Discrimination Against Women A Global Survey of the Economic, Educational, Social and Political Status of Women

By Eschel M. Rhoodie | Go to book overview

24. Case Study: Iran

Political Rights

During the rule of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, women's rights were significantly extended to achieve equality between men and women in social and political activities. On two visits to Tehran, Isfahan and other Iranian cities during the late 1970s, the author observed at first hand, at private, official and public functions, the remarkably high profile of women in society and the ease of communication between men and women. Prior to this time women's rights were defined by the fundamentalist Shi'ite interpretation of Islam I which almost completely restricted their roles.

Despite the fact that the national referendum proposing female suffrage was conducted in accordance with the old election laws which excluded women, the franchise was granted in 1963. 2 The Charter of the White Revolution of Shah and People recognized women's full citizenship, and in response the cabinet reformed the election laws to allow for female candidates and electors. Article 10, clause I and Article 13, clause 2 of the parliamentary election laws of November 1911 were revoked to allow for female Majles, and the male limitations of Articles 6 and 9 of the senate election laws of May 4, 1949, were deleted. 3 By 1979, women were participating in many phases of the government, including acting as judges and running for and being elected to political offices. 4

When the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took control of the Iranian government in 1979, he instituted a regime adhering to the orthodox Islamic principles. This meant a reversal of the many rights which women had fought to gain under Pahlavi. Through legislation in 1983 women were permitted government participation only in low-level posts. 5 This retreat from the higher status given to women is best exemplified by the removal of female judges. Article 163 of the Constitution as rewritten by the new fundamentalist regime required that judges be qualified in accordance with Islamic principles. 6 According to the Qur'an, Surah 2 (The Cow), verse 282, a woman's testimony is worth only half that of a man's on the witness stand: ". . .And call to witness from among you men, two witnesses. And if two men be not (at hand) then a man and two women, of such as ye approve as witnesses, so that if the one erreth (through forgetfulness), the other will remember." 7

Because of the foregoing Qur'anic dictate, women judges were replaced with men, and others in high government positions were removed or placed in lower posts. The regime claimed that it was a woman's religious duty to take care of the family and home and to allow men to run the affairs of the govern

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