Machonews July 2020: A Snapshot of Gender Inequality Politics in Iran
This is the July 2020 Machonews monthly article 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. This article examines several gender specific vulnerabilities in Iran.
Atena Daemi, Banafsheh Jamali, and Maliheh Jafari are just a few of the women that remain in prison in Iran this month. Civil activist, Atena Daemi, was sentenced to two years in prison and 74 lashes in connection with a case filed against her during her imprisonment. Atena, who has been serving her five-year sentence in Evin Prison since 2015, received a sentence for additional charges in July of last year for an added three years and seven months. She was initially arrested for distributing anti-death penalty leaflets and criticizing Iran’s execution record on social media.
Banafsheh Jamali, a women's rights activist, was charged in the Culture and Media Prosecutor's Office with "propaganda against the regime and spreading lies." Maliheh Jafari, a student at the University of Tehran, was summoned to Evin Courthouse to serve six months in prison and other punishments, including rewriting religious books by hand.
As coronavirus cases in Iran rise, problems regarding the Iranian prison system have intensified. Taghi Rahmani, a political activist, says that his wife, human rights activist, Narges Mohammadi, along with six other inmates at Zanjan Prison, have dangerous COVID-19 symptoms, but are not being tested for the virus. According to Rahmani, Narges Mohammadi and six other inmates have been suffering from COVID-19 symptoms such as numbness, lethargy, and bone pain for the past six days, and they have completely lost their sense of smell. Mohammadi has been in prison since May of 2016, after being sentenced to 16 years in prison on three charges. According to Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code, she only had to serve two years.
More than 500 Iranian political activists issued letters to the head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Ra'isi, calling for the release of prisoners infected with the Coronavirus, including human rights activist Narges Mohammadi. This letter was signed by approximately 500 prominent political figures such as Mehrdad Amanat, Emadeddin Baghi, Faezeh Hashemi, Ahmad Montazeri, and Alireza Beheshti Shirazi. Regardless of this support, officials have refused to grant the prisoners medical leave. In a diary entry from Zanjan Prison, Narges Mohammadi described her physical condition after suffering from coronary heart disease and the "lack of medical facilities and care" in the women's ward. She goes on to recount her experience with the Coronavirus, which covers the period from July 6 to August 1.
In a video, which appeared to have been secretly made by Narges Mohammadi at the prison health center, she says only two words in response to a vague question -"I'm fine." Mohammadi also states in her diary that "They hit me on the head with an ampoule to film."
Economic Hardship, Gender Discrimination, and Protections under the Law
Statistics from the Parliamentary Research Center show that the unemployment rate for women in 2009 in Iran is at 19 percent. According to the report, the unemployment rate for women in most provinces is much higher than men, sometimes up to twice as high; the provinces of Alborz, Yazd, and Khuzestan rank first to third in terms of women’s unemployment official rates. Somayeh Mahmoudi, a representative of Shahreza and Dehaghan, said that from the point of view of the Presidium of the 11th Parliament, it is the duty of women to have children and perform housekeeping duties. For this reason, female members of the parliament have not been allowed to sit on the presidium and the Presidium of Specialized Commissions, nor have female members of the legislature been allowed to take part in the Secretariat Exam of Specialized Commissions.
The latest women’s employment statistics show that more than 600,000 women of working age are currently unemployed. Concerns arise, as the number of women attending universities decreases. A 10-year study performed by Tehran University of Medical Sciences also shows that in recent years, men have surpassed women in medicine. In 1997, the entry rate in medicine reached 67% of men and 33% of women.
It was reported that the Guardian Council has objected to a statute that rejects political, religious, social, and gender discrimination by the National Olympic Committee of Iran. Cases in which the Guardian Council has objected to the removal of statutes have, in the past, led to serious restrictions for Iranian athletes, including the unofficial law banning Iranian athletes from competing with Israeli athletes, as well as banning women from attending stadium events.
After all the demonstrations, rallies, and the dismissal of Zurkhaneh staff in Tehran, the president of the Zurkhaneh Sports and Wrestling Federation said that the federation has no problem with women's activities in this field and their entry into the Zurkhaneh pit and is ready to develop this sport. This is a victory for women, as the warrior training sport has been dominated by men. Women finally have the chance to enter the Zurkhaneh pit and show their strength.
Masoumeh Ebtekar, the Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, called the issue of the hijab a gender issue and said that it should not be feminine, but that niqab and hijab belong to everyone and that it is not a question of restrictions, but a good and healthy lifestyle. She did not elaborate on the details of the lifestyle. Conservative political activist Hamid Rasaei spoke about women's clothing, which made headlines. He appealed directly to men to enforce the hijab. Using insulting language, he supported the punishment of men that fail to make all the women in their families to wear the hijab.
Masoumeh Ebtekar said: "The issue of chastity and hijab is related to the whole society, so the necessary training should be given to boys so that they can treat girls properly." He did not say that the training should be aimed at reducing violence against women or that men should exercise more control over women.
Masoumeh Ebtekar also announced that the bill, “Punishment of the father in case of the premeditated murder of a child,” is going to be sent to the judiciary for further inquiries. Though hopeful, many believe that it will take the judiciary years to process the bill before it is put into place.
Another important event this month was the indictment against Shahindokht Molaverdi, Hassan Rouhani's former deputy for women's affairs. Rohani wrote that Ms. Molaverdi was charged with "propaganda against the regime," "encouraging corruption and prostitution," and "providing classified information and documents with the aim of disrupting national security." In an open letter to the head of the judiciary, however, Molaverdi called the way he reported his case "wrong" and "unfortunate."
Outreach and International Support
In recent days, when you open your Instagram page, you will probably come across some black and white photos of women. These photos are posted with the hashtag #ChallengeAccepted; That is, the challenge was accepted. Women all over the world post black-and-white photos of themselves, usually with a simple appearance and without makeup, and call on several other women to take up the challenge. It is said that the purpose of this challenge is to promote women supporting women. Many famous women have joined the challenge, including Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Aniston, Ivanka Trump, and Viola Davis.
Among those who have welcomed the new trend are Iranian and Afghan users and celebrities. Turkish social media users say the recent challenge began after a young woman was killed by her boyfriend in Turkey. In protest of seeing a series of black-and-white photographs of women killed in domestic violence. Women of all ages, races, and backgrounds have united to show their solidarity against violence towards women.