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Neoliberalism Comes Unglued
Status of Women
Donna m. Hughes
Fog Watch: All The News Fit To Print
Religiously Affiliated Hospital Mergers
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Women in Iran
A look at President Khatami's first year in office
Women in Iran want equality, respect, and the right to participate in all social, political, and economic activities. They want to live their lives productively and with dignity. Throughout the 20th Century Iranian women have organized and fought for human and political rights, from the Constitutional Revolution at the turn of the century to the democratic movement that overthrew the Shah of Iran.
Iranian women were strong participants in the 1979 revolution, but fundamentalists, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, seized control after the revolution. Once in power, the fundamentalists betrayed the work of women by implementing a crushing system of gender apartheid. Fundamentalists built their theocracy on the premise that women are physically, intellectually, and morally inferior to men, which eclipses the possibility of equal participation in any area of social or political activity. Biological determinism prescribes womens roles and duties to be child bearing and care taking, and providing comfort and satisfaction to husbands.
Men were granted the power to make all family decisions, including the movement of women and custody of the children. Your wife, who is your possession, is in fact, your slave, is the mullahs legal view of womens status. The misogyny of the mullahs made women the embodiment of sexual seduction and vice. To protect the sexual morality of society, women had to be covered and banned from engaging in immodest activity.
Based on these woman-hating principles, Khomeini and his followers crafted laws and policies that are still in effect. The hejab, or dress code, is mandatory in all public places for all women. Women must cover their hair and body except for their face and hands and they must not use cosmetics. Punishments range from a verbal reprimand to 74 lashes with a whip to imprisonment for one month to a year. Stoning to death is a legal form of punishment for sexual misconduct. Women are banned from pursuing higher education in 91 of 169 fields of study and must be taught insegregated classrooms<C5,5,0,0,0,255>. A woman may work with her husbands permission, although many occupations are forbidden to women.
The legal age at which girls can be married is 9 years (formerly 18 years). Polygamy is legal, with men permitted to have four wives and an unlimited number of temporary wives. Women are not permitted to travel or acquire a passport without their husbands written permission. A woman is not permitted to be in the company of a man who is not her husband or a male relative. Public activities are segregated. Women are not allowed to engage in sports in which they may be seen by men; or permitted to watch mens sports in which mens legs are not fully covered.
Although these laws were implemented with great brutality, women have always resisted. Recently in Iran there have been signs that women are increasingly rejecting subordinate lives ruled by the mullahs. Women have campaigned for inheritance rights equal to mens and for more rights to custody of their children. Women keep modifying or enhancing their public dress in ways that press the limits of the hejab. More publications by or about women are appearing. Women are demanding they be allowed to participate in and view sports events.
Some analysts have said that the election of Mohammed Khatami as president was due to the votes of women. No doubt Khatamis upset election a year ago gained him the label of moderate, and raised expectations of people inside and outside of Iran.
There is a widely held view that Khatami supports the rights of women, but his statements and appointments dont validate that view. Prior to his election Khatami said, One of the Wests most serious mistakes was the emancipation of women, which led to the disintegration of families. Staying at home does not mean marginalization. Being a housewife does not prevent a woman from having a role in the destiny of her people. We should not think that social activity means working outside the home. Housekeeping is among one of the most important jobs.
Under Khatamis leadership the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution decided not to sign the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the most important international agreement on the rights of women. An international study comparing workforce conditions for women around the world ranked Iran 108 out of 110. In urban areas women make up only 9.5 percent of the workforce, and in rural areas the percent is 8.8 percent. Even Khatamis advisor on womens affairs acknowledged that there is discrimination in employment and promotion against women in government offices: Some officials are of the opinion that men have more of a role in running the family, so they favor the men.
Khatamis advisor on womens affairs, Zahra Shojal, says she is an advocate of womens rights, but all within a fundamentalist defined Islamic context. She defends the restrictive and symbolically oppressive hejab, calling the chador the superior national dress of the women of Iran.
Khatamis highly publicized woman appointment is Massoumeh Ebtekar, vice-president for Environmental Protection. She has a long association with the fundamentalists: after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 she was spokesperson for the hostage takers who captured the U.S. embassy in Tehran. She does not favor loosening restrictions on women that would give them more personal freedom or stop the most barbaric institutionalized violence against women. She supports the law that requires women to get their husbands permission to travel. She justifies this law by saying, Man is responsible for the financial affairs and safety of the family. Thus, a woman needs her husbands permission to make a trip. Otherwise problems will arise and lead to quarrels between them. She also defends stoning women to death by saying, One should take psychological and legal affairs of the society into consideration as well. If the regular rules of family are broken, it would result in many complicated and grave consequences for all of the society.
Since Khatami was not the hard-line mullahs favored candidate for presidency, his election has created factions within the Iranian government. A power struggle has ensued, but this is not an ideological fight between those loyal to religious fundamentalists and proponents of secular democracy. All sides, including Khatami, are committed to a theocracy based on velayat-e-fahiqthe absolute supremacy of the mullahs.
Womens public clothing continues to obsess the mullahs. In the last year, the Martyr Ghodusi Judicial Center, a main branch of the judiciary, issued a stricter hejab, or dress code. The new guidelines call for prison terms from 3 months to 1 year or fines and up to 74 lashes with a whip for wearing modish outfits, such as suits and skirt without a long overcoat on top. The regulations ban any mini or short-sleeved overcoat, and the wearing of any depraved, showy and glittery object on hats, necklaces, earring, belts, bracelets, glasses, headbands, rings, neckscarfs and ties.
Women continue to be arrested for improper veiling. In November, an Agence France Presse correspondent in Tehran witnessed approximately ten young women being arrested and placed into a patrol car for improper veiling or wearing clothing that did not conform to Islamic regulations. The women were wearing colorful headscarves and light makeup. In late July, the Tehran police arrested a number of young women who failed to conform to the strict dress code. They were boarded on minibuses and taken to a center for fighting social corruption. Most of the women were wearing makeup or in the company of young males who were not related to them.
Under fundamentalists interpretation of Islamic texts, women are banned from being judges because they are not considered capable of making important decisions. One of the claims of moderation in Iran is the appointment of women as judges, but in reality no women are allowed this rank. Judiciary Chief Yazdi recently made the issue clear in his Friday prayers sermon: The women judges I mentioned hold positions in the judiciary, they receive salaries, they attend trials, they provide counsel, but they do not preside over trials and or issue verdicts.
In the past year, womens groups campaigned for a bill that would give women the same inheritance rights as men, but Parliament overwhelmingly rejected the bill saying the proposal was contrary to Islamic law, which stipulates that a womans share may only be one half that of a mans.
Women made a small gain by getting Parliament to pass a law that granted women some custody rights to children after a divorce, but only if the father was determined to be a drug addict, an alcoholic, or morally corrupt.
New laws strengthening gender apartheid and repression of women are not a thing of the past. During the last year Parliament and other religious leaders proposed a number of new laws and policies that will adversely effect the health, education, and well being of women and girl children in Iran.
Temporary marriage, in which a man can marry a woman for a limited period of time, even one hour, in exchange for money, is permitted in Iran. Earlier this year, Ayatollah Haeri Shirazi, a prominent religious leader called for a revival of this practice so clerical officials could have religious sanctioned sexual relationships with women. This practice is an approved form of sexual exploitation of women and allows the regime to have an official network of prostitution.
A new law approved by Parliament imposes more restrictions on the photographs of women that can be published in newspapers and magazines. The Iranian state television announced on August 1 a decision by the Justice Department in Tehran to shut down a newspaper and put its proprietor on trial. One of the charges leveled against the publication, Khaneh, was that it had published obscene photographs of women playing football.
Parliamentary deputies submitted a plan to make girls schools a no-male zone, which will require all teachers and staff to be women. This requirement will make education for girls even more inaccessible and difficult. Official statistics recently released reveal that 90 percent of girls in rural districts drop-out of school.
More ominously, the Parliament also approved a law prohibiting the discussion of womens issues or rights outside the interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law) established by the ruling mullahs.
In early July 1998, Mohsen Saidzadeh, a cleric, was arrested after writing articles that opposed these bills. He said that laws that deprive women of their rights are based on incorrect interpretations of the Koran. So freedom to criticize the government position on the rights of women does not exist even for fellow mullahs.
In some Western writings Khatami is said to have given new freedoms to the press, but the experience of publishers is contrary to that claim. In February, the newspaper Jameah started to publish articles critical of the government, color photographs of smiling women harvesting wheat, and an interview with a former prisoner. By June a court revoked their license. Also, police filed charges against Zanan, a monthly womens magazine, for insulting the police force by publishing an article on the problems women face with the authorities on Iranian beaches, which are segregated by sex.
Although Khatami is the president of Iran, he is not the supreme spiritual leader, the most powerful position in Iran. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, controls the armed forces, the police, the security and intelligence services, radio and television, and the judicial system. The velayat-e-fahiq is a serious impediment to any reforms that may benefit women or society at large. Ayatollah Khameneis opinion of women and their place in society is the same as his predecessor Ayatollah Khomeinis: women should be wives and mothers. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has publicly stated: The real value of a woman is measured by how much she makes the family environment for her husband and children like a paradise. In July 1997 Ayatollah Khamenei said that the idea of womens equal participation in society was negative, primitive and childish.
There is no moderation in Iran. Both the UN special rapportuer and the U.S. state department found that there was no improvement in human rights in Iran since Khatami took office. The Iranian government engaged in summary executions, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, and widespread use of torture. The hard-line mullahs will not lift the severe restrictions on women; in fact, they favor stronger gender apartheid. Khatami, although not aligned with the hard-liners, does not support the empowerment and emancipation of women from the velayat-e-fahiq or supreme rule of the mullahs. If the women in Iran want the rights and freedoms they deserve they will have to look elsewhere for change. Z
Donna M. Hughes is director of the Womens Studies Program at the University of Rhode Island.