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Retreat in the Last 165 Days


Opinion article by Aida Ghajar (source: Rooz Online)

The man who was elected to be Iran’s next president 165 days ago had made promises about women and equality during the last month of his presidential election campaign which ultimately brought him much support and votes. Hassan Rouhani’s verbal support of half of Iran’s 72 million people - the women - brought him more votes and victory.

Gender Segregation in Iran (cartoon by Mana Neyestani, Iran Wire)

Less than a month is left for Rouhani’s first six months of office but none of his promises regarding women and equality have been met. They have not even been followed up. During the campaign, he had said he would set up a cabinet level agency on women’s affairs, he would present bills in support of women, women who were the breadwinners in the family would be covered by government insurance, a charter in support of citizen or civil rights would be prepared, gender discriminations would be removed, young women would have more personal security, the moral police street patrols would be curtailed and women would be considered for senior executive positions.

Yes, there are today more women in senior leadership positions compared to the past, such as a deputy in the organization for women and family affairs, a spokesperson at the ministry of foreign affairs, a vice-president and some heads of government agencies. But other than these changes for a handful of women, a look at the condition of women and the decisions that Rouhani’s administration has taken on issues directly related to women, things have actually regressed in comparison to the previous administration.

The idea of creating a new ministry for women’s affairs, which was widely welcomed and criticized by officials and women’s rights activists, has not even been followed up. Rouhani had said during the campaign that he would introduce legislation in support of women but the bills that his administration has submitted to parliament actually provide for more violations of women’s rights. The legalization of marriage of a guardian father with his child in custody is, plans for promoting larger families, the emphasis of traditional spousal and mother’s roles for women and the preference in hiring women who are mothers (rather than singles) are among the bills that will bear the signature of the current eleventh administration.

Another promise by the eleventh president was the provision of insurance to women who headed a family. Adel Azar, the head of Iran’s statistical center announced in December/January that in 2011 12 percent of women were breadwinners of their family amongst which means that 6.5 percent of all families were headed by a woman. According to Azar’s estimates, 15 percent of women will be the head of a family in the next three years. According to the statistical center, 83 percent of women heading a family are unemployed. Furthermore, the budget for insurance coverage of housewives has seen a drop of 85 percent in the budget.

Ahmad Miri, the welfare deputy of the ministry of labor and social welfare, has spoken of changes to the implementation regulations for insurance coverage of housewives and has said that because of a shortage of funds in the sector, women who are the heads of families and women who are heads of troubled families will be now receiving priority for insurance coverage. This bill and the changes it contains in fact do not support the notion that women who head families should be given government insurance.

Monir Amadi, the head of the institute for the study and research of women’s affairs recently said, “Conditions must be created so that the husbands of housewives are required to insure their wives because these women work at home.” These remarks come from an administration that promotes women to play the role of wives and housewives.

During the campaign, Rouhani had also talked about a charter that would protect civil rights. If we view a citizen without his/her gender, the provisions of such a document should also support the other half of the population. The absence of direct emphasis on rejecting gender discrimination against women and on supporting legal equality for women are among the objections that women’s rights activists have raised. Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s sole Nobel Peace Prize winner, characterized the provisions of the civil rights charter as something that was created to “entertain” people who are expecting justice.

Among Rouhani’s promises in support of women and equality was the removal of gender discrimination. No measures have been taken till now regarding the negation of gender discrimination against women particularly in the field of education. Akbar Torkan, a senior aide to the president, announced this month plans for the creation of a million “special” jobs for women. Many people fear that because of physical differences between men and women, jobs will be - deliberately or not - categorized by gender. This is an issue in the West and the US as well and is the subject of wide protests by feminists, while it has supporters as well.

The difference between the West and Iran is in the “right” to choose and the emphasis on physical differences. If women can freely pursue their educational dreams in the West and then choose a job of their own choice, this right has been taken away from women in Iran. Aside from traditional and religious beliefs in restricting the social and professional roles of women in Iran, 77 specific educational fields are no longer available to women in Iran. A woman cannot become a judge and it has recently been announced that women cannot hold real estate jobs except as secretaries. On the other hand, if issues such as physical aspects are mentioned as differences in the West between genders, in Iran such differences are presented on religious beliefs. In a male dominated society, this is interpreted as male superiority.

A look at the promises and actual activities of Hassan Rouhani and his administration on women’s issues and equality, it may be safe to say that not only has nothing been accomplished, but some regression has actually taken place.

About the author:

Aida Ghajar ia an Iranian Journalist Based in Paris:
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