June 2020 Machonews: A Snapshot of Gender Inequality Politics in Iran
“Gender justice is one of the most important components of justice and the most central issue in the Islamic Revolution," said Masoumeh Ebtekar, following the unknown number of femicides, so-called “honor killings” of young Iranian women in this past month. The deaths of Rumina, Reyhaneh, and Fatemeh have all gained international attention after people found out that their killers won’t receive the maximum penalty. Sadly, women in Iran have been faced with this reality, without the world knowing since decades.
￼Rumina, 13-year-old daughter was beheaded by her father because he believed she had “dishonored” the family, after running off with her 29-year-old boyfriend, and therefore didn’t deserve to live. Rumina’s death started a social media movement across Persian speaking netizens, with many other women coming out about the violence in their families. Under Iranian law, a father who kills his child is not considered a murderer and therefore not liable for the death penalty. However, sentences of a maximum of 10 years are given to fathers who murder their children in a so-called “honor killing”, despite the fact that the typical sentence for murder in Iran is the capital punishment. Though her father is currently in custody, the severity of his conviction remains unclear.
This raises the question, why are fathers murdering their children and receive the minimum penalty? The Vice President of Iran for Women and Family Affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, tweeted, “I condemned the tragic case of Rumina in recentCabinet session & asked that processes for adoption of the bill on Violence Against Women be expedited. President Rouhani in a decree gave priority to this bill. Domestic violence is oppression & needs to be addressed effectively.” The bill on Violence Against Women was introduced 10 years ago but was only expedited after the murder of Rumina. The Office of the Supreme Leader of Iran and UNICEF have all shown support for Rumina, as well as an ultra-right-wing Iranian parliamentarian woman, Kobra Khazali. Ebtekar has reiterated her commitment to gender justice, saying the ideaof gender justice stems from the Qur’an. She consciously avoids using the term gender equality. Change must first occur in Iranian culture and society, for the passing of the bill to positively affect the women in Iran.
Another issue raised with the murder of Rumina is concerning execution. If a mother were to kill their child, she would receive a death sentence, while a father only gets 2-10 years in prison. Men are forgiven, only women must pay the price.
Only two days after Rumina’s death in Northern Iran, the murder of two additional young women killed by their families surfaced. On June 19, 22-year-old Reyhaneh Ameri was murdered by her father with an iron bar, in Kerman, SouthernIran. The Kerman prosecutor's office, in which Reyhaneh's father is being held, said that this was just an accident and that Reyhaneh's father had thrown the bar at Reyhaneh in order to punish and intimidate her. However, a coroner’s examination showed that intense bleeding caused her death. No mere “accident” could have resulted in such death. An accident would result in the father bringing his child to the hospital, and not dumping his daughter’s half-conscious, bleeding body by a roadside. The third case was Fatemeh Bahri, a 19-year-old girl from Abadan, who was forced to marry her cousin. After one year of engagement, she announced to her family that she was leaving the forced marriage. At first, her father planned to poison her but was ultimately unsuccessful after her mother stopped him. Later, her cousin, turned husband took the matter into his own hands and beheaded her by a river.
With all of this miserable news, Parvaneh Mafi, a member of the 10th Parliament and former member of the Women's Faction of the Parliament, believes that the bill to ensure the security and dignity of women would curb much of this violence. Potential murderers would receive the message that they cannot harm women without repercussions.
The 23rd of June, “Girl’s Day” was celebrated in Iran and President Rouhani made multiple remarks regarding his standpoint on women’s rights. While he said that Islam is not a religion of patriarchy, some of his remarks are very different from those of women’s rights in the Islamic Republic. From social and judicial rights to choose clothing, or even the presence of women in the government, his standpoint is still somewhat unclear. Many women’s rights activists believe this to be a clear example of sanctifying women's virginity. Masoumeh Ebtekar also said that one of the most important achievements of the current government is the improvement of planning the wellbeing of women and families. She made these claims while even the government spokesperson admitted that the policies of the Iranian government are not focused on women and girls.
With the inauguration of the 11th Majlis, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s parliament, discussions began on increasing the population and plans such as forced marriage after the age of 28. Zahra Sheikhi, a hopeful member of the parliament’s health commission, believes that the seventy percent decline in population growth is due to the change in women’s views regarding motherhood. Women’s views in Iran have changed, from being forced to believe that their sole purpose is having and raising children, to working, studying, and becoming independent. In 30 years, Iran is set to become the country with the oldest population because women are making different choices regarding their purpose in society.
Iranian clerics have been completely careless about fathers murdering their daughters, but seem to believe that biking is a much bigger issue. Women in Isfahan, the third-largest city of Iran, have been banned from biking in public after prosecutors declared that it was “Haram” or prohibited under Islam. The Supreme Leader, Khamenei, has said in the past that he believes it is too provocative, but no legal action had been taken.
Another example of gender inequality in Iran is regarding Pahlevani, the traditional Iranian sport. For many years, themale-dominated sport has been a show of power in Iran. Dating back to approximately 140 BC, the sport was originally used to train warriors. For many years, women have been unsuccessfully, attempting to practice the sport. Though clerks have approved of women practicing Pahlevani, men who have been doing the ancient sport have refused to allow women to join. These men sent out an open letter to the Iranian government, stating reasons for why women should be banned from the sport. After consideration, the government ordered the owners of the Pahlevani gyms to not allow women to enter. Just recently, women have been banned from riding bicycles in public as well. The future of female athletes in Iran is unclear and worsening.
Some positive events this month include Maryam Shojaei being named an honoree of the Stuart Scott Enspire award. Maryan Shojaei is one of the OpenStadium activists who have been campaigning for women’s freedom to enter the stadiums. Some more good news for women, as the Iranian government has allowed women with children under the age of 3 to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
This is June 2020 Machonews English newsletter covering most significant gender and women’s rights related events and policies in the Islamic Republic of Iran during this month. This newsletter is produced by Macholand, a project by Spectrum, a queerfeminist NGO (Association 1901) based in France.