By Faramarz Davar
March 9, 2020
March 8 is International Women’s Day. Forty-one years ago, on this day, Iranian women, with and without hijab, poured into the streets in Tehran and demanded equal rights with men. But they soon found that the regime taking shape after the 1979 Islamic Revolution was building an archaic system that discriminated against women – where violations of women’s right were a core of the system.
The constitution of the Islamic Republic states that all citizens, men or women, are equally protected by the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social and cultural rights according to Islamic criteria. “According to Islamic criteria” is the qualifier that, in practice, has led to discrimination against women and has impacted certain basic rights of Iranian women.
Efforts to regain these basic rights have been going on for 41 years. But a large segment of Iranian women may not even be aware that these basic rights have been, and are being, violated. Here we list some of the rights that Iranian women have lost under the laws of the Islamic Republic.
Diya or “Blood Money”
Under the laws of the Islamic Republic, a woman’s “blood money” – the restitution they are theoretically worth, in the event of their murder – is half that of a man’s amount. If the woman is a Christian, a Jew or a Zoroastrian then her diya is one quarter of a man’s. Recently, after fatwas issues by a number of religious authorities, the blood money for a woman, Muslim or non-Muslim, has been set equal to a man’s; but the laws of the Islamic Republic remain as they were before. In practice, the new situation may help women but, in this regard, it is not yet the law of the land.
The Iranian parliament must reflect the national will – but each time that it has set out to modernize diya laws regarding women it has encountered unprecedented opposition by religious authorities and has been forced to retreat.
Compared to men, an Iranian woman gets a smaller share of inheritance from her relatives, depending on her relation to the deceased. But, regardless, a woman receives a smaller share than a man under the same, equal, conditions. A plaintiff can ask a court to change the share in a way that favors the woman, and the courts are allowed to do this; but the laws of the Islamic Republic, as they stand, favor men over women.
Marriage and Divorce
An Iranian woman, of any age, cannot marry without the permission of her legal (male) guardian; her father, grandfather or whoever her male guardian may be. A court can permit a woman to marry without her guardian if it decides that it is “prudent” for her to marry.
Divorce conditions are similar. If a marriage contract does not specify that the wife has the right to divorce her husband, yet she wants to do so, she must submit to a very complicated legal process as required by the laws of the Islamic Republic.
The courts of the Islamic Republic do not accept testimonies by women unless they are testifying about adultery, manslaughter and certain financial affairs. They cannot testify about other extra-marital affairs and events such as the birth of a baby. In a the few cases where the courts do accept women’s testimonies, testimony by two women is counted as the testimony of one man.
The Place of Residence
In Iran, a wife’s official place of residence is her husband’s home. If the wife does not want to reside in a place decided by her husband and the court does not rule in her favor, Iranian law calls her “non-compliant,” meaning she is seen as a wife who does not fulfil the duties expected of her toward her husband.
According to the laws of the Islamic Republic, an Iranian wife must defer to her husband’s wishes for sexual intercourse, except during menstruation or in medical situations. Refusing sexual intercourse gives the husband the right to ask for divorce or to refuse to pay the expenses of the wife, including housing, household items, medicine, clothing and even food. Iranian laws do not recognize rape, meaning forced sexual intercourse, even if the wife has not consented.
Guardianship of the Children
Under Iranian law, the right of guardianship is taken away from the mother and is given to the father after the child reaches seven years of age – unless a court rules otherwise. The earlier law was amended by parliament but it was opposed by the Guardian Council and only became law after the Expediency Council approved it. Earlier, the mother was the guardian of a son only until he was two years old or a girl until she was seven, after which the father was considered the legal guardian. After the law was amended, the mother was allowed to remain her son’s guardian until he reached the age of seven.
An Iranian woman cannot travel or leave Iran without permission from her husband or a male guardian. Without written permission from a husband or guardian, no passport is issued for an Iranian woman.
In the Islamic Republic, women are forced to cover their hair. The freedom of choice in clothing is one of the rights of Iranian women which was taken away with the birth of the Islamic Republic. The violation of this right has gone so far in government offices that wearing not just a headscarf but a chador, a robe that covers the body from head to toe and most of the face, is practically mandatory.
Citizenship of Spouses and Children
Iranian women who marry foreign men cannot pass Iranian citizenship to them and, until very recently, their children could also not be Iranian citizens. But Iranian men who marry foreign women have the right to pass Iranian citizenship on to their wives and children. The law in this regard has been changed but the Iranian government, under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, has refused to enact the new law.
Women and Stadiums
There is no legal ban on women attending sporting matches in public stadiums – but in reality the Islamic Republic does not allow Iranian women to enter stadiums to watch football games.
The constitution of the Islamic Republic states that the president of the Islamic Republic is chosen from among political “statesmen”. Drafters of the constitution chose this term so as to not completely deny women the chance to be elected president; because even though the term has “men” in it, it is a plural noun that can apply to both genders. But in the past 41 years the term has been interpreted strictly to the benefit of men and the Guardian Council has never qualified a woman to run for president.