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Madam Mayor And Her Plans


Opinion Article by Mansur Shojayee (source: Rooz Online)

"I am a Baluchi woman with green dreams for my city."

These are the words of Samie Baluchzehi, a woman who passed three key hurdles to become the first ever Iranian Baluchi mayor: being a woman, being single and being a Sunni. As mayor of the town of Sarbaz in Iran's Baluchistan province, Baluchzehi has announced her dreams of turning the township of Kalat, a subdivision of Sarbaz into a greenhouse.


As Ms Baluchzehi scored a first on a number of fronts in Baluchistan and Iran, a related event in Tehran makes headlines. The culture committee of the Majlis affirmatively voted on article 9 of the "Comprehensive Planning and Family Plan" bill which creates restrictions for hiring single women. According to this law, "Employment priority in all government and non-government sectors shall be with men who have children, then married men without children and then women with children. Using or hiring qualified individuals who are single is permissible if there are no qualified married applicants."

An examination of these two events may throw some light on the role of law and personal choices in the issue of women's political participation in the country and its impact on society.

Ms Baluchzehi was educated in Tehran and before the gender and ethnic restrictive laws came into effect, she successfully went through college and received her degree. She then went back home to "serve" the citizens of her town. Her family, and her father in particular, have been her principal advocates. This is a major accomplishment in the traditional and closed society of Kalat for her and also an opening for other personal achievements which also opens doors for the cultural social conditions of the region.

In addition, because of the local social conditions and the type of relations that official government organizations have with people in small towns like Kalat, this is huge opening for other Baluchi women in the region. Baluchzehi has her own agenda and one of her goals is to create jobs for women and the management level, something that is in contrast and even in contradiction what is going in some political quarters in Tehran, particularly the Majlis. Clearly what she will have to deal with will be major obstacles from the capital.

Her insistence on her agenda and the laws that are being drafted miles away will ultimately most likely harm not only ordinary people who will face pressure and contradictions, but also those who currently hold managerial positions. The provisions in the draft bill that relegate the hiring of women as the last resort are only one aspect of the upcoming problems.

Three prospects may be envisioned for the mayor and residents of Sarbaz:

The first is that madam mayor will fail in her goal and efforts because of legal barriers. This will strengthen the view that traditional women lack managerial and executive abilities and that generally there is nothing they can do about it.

This will obviously result in greater desperation and hopelessness in society. Furthermore, madam mayor and others like her will lose their hope and energy, and will ultimately join the ranks of the disheartened.

The second possibility is that in the face of massive legal and official opposition Ms Baluchzehi will try to protect her own position and in the process turn her back towards her promises and plans. She can probably do that because she is not a central government appointee and her voters are the city council members who are accountable to the public.

The consequences of contradictions in legal provisions and personal goals will not only negatively impact society, but will also hurt the mayor's position. So if she turns her back towards her own promises, she will also lose her social respect which will also bring about greater public distrust of the government.

The third outcome could be that Ms Baluchzehi would resign in protest to the discriminatory laws that bar her from fulfilling what she and many others consider necessary changes. She would then join the group of critics. It is not clear who will benefit from this scenario.

In a male-dominated society like Iran, advancing personal ideas in selecting an unmarried Sunni woman to be the mayor of a very conservative and traditional town may be a noble idea and act, but until the discriminatory laws prevail in the country, such changes will not necessarily result in the improvement of the lot of women.

Similarly, so long as bad decisions, such as banning single women from being employment, as envisioned in the draft bill before the lawmakers in Tehran, are not strongly and widely protested, the possibility for implementing good ideas and progressive goals will not succeed.

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