Machonews August 2020: A Snapshot of Gender Inequality Politics in Iran
This is the August 2020 Machonews, a monthly report covering the most significant gender and women’s rights related events and policies in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This monthly article is produced by Macholand, a project by Spectrum, a queer-feminist NGO (Association 1901) based in France.
Justice for Young Girls
Romina Ashrafi was killed by her father more than two months ago, and Hassan Rouhani’s order to speed up the process of banning violence against women has finally proved successful. Her father was given a 9-year prison sentence for the murder of his daughter. Even though the Islamic punishment for murder is the death penalty in Iran, this father didn’t receive the sentence. Having seen what her husband is capable of doing, Romina’s mother has recently expressed that she is afraid for her and her son’s lives if her husband were to return.
The ّIranian Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, said that more than 12 sessions were held in the sub-committee of the Women’s Security Bill, alongside another five sessions in the central commission, to review and eliminate the shortcomings of the women’s security bill. After the review of the bill, it will be sent to the Islamic Consultative Assembly for approval. The bill has already been criticized widely by women’s rights advocates. Many definitions have been wiped away from the bill, including “Gender Equality,” which has been replaced by “Gender Justice.” As of the end of August, there has been no new progress in passing the bill.
Yet, the Women’s Security Bill’s importance cannot be overstated, especially in light of recent events. Specifically, at least four teenage girls attempted suicide together in the city of Babol in the Mazandaran region. It is presumed they attempted suicide due to gender discrimination by their parents and society. Ali Abbasi, the Director-General of Mazandaran’s forensic medicine, confirmed the deaths of two, while Fars News Agency reports that the other two girls remain in critical condition. Local social channels have claimed that the girls ingested aluminum phosphide, a poison meant for pest control.
A new report from the Statistics Center of Iran has shown that Iran’s female employment rate has decreased since March 2020. It has decreased by 3% compared to the same period last year. Even while Iran’s labor department calculates any formal work, even for just one hour a week, as employment, the number of economically active women (employed and seeking jobs) has dropped by 1 million since last year. Additionally, the Statistical Center of Iran announced that women’s current employment rate is 12 percent, down two percent from the previous year. Reports also show that women have lower retirement funds than men. The national poverty headcount ratio is $1.90/day.
Women in Sports
Women have been banned from cycling in public places in Mashhad, a city with a population of over 3 million. Mashhad and Qom are two of the holy cities of Muslim Shia around the world. The ban is due to the efforts of the “Headquarters for Promoting Good and Forbidding Evil,” a special branch of the police that enforce the hijab and believe that women cannot use their hijabs properly while cycling. Recently, prohibition signs were installed in parks in Sabzevar, a city near Mashhad. Although there is no law in Iran banning women from riding bicycles or motorcycles, Friday Prayers Imams and religious figures have stated their opposition. They have repeatedly said that women riding bikes “cause corruption” in the form of “forbidden acts.” Religious figures believe the ban will prevent their audience from being corrupted.
There are many objections to religious leaders’ views of women cyclists. All of the Sabzevar Cycling Board members in Khorasan Razavi Province have resigned in protest of the ban on women cycling. In addition, protests against the ban have escalated to the point that a day after the report was published, the Revolutionary and Public Prosecutor's Office in the capital of Khorasan Razavi Province rescinded the ban on women cycling in Mashhad, saying it had not issued any judicial order.
Following the contradictory information about women cycling, a campaign has been launched, demanding the removal of barriers to women's cycling. The authors of the campaign, who have collected nearly 25,000 signatures to date, have called on the authorities to prevent "arbitrary encounters" that prevent women from cycling. They demand a legal obligation to enforce women’s protection from “arbitrary encounters” with those trying to prevent them from cycling, noting there is no legal ban on women cycling.
Reyhaneh Mobini, a woman who managed to break Iran's record for long jump after 45 years, says she has no place to practice because most facilities are reserved for male athletes. She broke the Iranian women's long jump record with a jump of 6 meters and 17 centimeters.
During the last week of August, Mehraveh Khandan, the daughter of renowned imprisoned human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was detained for several hours for allegedly harassing a female police officer during a visit to her mother in jail, last year. She was released on bail of 100 million tomans ($5000) after a few hours. Reza Khandan, a human rights activist and the husband of Nasrin Sotoudeh, said the purpose of Mehraveh's detention was to pressure Nasrin and her family to stop drawing attention to and protesting conditions of prisons during the coronavirus outbreak.
On Thursday, the ninth day of Nasrin Sotoudeh's hunger strike due to her daughter being detained, the news reported that her condition was deteriorating. Reza Khandan wrote on his Facebook page that Nasrin Sotoudeh was taken to Evin Prison Medical Center at 7 pm on Wednesday. Later, he reported that his wife’s health deteriorated due to the continuation of her hunger strike. He said that despite dozens of requests from human rights lawyers and several friends, his wife was continuing her hunger strike over her daughter’s detainment. Sotoudeh has developed severe drops in blood pressure and gastrointestinal problems, but Evin Prison Medical Center does not have the medical facilities to provide for her.
This month has seen a disturbing new wave of sexual assault and harassment claims by countless Iranian women on social media. Speaking about sexual assault, harassment, and rape has always been a taboo in Iran. As sexual conduct out of marriage is illegal in Iran, women can not easily sue men when they are raped. Among the allegations are many Iranian intellectuals, artists, and educators inside and outside of the country. As evidence of these actions is difficult to obtain, it is doubtful that these crimes’ perpetrators will ever be pursued. Feminists and human rights advocates encourage these women to speak out about such taboos and normalize these issues so that others may also seek justice in the future. While news outlets are reporting these new claims, Masoumeh Ebtekar, the VP for Women and Family Affairs, has remained silent on the issue.