employment

The seventh parliament increased the leave of absence for childbirth — for up to and including the third child — from four months to six. Some years later, the ninth parliament increased this leave of absence from six months to nine within both the private and public sectors, ensuring the woman would receive full salary and benefits. The husbands of these women were also given a two-week period of leave as an “award.” Since these leaves of absence meant a financial burden to employers, the law was not made mandatory but optional.

Regarding the law on the early retirement of state employees, the seventh parliament set the minimum years of service for women before retirement at 20 and also amended sections of the regulations governing the pensions of retired women and the salaries of other employees. This parliament also passed a law that made children of deceased female government employees eligible to receive benefits from social security and pension funds, whereas earlier only children of deceased male employees were eligible for these benefits.

The eight parliament passed the law on “social insurance for registered carpet makers and handicraft makers,” extending social security to craftsmen and crafts-women and full-time workers at handmade carpet workshops. A further provision added to the extended the coverage to part-time and at-home workers engaged in handicraft and handmade carpets.

Within the framework of the law for the “membership of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the United Nations Asian and Pacific Centre for Agricultural Engineering and Machinery,” this parliament gave female villagers the power to form “coalitions to mechanize their production activities including in the area of agricultural production.” The eighth parliament also passed the law for supporting home-based occupations.

In its revision to the 2007 early retirement law, the eighth parliament set the minimum years of service before retirement at 25 years for men and 20 years for women.

In the 2011 budget law, the eighth parliament ordered the Social Security Organization to pay a pension — based on their years of service — to women who are at least 55 and have paid their insurance premiums for at least 10 years. The law also applied to women who were disabled while serving as employees, regardless of the reason.

The ninth parliament passed the bill “to reduce working hours of women with special conditions,” an amended version of an earlier law under a more descriptive and longer name. The working hours of all those who work for the government is 44 hours per week, even if they are contract workers. But according to this law, if a woman suffers from severe disabilities or has a child younger than six or whose spouse or children suffer from severe disabilities, they are allowed to work 36 hours a week while receiving a full salary and benefits commensurate with working 44 hours.

One of the controversial bills introduced during the ninth parliament regarding the employment of women was that, during working hours between 7pm and 10am, women must be segregated from men. Nurses, medical doctors and flight attendants were exempted but for any other job that needed women’s services during the night, a police permit was required. In the end, however, the bill was not approved.

Other Laws

The seventh through the ninth parliament passed other laws related to women that do not fall under the five categories above.

The seventh parliament passed the following laws that directly or indirectly affected women: The law to fight human trafficking, especially the trafficking of women and children, the addition of a provision to Article 60 of the Third Development Plan aimed at the implementation of the bylaws for “supporting women and children without a guardian” that had been approved by the government in 1995, the law to assist families of the victims of accidents not caused by the victims’ own actions, payment of pensions to the children of mothers covered by the Social Security Law and other pension funds, and punishment for creators of illegal audio-visual material.

The seventh parliament also approved Iran’s membership to the second optional protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children, which prohibits the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

In the ninth parliament, more bills were introduced to tighten hijab-related restrictions but its term came to an end before they could become law.

Iran Wire

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.