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Iranian women hold banners in a protest against gender discrimination in the Islamic Republic. About 300 women took part in the rally, held in 2005.
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Mullahs have final say in all matters of state. Above, Iranian clerics chant the slogan “Death to Israel” at the Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran.

Iran Elected to U.N. Committee on Women’s Rights

Last month, the U.N. General Assembly elected Iran to serve on the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. A country whose police chief advocates the arrest of suntanned women and whose leading clerics claim that immodestly dressed women cause earthquakes now sits on the U.N. committee purportedly dedicated to promoting women’s rights.

To those on Capitol Hill who follow the issue of women’s rights in Iran, the U.N. appointment was an outrage.

“That an Iranian regime that shoots and stones women would be ‘elected’ to a U.N. body supposedly dedicated to women’s rights adds a whole new disgusting twist to the ongoing saga of Iran exploiting the U.N.,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) also condemned Iran’s appointment. “Allowing Iran to sit on the Commission, a nation where gender equality is only a dream and where women are subject to inequality in all aspects of their daily lives, makes a mockery of the Commission’s work,” she said.

The senator expressed her support for a letter opposing Iran’s candidacy to the U.N. Commission, signed by 250 Iranian women’s rights activists.

Women’s Rights in Iran

As an Islamic theocracy, Iran grants few rights to its men and even fewer to its women. All laws must conform to the clerical regime’s strict interpretation of Sharia, Islamic law.

Women have little standing in the Iranian legal system. In court, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. Men are allowed to have four permanent wives and an infinite number of “temporary” wives. Earlier this year, the Iranian parliament passed a bill allowing men to take additional wives without having to tell their current wives.

A woman, however, cannot have multiple husbands. In order to marry, a woman of any age must obtain her father’s permission. If he wants, a father can force his daughter to marry someone even before she is 13 years old.

There is no law against honor killings, and rape frequently goes unpunished. According to the State Department’s 2009 human rights report on Iran, “spousal rape is not illegal.” Furthermore, most other rape victims do not report the crime, at least in part because the testimony of four male witnesses is required to convict someone of rape.

For the victims of forced sexual labor, the situation is worse, according to the annual State Department report on human trafficking. Rather than trying to protect the vulnerable women, Iran prosecutes them for adultery and prostitution—crimes for which the punishment can be a burial to the neck and death by stoning. BACK TO TOP

Post-Election Crackdown

In the year since the fraudulent June 2009 presidential election, the Iranian government has stepped up its repression of all of its citizens. It has been particularly harsh against women.

“It is evident that the authorities are singling out women’s rights activists and arbitrarily arresting them, as well as female journalists,” said Aaron Rhodes, spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Perhaps the most iconic of these women is Neda Agha-Soltan, a 27-year-old who was shot during post-election protests last summer. Her death—captured on video—has become a rallying cry for those opposed to the current regime in Tehran.

In January, Iranian authorities arrested dozens of members of “Mourning Mothers”—a group of women whose children have been killed, detained or gone missing in post-election violence in Iran.

Earlier this month, the Iranian judiciary sentenced women’s rights activist Shadi Sadr in absentia to six years in jail and 74 lashes for “acting against national security.” One of her campaigns is to eradicate the practice of capital punishment by stoning.

Another famous example is Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist arrested in Iran in January 2009. During her incarceration, she became a symbol of the regime’s violation of press freedoms. Now that she has been released, she has become a leader in the fight for human rights in Iran.

As the one-year anniversary of the presidential election approaches, the spotlight will again be on the regime—as well as on the women who stand up to it. BACK TO TOP