Human Rights in Iran: The Abuse of Cultural Relativism

By Reza Afshari | Go to book overview

Chapter 16
The Rights of Women

In December of 1979, Ms. Farrokhrou Parsa, the first woman to serve
in the Iranian cabinet [Minister of Education, appointed 1968], was
executed. … A few hours after the sentence was pronounced she was
wrapped in a dark sack and machine-gunned. … At the time of her
death she had been retired for four years. … She was not a heroic
figure but a hard-working, disciplined woman who struggled to achieve
her position in government. She was a practical, level-headed feminist.
The significance of her position for the Iranian women’s movement
rested not so much in her considerable personal achievement but in
that she was one of hundreds of thousands. Those who executed her
also understood this and staged the event as a symbolic attempt to
reduce her—and through her the type of women she represented—to
an insignificant, lifeless shape in a dark sack.

—Mahnaz Afkhami, Secretary-General of the Women’s Organization
of Iran under the Shah

During the early 1990s, UN Special Representative Galindo Pohl took a wider look at Iranian society and saw, apparently for the first time, the secular women who since 1979 had endured insults, intimidation, and discrimination.1 He improved his coverage of the violations of women’s rights and increasingly expanded his reports to include almost all discriminatory laws and humiliating practices directed at them. As mentioned before, international human rights reports during the 1980s devoted no section to the rights of women. Perhaps out of deference to Islamic sensitivities of the rulers, the forced hijab (Islamic dress code) was not generally perceived— even in the 1990s when the violations of women’s rights were noted—as a violation of the right to freedom of conscience; it was certainly not exposed as rigorously as the violation of the same right was exposed in the case of religious minorities.

Many Iranian women, and not only modern secularists, suffered greatly under the new Islamic restrictions imposed in the early 1980s, when angry young men turned the streets of Tehran into a veritable “cultural” war zone,

-250-

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