Women in Iran Stage a Protest for Their Rights

by Savitha C Muppala on  February 11, 2009 at 1:16 PM Lifestyle News
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Women and men in Iran marched alongside each other protesting for more rights, bringing alive the memories of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Women in Iran Stage a Protest for Their Rights
Women in Iran Stage a Protest for Their Rights

In a downtown Tehran art gallery, Jinoos Taghizadeh displays her latest creation: 3D prints of Iranian newspapers from 1979 superimposed on neo-classic paintings of the French revolution.

The exhibition "Scissors, Paper, Rock" also features a video with a woman singing a lullaby of revolutionary songs. This is controversial in a country where performances by solo female vocalists are banned, even on tape.

"I have to deal with limitations in my country and the way the outside world looks at me as an eastern female artist," she told AFP.

"I'd like to talk about my life but I don't want to fit into the exotic frame that the West wants to see me in," said Taghizadeh, 37, worried over Western cliches about "oppressed eastern woman".

The Islamic republic still struggles to keep women properly covered by clamping down on defiant dressers in tight coats, with their hair tumbling out from under flimsy headscarves.

But ironically, the ubiquitous head-to-toe chador, the scarves and long coats that more liberal Western eyes view as oppressive for women have actually helped them achieve a greater presence in public life.

"The Islamic revolution brought women from different walks of life out of their domestic confines," said Sogol Zand, a researcher in gender and development.

"The Islamisation of the country convinced many traditional and religious families to ease up on the visibility of their daughters in the public domain, at university or work," she added.

Over the past years, Iranian women have accounted for more than 60 percent of university entrants, with many chasing professions like teaching, medicine and engineering. There are female taxi drivers and even managers of male athletes.

But women, who can be prevented from working by their husbands, account for only about 15 percent of the workforce and have only a token presence in top management and politics despite having had the vote since 1963.

And they still suffer from a whole raft of inequalities, much stemming from the Islamic legal concept that a woman is worth only half of what a man is.

For example, under inheritance law, daughters received only half of what their brothers do.

A man can divorce his wife at will, but a woman must prove her husband to be guilty of misconduct. Children under seven stay with their mothers after divorce, but the father can take them away once they are older than that.

Ironically though, females are subjected to harsher rules when it comes to the age of legal responsibility, which is only nine for girls but 15 for boys, but are banned from being judges and presidents.

A bright spot is the Muslim law permitting a man to have as many as four wives, a practice permitted in Iran, but frowned upon. And Iran's civil code, which dates back to pre-revolutionary days, requires men to seek the permission of their existing wife, or wives, before taking another.

A recent government attempt to remove that condition and leave it to the courts was met with massive opposition, including from conservative chador-clad women, and it was withdrawn.

Rights campaigners such as Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi have for years fought for changes in laws that discriminate against women.

"The criminal laws adopted after the revolution unfortunately took away a woman's human identity and turned her into a incapable and mentally deranged second-class being," Ebadi said in November.

The problem, says Fakhrosadat Mohtashami-Pour, former director of the women's bureau at the interior ministry, is that Islamic governments did not "acknowledge social and legal discrimination against women" before the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005).

She explained that a devastating eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s and the post-war government's priorities of reconstruction did not leave much room for women's issues.

Khatami, who was swept to power on a high turnout of young and female votes, "put women's empowerment on its agenda and women were encouraged to follow up on their demands," she said.

Non-governmental organisations proliferated under Khatami, and Iran saw its first women in the cabinet since the revolution as vice presidents for the environment and for women's participation.

And municipal elections, held for the first time during his tenure, sent hundreds of women on to village and town councils.

The trend has continued under Khatami's successor, hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, despite promotion of women's traditional roles as wives and mothers.

"This shows that Iranian society now has a positive view on women in decision-making roles," Mohtashami-Pour said.

"I believe women after the revolution have grown more conscious of their rights," Taghizadeh said.

"It is not an honour to live a hard life, all the better to get your rights on a silver platter," she said, "but they may be more appreciated and better deserved if they are hard earned."

Source: AFP

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