Thursday, October 15, 2009

From Discrimination to Discrimination: An Overview of Four Years of Ahmadinejad's Government Practices Regarding Women

  • 1386
In 1386 (2007-March 2008), Ahmadinejad’s government entered a new phase in the treatment of women. With the change of the police commander of Greater Tehran, comprehensive efforts were made - in the name of public security - to limit the way women cover-up in public more than ever. The first phase of the Social Security Plan started at the beginning of the month of Ordibehesht, according to General Raddan, the head of the police forces of Greater Tehran, and was designed to confront women who were inappropriately dressed. At his first press conference, in 1386, General Raddan announced that bad dress consisted constituted wearing short trousers, short scarves and shawls and other short, tight or revealing clothing. According to him, bad dress disturbs society psychologically. But instances of bad dress were not limited to these items. Other long fabrics with slits on the side or back were a “New style for some women” which would be challenged. In the execution of this plan many women were arrested by police forces and taken to detention centers until their families brought them longer, "more appropriate" dress. There were numerous cases of women getting in trouble for the way they were dressed and even being by the police forces, prompting Hashemi Shahroodi to announce: “Bringing women and young adults to police stations only produces social harm”. This plea was ignored and the public prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, announced: "Many of the women have come to Tehran from the provinces and if they don’t obey the law here they will be dealt with by the courts in their own home towns.

However, the oppression of women wasn’t limited to their cover. In the autumn days of that year there were whispers of a plan for "improving" gender quotas against female students. By implementing this plan, there would be 40 percent quotas for men without any competition for places, to prevent female students. Protest and gatherings took place against this decision, which made the head of the organization responsible to confirm gender acceptance in universities for entrance exams in 87, and a minimum acceptance of 30 percent male and female for the following year.

1386 was the last year of the 7th government and in the first months parliament had begun to review women's demands. The plan for equal inheritance for men and women approved an urgent proposal to allow a women to immobilize her husband's property on 28 Azar. Approval of the rights allocated to the widow mothers subject to social security (including social security organization and other retirement loans) with the observation of legal conditions related to their children, was one of the cases mentioned in the 7th parliament.

Despite these cases, announcement of the details of a bill named the “Family Support Bill” launched a new phase in the public confrontation of the government against women. According to article 23 of this bill, which was reviewed by the Guardian Council on 4 Shahrivar, remarrying of men would be dependent on his wealth, the permission of the court and the first wife’s consent. This bill which was a bigger step to oppress women rights further, was added and submitted to the judiciary and parliament by the government illegally. Continued protest against this bill caused the 7th parliament to ignore the bill in the final months of its review. Their excuse for not reviewing this bill was the existence of other more urgent bills.

This year, despite all the bills, plans and programs of the 9th government to limit the presence of women in public and social areas and despite the arrest of 40 members of the One Million Signatures campaign at different intervals, for the first time after the 1357 (1979) revolution, we witnessed presidential candidates addressing the issue of discrimination against women and making some promises. The 12th episode of presidential election programs of Reformists for the 8th parliament was to “Strengthening the family institution and eliminate discrimination against women by changing laws related to women's issues”.

  • 1387

The last year of Ahmadinejad’s presidency (2008-March 2009) marked the beginning of the 8th parliament. Despite all promises made, the 8th parliament during the first few months began to review the bill to support families. The news of approval of this bill without any changes by the legal and judicial commission was enough to bring more protests against it. Considering other events happening during the 9th government, this time women activists with different beliefs and points of view decided to go against the approval of the Family Support Bill in solidarity. This time the protest was not limited to women, social and political activists, but included some authorities. Even the Friday Emam of the city of Qom clearly announced his objection to the bill. These events took place with a few of Ahmadinejad’s ministers in full support of this bill and its 23rd article. Ahmadinejad, despite the request of the judiciary to remove the bill due to its illegal changes did not take any action. And during his first year as president, he revoked his order allowing women to attend football matches at the Azadi Stadium after just two weeks following objection from some scholars. In the meantime, a considerable number of the House of Representatives did not react to this bill when a group of activists went to parliament to speak with members, since they all had multiple wives. On the other hand, women in other cities and in solidarity with women in the capital printed flyers and published contact numbers of parliament members, encouraging other men and women to oppose this bill and contact their city representative and announce their objection. Finally, these protests forced Larijani, the head of the parliament to remove the bill from parliament on the same day that he met with women activists from various organizations, referring it to legal and judicial commissions. However, Larijani’s action was objected by Fatemeh Aali and some other hardline women in parliment. Fatemeh Aalia called these groups of women activists who met with Larijani “a handful of dirt” saying: “The House of Representatives will not abandon their legal responsibilities and give in to a handful of dirt and seculars”. These statements and the continued support of the government spokesperson and Minister of Justice meant the passing of this bill. But legal and judicial commission of parliament decided to remove article 23 after a week. At a press conference a few days before the bill was due to be presented to parliament, I took advantage of an opportunity while Ahmadinejad was surrounded by 225 managers and employees of education and training in Iran, and asked him, why he had added this article to the bill illegally? Ahmadinejad insisted that the purpose of this article was to make second marriages legal with restrictions and that he knew what he did was illegal. When I asked him to express his opinion on multiple marriages to the women of this country who constitute more than half the population, he said: "For 90% of Iranian males, even the first wife is too much to handle." This statement was not published anywhere to prevent pressure on state based media. There was no further opportunity to ask him that same question and hear his response, in which he considers that 90% of Iranian males are not capable of having one wife. Who were the remaining 10% for whom a new article was about to be approved illegally!

In the past year of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the Social Security plan and the severity of restricting women's clothing, took a broader dimension. According to this plan, the Interior Ministry and chastity legislation are responsible for controlling bad dress and other crimes, and 88 people were arrested for committing these types of crimes. Harsh confrontations and the beating of a few women by police forces, raised public sensitivity to society and media objection, forced the president to send a letter to Sadegh Mahsooli, the Country Minister demanding the respect of citizens' rights in the last few months of his presidency. However, General Radaan, who was the patron of this plan, in many statements after the president’s letter announced: "The performance of police forces in this field is acceptable and other cultural units are responsible for lack of work and neglect". These continued statements prompted a rumour that government and police forces were in disagreement on this plan. As a result Ahmadi Moghadam, Head of police forces had to react and in a short interview with said: "Government and Naja (police forces) have no disagreement". Some political analysts believe that the government's retreat from implementing this plan was just an election tactic, otherwise they would’ve taken action during the past two years. Despite continued objections even by the Head of Judiciary, Ahmadinejad has never considered the freedom of women’s cover and their presence in society and public places, such that the very same women whom he doesn’t consider equal to men, but as a ornamental objects, to be put down even more because of their gender and end up at police forces detention centers.

Despite all the hard work during the presidency of Ahmadinejad to marginalize women from the public and social spaces around them, the wave of freedom supporters against female discrimination in social and legal rights was so extensive that for the first time in the last 30 years all three presidential candidates, in detailed statements talked of eliminating such discriminations. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the only candidate who did not make any promises to women and did not present any statement or plan in this regard.

During the days that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, unlike other candidates remained silent on his plans and programs for women, his advisor, the Head of the Center for Women and Family had a strange and interesting reaction. He, whose management had reduced the budget for this organization, held two reporting session, in which government critic media were not allowed to attend. Instead of presenting a report of this organization’s performance, he criticized the One Million Signature campaign and the 8th government, saying “This is a campaign to defend Shirin Ebadi. Shirin Ebadi is a traitor, and supportive of the Bahai religion who was given the noble price to be able to go against the Islamic regime with legal cover-ups. Were all the women rights activist dead when white phosphorus was spilled over thousands of defenseless women and children in Palestine and Gaza. Where was Shirin Ebadi at that time?" He later went on to criticize other women.

And just four years ago women were the crown of society, and unlike mothers, sisters and daughters in the post election crisis in Iran, were not devastated in mourning for the loss of their children, fathers, and brothers.

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