Iranian Women on the Eve of Double Elections

The past weeks represented an eventful time for Iranian politics. While the Iranian President Hassan Rohani was paying diplomatic visits in Europe, the Iranian Parliamentary and Assembly of experts’ elections were still in preparation, and women are closely monitoringwhat is happening.
The Iranian Parliament, also known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly, is the main legislative body of Iran since the 1979 Revolution. Another fundamental body is the Assembly of Experts, whose members are in charge of advising the supreme Guide  the Ayatollah Khomeini  during an eight-year mandate. The Iranian people are quite skeptical towards the outcome of the elections. They are, in fact, used to an unequal representation in the two institutions, where the majority are from conservative parties guided by Islamist ideology. This is due to the fact that the Guardian Council of the Constitution, through which the Supreme Guide elects members, can relatively decide on the eligibility of a party and consequently on its influence within the Islamic Republic. 
This is the reality which women have been facing. They especially fear that there could be no changes in the society, even with the increased independence that came alongside the Islamic Revolution. As proof of independence, we can quote the access to education and to certain jobs such as teacher, lawyer, architect or entrepreneur but these jobs are very difficult to pursue. Moreover, women are less conditioned into motherhood as the decreasing birth rate in Iran in the last thirty years might indicate. A general evidence is also the fact that the current Iranian Parliament counts nine female conservative representatives as well as the fact that Iran has one female ambassador in Kuala Lampur since 2015. In addition, women graduate in the engineering field each year and the first female winner of the Fields Award – a high recognition for mathematics – was Iranian. 
Even in this improved environment, some women are willing to change their place in a society which is dictated by the Islamic rules. All women have to live under unequal rules which imply their obedience to the patriarchal figure of their family, especially in the southern part of Iran, predominantly Sunni. In Teheran, special cabins at the beginning and at the end of the metro are especially intended for women. Some Iranian women would prefer not to wear the veil, which is a common choice in our countries for Muslim women who still respect their religion. However, it is preferable for women to wear the veil in Iran, as it is a little effort in contrast with the possible consequences for them. 
Women activists are mainly concerned with the massive executions conducted by the regime. Since the rise to power of the current Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran has reached the world highest execution rate, many concerning women and minorities. Between January 2015 and November 2015, 830 executions took place in Iran according to Amnesty International. The activist Maryam Radjavi in the French newspaper Le Monde explains the difficult situation for women in Iran, exemplified by this quote: 
“In my country, by referring to the law, the women are stoned to death, deprived to choose freely their clothes and just because they are ” badly – veiled “, are at the mercy of the persecutions and risk even the attacks in the acid, teenagers are sentenced to death and an absolute intolerance rages.”
The world community became more aware of the difficult environment in Iran, as this country gained place on international attention. Since last year, sanctions against Iran have been raised, nuclear energy has been central in discussions and president Rohani has been engaged in diplomatic visits in Europe. Therefore, some women and minorities in Iran hope that people from all over the world will help them in order to stop this alerting situation. In addition, Western politicians dealing with Iranian companies disappoint Iranians as well as Europeans in their lack of discourse against human crimes and injustices made in Iran. Economic purposes seem to be concern of Iranian diplomats as the country passes through a difficult economic period. But the long rejection from international business, the oil prices, which decreased a lot recently, and the creation of a massive inflation are not the priority for the society. 
The economic environment and the lack of commitment from European politicians in the Iranian situation will not discourage Iranian opponents and women activists to improve their gender place within the Iranian society. Despite all the restrictions and the crimes, women are aware that they play an important role within the latter. They hope that the effort made after the Islamic Revolution in term of women independence will be pursued in order to ally their Islamic tradition with progressive ideas. They also expect that the forbidden jobs for women such as hadith (Mahomet’s paroles) or any places within the clergy will be available for them and make their voice have an echo, as religion is the official discourse in Iran. In this respect, the Iranian feminist magazine Zanan (meaning “the women”) launched in the 1990s, argued in a series of articles that the Quran does not establish that women are non able to exercise religious functions and issue fatwās (religious edicts).
The 26th of February could mark an interesting rebound within Iranian society. I encourage women from all over the world to watch closely what are the current challenges in Iran, how do Iranian women operate in order to raise their voice and how elections could play a decisive role regarding human and especially women rights.


Written by: Julia Voisin (Liberal Arts, King’s College London)

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