Iranian woman; A Pakistani perspective

Over the years, Iranian women have made significant achievements in education, health, and political mobilisation. Prior to the Revolution of 1979, some women-related reforms were introduced. One of the fundamentals was increasing the marriage age for girls from 13 to 18. Further, a man was allowed a second marriage only after the first wife’s permission. These social measures were well-received by urban women. However, the rural women felt uncomfortable with this rapid speed of westernisation under the guise of modernisation. After 1979, the new system established its own laws and practices. The most prominent, as visualised by the West, was the Hijab or covering of the head in public places.

At the beginning of the revolution, rules and laws were followed rigidly. The supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stressed the domestic responsibilities of women. At the same time, Article 20 of the newly drafted constitution of 1979 ensured equal protection of human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights for males and females under Islamic principles. It strengthened women’s claims regarding divorce, child custody, and curtailment of polygamy. That was a phase when the state and society of Iran were finding its direction in line with Islamic tenants, along with satisfying the needs and requirements of the modern world.

In the 1979 parliamentary elections, the state encouraged women’s political participation as their vote was called their “religious, Islamic and divine duty”. In 1984, women were recruited into the parliament as the state entered the eight-year war with Iraq. They were encouraged to serve as teachers, nurses, and doctors, which made many women the sole family breadwinners. When Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami were elected as Presidents on the reformist platform, women received more relief through some guarantees in family laws and their representation in legislative houses. Apart from encouraging women’s education and international sports events, the most notable achievement of Rafsanjani’s rule was his successful family planning campaign which helped Iran manage its population.

In the Khatami era, women pushed much harder for reforms in family laws, particularly against unilateral divorces by men with compensation for affected women. Thus, parliament raised the age of marriage for girls from 9 to 13 in 2002. The induction of women as advisors to clerics and even as judges played an essential role in changing the legal battles for women, especially when women Islamic scholars presented the liberal interpretation of Quranic verses to provide relief to the women.

The tenure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government was the most defining period for the political elite and the women’s rights movement. By that time, Iranian women were polarised in terms of their ideology; the conservatives and the Reformists. By believing in “dynamic jurisprudence”, the reformists stress interpreting religion in line with democracy and human rights. In contrast, conservatives favor “traditional jurisprudence”, which is a resistance to the change in Islamic law. Although the supporters of these two main ideologies did exist previously, they followed their agendas differing from each other. However, during this time, they not only professed their demands more vigorously but at one point joined hands against Ahmadinejad, especially when the government used force against the female protesters in 2009.

Today, women have a record representation in Iran’s Majlis, if compared with the past. In the 1980 election, only 4 women were elected to the Islamic Republic’s first Majlis. Currently, 17 female members in the Iranian Parliament (Majlis), were elected in 2016.

The landmark legislation by President Hassan Rouhani’s government is the “Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence Law”, which first time provided a detailed definition of violence stating that any behaviour inflicted on women due to sexuality, vulnerable position or type of relationship, and inflicts harm to their body, psyche, personality, and dignity, or restricts or deprives them of legal rights and freedoms. The most interesting highlight of this law legislation includes the coordination among various state departments, including the ministry of health, law enforcement, and prison organisations, with a vision that the violence against women cannot be controlled unless all government institutions do not coordinate.

The budget for 2021-2022 especially focused on the well-being of women by taking some essential steps for gender development. First, it increased the budget for women and family affairs by 61%. Second, the budget for women breadwinners increased by 50%, which was previously 25%. Third, the unemployed housewives with at least three children were covered by life and investment insurance and would receive retirement benefits. Summarising the efforts of President Rouhani’s government for the improvement of women’s status in Iran, we note that foremost was legislation to minimise domestic violence; a plan was implemented granting Iranian citizenship to children born to Iranian women and non-Iranian men, and the bill banning the marriage of girls under 13, as most glaring instances.

No matter how many socio-cultural challenges the Iranian women faced in the domestic environment, their crucial strengths include education, effective family planning, and mass political mobilisation, especially as voters. Nearly all governments in Iran promoted female education, reducing the literacy gap among gender. The female population’s high literacy rate enabled Iranian women to mobilise and lobby more vigorously for their socio-political rights from different political governments.

The benefits of small families made women healthier and more progressive in their personal and professional lives. According to the cited report for 2020 by Iran’s daily newspaper, Tehran Times, the fertility rate in Iran dropped by 70% in 30 years, which is the lowest among many Asian countries. If Pakistani women could gain these two mentioned features, most of their problems could be minimised.

By politically mobilising women at all levels, Iran has confirmed that women’s political expression as voters is relevant to the country’s overall development. According to the statistics of Iran’s Interior Ministry, in the 2020 parliamentary elections, the country witnessed a 42.57 % voting turnout. Of that number, 48 % were women, and 52 % were men. Let’s compare these figures with the male-female gap in voter turnout in the 2018 general elections in Pakistan. We will find it huge and uneven as according to the Elections Commission of Pakistan (ECP), it stood at 9.1 %, with 11 million fewer women exercising their right to vote than men.

The history of Iranian women’s resilience also leaves solid messages for the state and society of Pakistan regarding its gender policy preferences. Finally, this is the time for Western and European researchers to evaluate Women of Muslim societies not through the Veil, including Scarfs and Abayas but by accepting that these women are much more than their attires and physical appearances.

Dr Zamurrad Awan

Dr Zamurrad Awan

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