The Demand for Changing of Discriminatory Laws Penetrates Official Discussions

Saturday 28 July 2007

Translated by: SZ

Change for Equality: As the official Iranian Women’s Day was approaching this year1, the discussions about women’s issues had a somewhat different feel and tone from previous years. "Laws pertaining to women need to be reevaluated" was a sentence that was often included in speeches, interviews and statements issued on the occasion of Women’s Day. This indicates that the demand to change discriminatory laws is increasingly brought up for discussion in executive and legislative bodies, especially by women who hold prominent positions in these bodies.

Zahra Shojai, the former head of the Center for Women’s Participation, outlining the paucity of reforms in the realm of women’s issues told Eatemad:" Improving the women’s situation and giving them all their rights need tools such as laws and regulations." She believes that regarding fundamental and serious changes in the realm of women’s issues, many of the laws imposed on women need to undergo a complete transformation. Pointing out the inequality in the law regarding the amount of blood money (diah), she says: "Shouldn’t we revise the blood money (diah) laws in a society where a great percentage of women actively participate in earning a living for their families? Shouldn’t we revise the laws concerning inheritance, witness, custody of children, women’s presence outside of the house, polygamy and civil and criminal laws, etc? She further adds: "The judicial system should be more progressive and move forward with time. Governments should take into consideration the increasing economic and social participation of women and come up with solutions so that women will not have a merely domestic role or existence. This process involves reforming the structure, changing the current laws and regulations and compiling appropriate plans.

Female members of the Parliament (Majlis) have also given some attention to the laws concerning women. Rafat Bayat, the representative from Zanjan thinks that the process by which the women’s rights laws are compiled is very important and believes that the issues concerning women’s rights should be discussed in a transparent manner. Pointing out the judicial and family issues, especially polygamy and temporary marriage which make women feel in danger regarding the well-being and safety of their families, in an interview with ISNA, she has talked about a letter which she has written to the head of the Judiciary Branch. The letter outlines issues such as women’s homelessness, financial problems, husband’s infidelity, etc……

Inheritance and blood money (diah) are also issues that the representative from Zanjan would like to have revised. In this regard, she says: "The issues of inheritance and blood money (diah) which have been challenged as part of day to day issues, especially for working women, need to be reevaluated. These types of issues are part of matters that should be looked at in a new light in today’s modern society and some of the questions should be answered according to the secondary commandments."

Elham Aminzadeh, a member of the women’s parliamentary group in the 7th Parliament (Majlis) also attributes some of the obstacles that prevent women from being active members of the society to unfavorable laws. Pointing out the discussions concerning the candidacy of women in presidential elections, she says: "The arguments regarding the prohibition of candidacy of women in presidential elections are based on very weak logic."

These comments by members of the Parliament (Majlis) may be an answer to an open letter addressed to them by a group of reformist women. In that letter, the reformist women have demanded an end to the gender based inequality of the blood money (daih). They have further voiced their grievances saying: "Unfortunately we frequently encounter a long silence on the part of the executive branch and other responsible parties regarding women’s issues, which in turn is reflected in the Parliament (Majlis). There are also some pieces of legislation in the works in the Parliament (Majlis) which themselves exacerbate the discriminations and inequalities. The economic conditions and the need to make a living, have forced men and women to work multiple shifts. The number of women who are heads of households is on the increase. There are efforts underway to make women stay at home by resorting to the excuse of maintaining and strengthening family values. These efforts include making women’s work hours flexible or reducing their work hours, which, contrary to their appearance of being in favor of women and families, under this disguise they will gradually in essence eliminate women from the work force, especially upper management positions. These efforts will certainly have bad consequences because they will aggravate the economic problems of the families. Closing of the child care centers at government offices is also in contrast to the government’s motto of protecting the mother’s role and strengthening the structure of the family. Another issue is the discussions surrounding gender-based quotas for male and female students in higher education institutions. This stems from the fact that female students in higher education institutions now outnumber males. There are pieces of legislation in the works which are not commensurate with the role and place of Iranian women in the society, even though the intent of the bills being debated in the Parliament (Majlis) may be to correct some of the current situations."

At the present time, a group of the members of the Islamic Parliament, in cooperation with the Women’s Cultural-Social Committee, have compiled some cases of the women’s rights and family protection civil laws that need revision and change. They plan to submit them to the Supreme Leader.

Fatima Rahbar, a representative in the 7th Parliament (Majlis), with the announcement of this news has told Eatemad: "Through investigations that were done by the Islamic Parliament (Majlis), we found out that many of the problems that exist in family courts are a result of the inadequate civil laws. These laws should be changed according to social conditions. For this reason, we addressed these cases with the Women’s Cultural-Social Committee which operates under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution. Now that we have prepared these cases, we intend to submit them to the highest regime officials and religious authorities soon. We hope that with their judgment we can change some of the civil laws that are based on secondary commandments." Ms. Rahbar named women’s inheritance laws as one of the cases and said that according to Iran’s civil laws women can only inherit 1/8 of the husband’s property and that means1/8 of buildings and structures only and does not include land. But in towns in the northern regions of the country and in rural areas women work the land shoulder to shoulder with their husbands for many years. They spend their earnings on farming a land from which they receive no inheritance."

Ms. Rahbar did not name any other laws for which there has been a demand for change. However, she pointed out the comprehensive family protection bill as another example of the endeavors of the members of the Parliament (Majlis) to resolve the issues surrounding the existing laws. She explained that the bill has been prepared with the cooperation of judicial experts of the Judicial Branch and experts in various disciplines that deal with family issues. The bill includes family protection and women’s rights issues and is added to the government’s Judicial Commission’s agenda. She said that she was sure that after the completion of the bill and its submission to the Parliament (Majlis), the bill would pass with a high majority vote and with a double priority designation. She also mentioned the necessity of using female counselors in family courts, requiring counseling prior to legal proceedings and establishing counseling centers in courts as matters included in the comprehensive family protection bill. She said that further details about the bill would be explained when it goes to the floor of the Islamic Parliament (Majlis). Prior to this announcement, in a meeting with the representatives from Tehran, the head of the Judiciary Branch, had stated his support for the bill by saying: "Protecting the moral health of the society is a serious matter, and because of the serious inadequacy of the family protection laws, these laws must be changed."

Shahroudi had also emphasized: "We have to try to give women their rights in the family and in the Islamic society and in conjunction with children’s rights, based on the principles and fundamentals of Islamic laws." The talk about changing civil laws has been coming from various authorities for some time. The head of the Judiciary Branch had talked about the necessity of the equality of blood money (diah) for men and women during a conference on civil rights. Prior to that, the head of the Expediency Council, pointing out that in addition to him some other religious authorities were in agreement over the issue of equal blood money (diah) for men and women, had stated: "The members of the Parliament can submit a parliamentary bill to address the issue of equal blood money (diah). If the 7th Parliament passes the bill into law, it would be something to be proud of. But if the Parliament does not pass the bill into law or the Guardian Council vetoes it, we can then take action in this regard in the Expediency Council."

The judges in the Judiciary Branch have also demanded changing some of the laws concerning women’s issues. Akram Pourrang-Nia, a former judge who now works as an attorney and is also the Judiciary Branch’s expert on matters such as alimony and equal pay, has also put the inheritance laws and the law of men’s exclusive right to divorce at the top of the list of the laws that can be changed in some way. In this regard she says: "A legislator needs to stay on top of society’s circumstances, make laws that are in line with the needs of the society and keep up with the times."

Ms. Pourrang-Nia further explains: "According to Article 1104 of Civil Laws, husband and wife should cooperate in raising their children. At the present time, women are moving shoulder to shoulder with men, not behind them, towards the betterment of the family. In raising the children, they contribute a lot more and move forward with bigger steps. In addition to raising the children in a physical sense, women also work hard in instilling high spiritual and moral values in children. But if the child is a girl, she can marry only with the consent of the father or she needs her father’s permission to obtain an exit visa to travel outside the country. This inadequacy in the law becomes more noticeable when a girl’s father is deceased, because if the paternal grandfather is alive, his permission is required. The mother, who is closer than anyone else to the daughter, has no say or role in a situation like that."

Even though the mayor of Tehran did not directly address the women’s issues laws on Women’s Day, he emphasized the role of women in management positions. Criticizing the fact that despite a 50% presence of women in the education and training sphere only 4% of management positions are filled by women, Ghalibaf talked about a directive that would allocate 10% of the management positions in the municipality to women.

A report issued by the Deputy Director of the Statistics and Informatics Section of the Women’s Cultural-Social Council, based on documented research that measures the statistical indicators of the women’s situation in the last three decades states: "The number of women admitted to government and non-government higher education institutions was reported to be 390306 in the school year 2005-2006. This number marks a 96.192 percent growth compared to the school year 1996-1997 and an overall 27% growth over the last three decades.

The percent of working women over the age of ten compared to the total number of the working population in 2004 was estimated to be 13.3 percent. This number shows a 1/2 percent increase compared to 1997 and marks a 0.5 percent decline over the last three decades. The number of women who sought candidacy for the 7th Islamic Parliament (Majlis) was 828, which is over 12 times more than the number of women who sought candidacy for the 1st Islamic Parliament (Majlis).

Read this article in Farsi

1. The official Iranian women’s day is celebrated each year on the anniversary of the birth of Fatemeh (SA) the daughter of the Prophet Mohammad (SAAW). This year this anniversary, which is based on the Islamic calendar, fell on July 5th.


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