Date: Thu, 7 Sep 1995 00:58:49 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <>
From: Rich Winkel <>
Subject: Women's Rights in Iran

/** mideast.gulf: 56.0 **/
** Topic: Women's Rights in Iran **
** Written 9:22 AM Sep 5, 1995 by in cdp:mideast.gulf **
From: Hossein Bagher Zadeh <>
Date: Tue, 5 Sep 95 17:22:14 BST

IHRWG's Statement on the Occasion of the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing

5 September, 1995

The Iranian Human Rights Working Group takes the opportunity provided by the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women to draw the world's attention to the plight of Iranian women.

The Iranian women have traditionally been deprived of many of their basic human rights and have suffered from both male centered ideologies that treat women as irrational, child-like and immature, and from widespread discrimination policies which affect their lives from birth to death. However, since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, their lot has become much worse and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has successfully implemented a gross policy of unequal treatment of Iranian women under the law.

From early childhood, girls are discouraged or prevented from venturing into fields and activities which are deemed "masculine'', be it in sport, recreation or education. The policy of enforced hejab (veil) and segregation is used to limit their access to the state's scarce education and recreation facilities and to institutionalize their confinement to the limited career and life opportunities available to them. The same policy follows them into adulthood and facilitates the objective of turning them into second class citizens of the society.

As they grow up, girls are driven more and more into a world dominated and manipulated by their male relatives. They can be given away in legal marriage without their knowledge or consent while still in their childhood. The process, in effect, paves the way for marrying off underaged girls in return for financial gains.

As adults, women suffer a catalogue of discriminatory laws affecting all aspects of their lives. To begin with, they have to follow a very strict and restrictive set of dress codes. They are deprived and banned from sharing many public resources with their male counterparts -- effectively reducing their access to these stretched and scarce resources. They are barred from certain careers, notably in the judiciary and many public offices. They are discriminated against in inheritance, giving them at most half of the share of their male counterparts.

The law of Hodud and Qesas (the law of talion and physical punishments) treats women as half-human (or nothing) even in their honesty or observation power -- valuing a woman's testimony in courts as half of a male's testimony (or even as nil when it comes to testifying against murderers - as, according to article 33 of this law, no woman's testimony is ever admissible in murder cases). Even in death, a woman is valued half of a man in terms of their death dues; with the implication that a man killing a woman and sentenced to death may only be executed if the victim's family pay the murderer half of his death dues. That is, according to article 6 of this law, the bereaved family has to pay to the murderer to get 'justice' done (irrespective of the fact that the death penalty itself is totally unacceptable).

The laws governing marriage are among the most regressive in the world in terms of the discrimination against women. While males are allowed to marry up to four wives at a time in permanent marriage and an unlimited number of women in what is known as "temporary'' marriage, strict monogamy is expected from women. And any woman who deviates from this unjust set-up may be brutally and savagely punished by publicly being stoned to death -- the officially sanctioned and frequently executed punishment for extra-marital affairs.

Inside marriage, the man is given almost a free hand in controlling his wife/ves. Rape inside marriage is sanctioned (as no consent is required for sexual relations inside marriage) and even wife-beating may be tolerated in the process. The woman's movement may be restricted by her husband, and his permission is required for getting official travel documents. The law gives very few (if any) rights to women in sharing decisions in married life and/or in regards to the custody of children. Moreover, there are no proper provisions in the law to prevent men from transgressing their rights and/or abusing the extensive power they have inside marriage.

When it comes to divorce, again, the man has almost a free hand while the woman has a very limited recourse to the law. The grounds for which a man can divorce his wife is almost unlimited, while only in very unusual circumstances can a woman file for divorce. The extent of this gross and utterly discriminatory law was best exemplified by a recent report that an Iranian court has taken fourteen years to approve a divorce request from a woman who complained she was tortured by her husband, regularly reporting new incidents of abuse to the court, and agreeing to drop all financial demands against her husband, and who finally had to contact Iran's Prosecutor-General (who reported that she "shivered violently'' whenever her husband was mentioned) to get her divorce. In another case, the process took eight years.

The divorce law also inflicts huge financial and emotional blows to the woman. The woman has to forfeit almost all financial claims if she files for divorce, while the settlement she receives if the divorce is initiated by the man is still very limited. The emotional loss is much greater and more hurtful: the woman is deprived from the custody of her children (some as young as two) which is usually awarded to the man. Within and without marriage, even the father's father is given priority over the mother in custody matters.

The extent of discrimination against women in marriage goes still further. A virgin woman (whatever her age) has no right to marriage without her father's (or her father's father, in the absence of the former) consent. A Moslem woman has no right to marry a non-Moslem, (a right her male counterparts have -- with some limitations). And a divorced woman has to wait for a set period before re-marriage (no waiting period for a divorced male).

The plethora of of discriminatory laws against women has created favourable conditions and a suitable environment for widespread abuses and atrocities practiced against women. Women have no effective recourse to the law in case they are abused, beaten or raped. Even many incidents of rape outside marriage go unreported because of the justifiable fears of the victim from being `dishonored' and cursed or even murdered by members of her own family and friends or being prosecuted by the State and brutally punished by a large number of lashes or stoned to death if she was judged by the court as being a willing partner.

Many of the common laws such as the law of Hodud and Qesas, in conjunction with the discriminatory laws mentioned above, work directly against women. For instance, while the law of Hodud and Qesas prescribes `equal' punishments for men and women, its the women who suffer most from its most barbaric measures. A married man having an affair with unmarried women can always claim (true or false) that they were "temporarily married". But a woman in a similar position would have no such defense and would be punished a torturous and humiliating death by stoning.

As another example, if someone commits homicide in an all-female environment (the frequency of which itself being a by-product of many existing discriminatory laws), it will be impossible to get a conviction based solely on the testimony of the women present (no matter how many of them). According to article 33 of the law of Hodud and Qesas, no homicide case may be proved in court solely on the basis of women's-only testimonies.

In short, today, Iranian women suffer one of the most discriminatory set of laws in the world. They are denied many basic opportunities and access to many positions in the religious, political, judiciary, and military arenas. An assortment of supervisory social regulations regarding women's behavior in public areas has been designed to restrict women's participation in public life and further isolate and restrict their lives to the private domain of their homes. They are denied many basic rights and at the same time they are punished, both inside and outside the law, more severely than their male counterparts. The discriminatory laws regarding women's rights cover a wide range of areas in marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, as well as anti-women labor laws and social policies. These have had the devastating results of economic deprivation and social isolation of women and their children. The Iranian women have been fighting hard against these injustices, but have had a very limited success in the face of the overwhelming power of the State and its institutions.

We, on the occasion of the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women, add our voice to that of the Iranian women and call on the international community and participants in the Conference to put pressure on the Iranian government in order for it to commit itself to its obligations under the international conventions on human rights, to put an end to its anti-women policies and to annul the various discriminatory laws in force against women. We further call on all Iranian men and women to campaign jointly for equal rights for all citizens regardless of their gender, belief, ethnicity, social and family background or personal attributes. Women's right are human rights -- and human rights are universal.

The Iranian Human Rights Working Group (IHRWG)

Iranian Human Rights Working Group (IHRWG) is a net-based community of individuals committed to campaigning for the improvement of human rights in Iran. Our aims and objectives are contained in the group's Charter which also sets out the structure of the group and the domain of its activities. The group has no political agenda, and makes no judgment on the legitimacy of the authorities in dealing with them, nor does it take the religious or political beliefs or personal attributes of individuals into consideration when it defends their human rights.

The group's membership is open to all individuals who believe in human right values as stipulated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, accept the group's Charter, and commit themselves to take part in the campaign for human rights in an atmosphere of mutual trust. The group is run by an eight-member Steering Committee elected from amongst the membership for a term of two years.

If you like to get more information, including the text of the group's Charter, please send an email message to :


or write to:

Iranian Human Rights Working Group (IHRWG)
PO Box 5095
North Branch, N.J.
U.S.A. 08876.

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