Machonews September 2020: A Snapshot of Gender Inequality Politics in Iran
This is the September 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.
Women in Government
Promises to Iranian women haven’t been kept, even in the highest branches of government. Less than a year before the end of Hassan Rouhani’s presidency, Masoumeh Ebtekar, the Vice President of Women and Family Affairs, announced that the Rouhani government had failed to deliver its promise of having 30% of management positions held by women. According to Masoumeh Ebtekar, in 2020, the appointment of female managers reached 22.6% after three years of promising a higher percentage. Under the current government, 8,000 women have entered the decision-making circle with 96 women currently working as deputy ministers. Though this may not seem significant, it is still an improvement, as previously only 12% of offices were held by women. As the number of females in government increases, the promise of women taking on a more significant role in Iranian politics is slowly becoming a reality.
In an interview with the newspaper, Ettela'at [“Information” in Persian], the spokesman of the Guardian Council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodai, said that the presidency of a woman in Iran may happen. He said that although there are no legal prohibitions to a female president, there are many cultural issues. The Islamic Republic has been subjugating women for decades, stating that the best job they can do is mothering and housekeeping. This leads many women to believe that they are not worthy enough to be in a leadership position. In the past 12 presidential elections, no woman has ever crossed the Guardian Council barrier, as any candidate has been told that her qualifications aren’t adequate.
Update on Nasrin Sotoudeh
UN experts have said that Human Rights Lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, must be freed from prison for treatment. Sotoudeh is serving a prison sentence of 30 years and 148 lashes on seven different occasions. On September 23, she was returned to Evin Prison after being admitted to Taleghani Hospital. She suffers from a serious heart condition and which was additionally weakened due to her 40-day hunger strike for her daughter being detained. She was reportedly obstructed from her treatment and blocked from family contact during her stay at the hospital, where she was under the surveillance of state security officials. Many are urging the Iranian government to grant a temporary release for human rights defenders, lawyers, dual and foreign nations, and political prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, media outlets in Iran reported that the Ministry of Health had allowed men to be admitted to obstetrics and gynecology. Members of parliament, such as Ahmad Rastineh, a member of the cultural commission of the parliament, announced that the information was false. The Ministry of Health denied the news, saying that a typo of an expert in one of the tables of the field selection booklet made the option of a man being in the field of obstetrics and gynecology included. In Islam, looking at reproductive organs is forbidden, especially for men, and is frowned upon in Iranian culture.
The Role of Textbooks in Young Lives
A 2007 study on the role of gender in Persian textbooks showed that out of the 3219 names used, only 16% were female names and out of 782 historical figures mentioned, only 37 were female. In textbooks for 2nd graders, there is only one picture of a female nurse, and the rest of the names in the content of the textbooks were male.
While teaching students about male figures in history is not an issue, completely eliminating female roles in these teaching books is not only irrational but harmful to the perception of women in society. This inequity makes students believe that while men take on the important responsibilities in societies like governance and providing for families, females are bound to stay at home, raise children, and do housekeeping. Hence, a widely believed misconception, the image of a superior man and inferior woman is embedded into both the workforce and society and becomes the only reality young people know.
In the past month, as schools opened, many found out that pictures of women were eliminated from 3rd grader’s math textbooks. This information spread on social media and eventually caused the Minister of Education to admit that it was a mistake and say that they will bring back the old cover. This movement, which desires to keep the government accountable, will continue in other textbooks, and make young girls feel more worthy and noticed. Parents are posting pictures of their young girls printing their own faces on their textbooks, replacing their faces with the ones eliminated.
The Iranian Me Too movement resulted in the arrest of only one person accused of sexual assault or harassment in August. The government refused to follow up on all of the accusations and as many figures accused of these criminal acts have denied the claims against them.
Iranian researcher and author, Kamil Ahmadi’s charges on sexual harassment were revoked by the Iranian Sociological Association. In 2019, he was arrested under unknown charges unrelated to sexual harassment and denied lawyers. He will be removed from the position of Secretary of Child Sociology, due to the importance of maintaining the security of all members of society against all kinds of aggression and harassment. The association considers it its duty to keep the environment of scientific and research cooperation free from abuses of power and authority, including sexual abuse. Until a systematic legal or civil arbitration, he will be denied his position in the association.