Status of Women in Islamic Republic of Iran

Monday, July 27, 2015

Javad Haghgoo
Doctorate in International Studies and Constitution Expert


The culture governing Iranian society is a culture in which women take part in bolstering the fundaments of the family institution, implementation of its main functions, and keeping up its economy shoulder to shoulder with men. Iranian women are also undeniably present in various social arenas and enjoy political rights equal to men in determining their destiny. Al-out participation of women in political affairs is just a manifestation of their full entitlement to political rights.

In addition to occupying various posts and jobs from vice presidency, and membership in the Cabinet and parliament as ministers and members of parliament, to active workers and civil servants, Iranian women play a great role in scientific and educational fields of the country. As a result and according to available figures, women are currently accounting for about two-thirds of students at Iranian universities.

At the same time, in many societies in countries neighboring Iran, women are deprived of their basic rights and in some cases they are even at a lower position than second-class citizens and foreign workers in terms of salary and social status.

Despite these realities, the issue of women’s rights and their real status in the Iranian society has been depicted in an unreal and even distorted manner by the majority of Western media and global bodies under their influence in line with their purposeful policies. For example, the World Economic Forum published a report on the gender gaps in the world in 2012 in which it ranked the Islamic Republic of Iran at 127th among 135 countries studied, which was even lower than countries like Mali, Saudi Arabia, Ivory Coast, Chad and so forth. This measure seems to have been greatly affected by the escalation of political differences between Iran and the West during the past decade.

Regardless of Western criteria that are used to determine such rankings, which are totally at odds with the norms and values governing Iranian and Islamic culture, and in view of the realities that are related to unfavorable situation of women’s rights in many parts of the world, a cursory review of the situation of women in Iran and its comparison with some countries around Iran will be helpful to shed more light on the realities.

Comparative approach

Women in the Islamic Republic of Iran have enjoyed full political rights since the beginning of the Islamic Republic and even decades before it, at least, through legal structures arising from the constitutional government which supported such rights for women. However, out of the Arab states along the Persian Gulf, it was Bahrain, which for the first time, allowed women to vote – and that only in the elections for municipalities – in 2002. Some other Arab states of the Persian Gulf such as Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates allowed women to take part in the elections for semi-democratic parliaments of these countries only after 2005.

In some countries like Saudi Arabia, the right to vote is still among women’s dreams and they are even deprived of such basic rights as driving a car. The situation of women in this country is such that, for example, only one woman from Saudi Arabia took part in London Summer Olympics in 2012 for the first time in the country’s history. On the other hand, Iranian women have been active in many sports fields since many years ago and are even considered among the best in some sports fields in Asia.

Delusional reflection of the situation of Iranian women and unreal rankings of the country in the field of gender gaps in the world come at a time that in some countries, women are burnt along with their deceased husbands and are, thus, deprived of the right to live. Also, in many civilized societies, objectification of women and all kinds of injustice and violence against women are very common.

Islamic and ideological fundaments of women’s rights in Iran

Islam, as one of the most important sources that has imparted identity to Iranians and is an essential element in national culture of Iran, has offered its followers with a framework of beliefs and convictions. Among those convictions, one can point to respect for women’s rights and attention to their human dignity. In many verses of the Quran, equality of men and women in terms of social status as well as human perfection and excellence has been specified. An example is Verse 189, Chapter A’raf, which has described such equality as essential and fundamental. In this regard, the conduct of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) and Infallible Imams is indicative of their progressive attitude toward women in a primitive society, where before the advent of Islam, women had no rights and in some cases, girls were buried alive.

Following the Islamic Revolution, the necessity of paving the way for the growth and progress of women and realization of their lofty status in the Islamic society has been among the most important points stressed by leaders of the Islamic Republic. On May 17, 1979, [the founder of the Islamic Republic] Imam Khomeini met with a group of people, including women, when he said, “Woman plays a great role in the society. Woman is symbol of the realization of human aspirations. Woman gives birth to valuable women and men. It is from the lap of a woman that man ascends [in spiritual terms]. The lap of woman is where great women and men are raised.”

Also, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei met with a group of women on April 19, 2014, saying, “This is among the greatest honors of the Islamic Establishment that under the Islamic Establishment all these women, who are erudite and educated and intellectual and excellent in theoretical and practical terms, exist in our society. This is a great blessing and a cause for honor.”

Women and legal system of the Islamic Republic of Iran

The rights and status of women have been also supported and highlighted in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which arises from religious and democratic values and principles. Paragraph 14, Article 3 of the Constitution has stipulated that “securing the multifarious rights of all citizens, both women and men, and providing just judicial security for all, as well as the equality of all before the law” is among duties of the government.

Article 21 of the Iranian Constitution says, “The government must ensure the rights of women in all respects, in conformity with Islamic criteria, and accomplish the following goals:

1. To create a favorable environment for the growth of woman's personality and the restoration of her rights, both the material and spiritual;

2. The protection of mothers, particularly during pregnancy and child-rearing, and the protection of children without guardians;

3. Establishing competent courts to protect the integrity and ensure survival of the family;

4. The provision of special insurance for widows, aged women, and women without guardian; and

5. The awarding of guardianship of children to competent mothers, in order to protect the interests of the children in the absence of a legal guardian [for those children].

On the other hand, the civil laws of the Islamic Republic are, to a large extent, rooted in religious values and principles of the Constitution, and have therefore, paid special attention to women’s rights. Examples in this regard are Article 1118 of the Civil Code, which recognized economic independence of women, or Article 1115 of the same code, which guarantees psychological and physical health of women by giving them the right to choose their own domicile. In addition, articles 1119 and 1114 of the Civil Code specify conditions that should be observed when marrying a woman as well as her rights to divorce and choosing her domicile.

In another example, Article 1082 of the Iranian Civil Code recognizes full rights of women with regard to Mahriyeh, while articles 1106 and 1129 hold men responsible, respectively in permanent and temporary marriages, for paying the cost of living of their spouses.

Apart from these civil laws, every effort has been made to provide protection for women in other laws. Examples include the Labor Act, which in addition to requiring “payment of equal salary to women and men in case of doing equal work under equal conditions,” has also paid attention to limitations of women when they are pregnant or when they are doing hard and harmful jobs.

In other legal cases, which have been mentioned by some observers as weaknesses of the legal system of the Islamic Republic of Iran with regard to women, attention to all aspects of those laws and their profound ramifications in addition to taking into account the customs and indigenous culture of Iran, could give answers to questions that have been posed in this regard. One of these cases is the difference between share of women and men in inheritance, which is largely a result of their different responsibilities in economic terms within the family institution. Therefore, in legal system of Islam and Iran, women and men have dissimilar, but equal rights.

This is also true about the blood money where the role of men in the economic cycle of family has been taken into consideration when determining blood money for men and women. Of course, since the way is always open to making revision to religious and civil laws in accordance with conditions of time, the deputies of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Iranian parliament) approved equality of the blood money for men and women in May 2013.

Women and legal challenges in Iran

Despite different and superior position of the Iranian women compared to their counterparts in other countries in the Middle East, there is still room for improvement of their situation in certain areas when the status quo is compared with international standards. An example to the point is the share of women from political positions and posts in the country. Global average for women’s share in occupying political and governmental posts is 25-30 percent. However, the corresponding figure for Iran during past years has been consistently below 10 percent (mostly about 5 percent) and efforts are underway to improve this figure. To achieve this goal, certain organizations including the “Society of Modernist Muslim Women,” “Association of Reformist Women,” and “Convergence Council of Reformist Women,” have been formed in past years incorporating various political currents and tendencies, with their main goal being to boost the share and participation of women in the country’s political processes.

When it comes to laws, one of the most prominent instances in relation to women’s legal issues is the issue of their share of bequest. According to the existing laws, share of girls from the property of their deceased fathers is half the share of boys. Also, if with child, women will be entitled to one-eighth of the property of their deceases spouses, and if the deceased has no child or grandchild, that figure will increase to one-fourth. Of course, these laws have their own conditions as well as “musts and must-nots.” During recent years, lawmakers have taken steps to improve this situation and boost the legal status of women. Among those measures was amendment of certain laws, including Article 946 of the Civil Code, which took place in February 2008 through a bill drawn up by Iranian lawmakers and after asking the juristic viewpoints of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution. Before that year, women’s share of their deceased spouses’ bequest was limited to movable property, but after amendment of that law, women can have a share of their deceased spouses’ immovable property as well.

Another example of legal challenges facing Iranian women is related to the custody of children. For many years, Iranian law stipulated that mothers would have the custody of boys up to the age of 2 years and girls up to the age of seven years. After that, in case of final divorce, children would be in custody of their fathers. Of course, after amendment of the relevant article of the Civil Code, that is, Article 1169 of that code, children, whether boy or girl, will be preferably in custody of their mothers until they reach the age of 7. Meanwhile, a note was added to the aforesaid amended article of law in 2003 according to which even when children reach the age of 7, a court of law will decide about continuation of the custody.

There are various instances of such challenges in political and legal systems as well as social and cultural spheres of Iran for women, which constitute a wide range from judicial processes, as well as civil and legal obligations, family laws, type of clothing and so forth, to patriarchal factors, especially in local subcultures. However, due to the existence of necessary determination to improve the situation of women, their conditions have been moving toward positive changes.

In view of the above facts and examples, one can claim that study of the status of women in Iranian society needs a profound and all-inclusive approach based on the country’s history, indigenous culture, as well as national and religious values, in order to understand the realities of women’s status and rights in this society.

*Key Words: Status of Women, Iran, Political Rights, Men, Women’s Rights, Legal System, Gender Gaps, Iranian and Islamic Culture, Challenges, Civil Code, Haghgoo

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