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Robbed of simple pleasures
Women's rights in Iran

By Ghazoll Motlagh
February 27, 2004

Equality does not take precedence over justice... Justice does not mean that all laws must be the same for men and women. One of the mistakes that Westerners make is to forget this.... The difference in the stature, vitality, voice, development, muscular quality and physical strength of men and women shows that men are stronger and more capable in all fields... Men's brains are larger.... Men incline toward reasoning and rationalism while women basically tend to be emotional... These differences affect the delegation of responsibilities, duties and rights.
-- Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iranian Parliament Speaker, 1986

Before 1979, women in Iran were not as oppressed, they were not as controlled and far less scrutinized for their behavior. Since then, conservative radicals have made women's rights a thing of the past. In more recent years, the UN and other Women's Rights activists have been lobbying for support, and many things could begin to change if outside help was introduced. 
In the 1960's, before the revolution that lead to the Khomeini Regime, the Pahlavi kings had ruled a monarchy that was over 2500 years old. They implemented voting rights of women to help quell any uprisings or malcontent among women. This was not the only new reform, others soon followed.

In 1963, women loyal to the Shah were admitted into Parliament. They also began to enter the work force as cheap labor; they were eventually given the right to divorce their husbands, with limited and restricted rights thereafter, of course. The marriage age was raised to 18, and polygamy was subjected to certain restrictions. But despite all of these superficial reforms, women were subjected to horrible social conditions.

Illiteracy was a large problem among the poor and rural female population, as well as health problems. This was worsened by the fact that there was only one doctor per 55,000 women in the city. Shah Reza Pahlavi, the last shah of Iran, implemented a compulsory unveiling. This action ordered women, of all ages, to forgo the Islamic dress code and enjoy the western and eastern fashions of the world…at least the wealthy could enjoy it. 

Azita (as we'll call her from now on) was raised in a wealthy household who benefited from the Shah's regime. In fact her father was Minister of Education and very well compensated for his high status. She was college-educated and very well versed in the equality of women worldwide. After marrying a member of an underground organization against the government post revolution, she finally realized the terrors of life as a woman in post-revolution Iran.

In 1981, Azita remembers getting a package at her father's house in Tehran, the capital. Azita's favorite aunt went missing 9 months prior, along with her husband and their golden retriever. They knew all too well what was in the large white box. The body of a tortured woman laid there decomposing in the summer heat, she was shot in front of a firing squad with her husband and their dog.

All of this anguish and brutality was inflicted on her family because her aunt Nani, as she was called, would not say she was Muslim. She was in fact Bahai; a religion founded in Iran and only two centuries old at the maximum. This religion along with Judaism and Christianity are violently opposed by the Islamic Government. Azita was married and pregnant with her first child when they received the package. She wasn't permitted to see the body. 

Her violent husband warned her many times that if she fled the country, that he would find her and her children and kill her for taking them away. A book that relates to this story and the hardships endured by women after the revolution is "Not without My Daughter" where an American woman who married an Iranian man suffers through years of trying to get her daughter back despite Iranian laws.

After enduring many hardships under the Khomeini government Azita finally saw her chance; she fled the country with her two children soon after her husband was imprisoned. Azita, a 47 year old single mother, now living in Pennsylvania, reminisced about shopping in Italy for the newest and finest in Western Fashion. High-heeled shoes, bell bottom pants and bikinis were all top items, as well as makeup, dark makeup; she felt liberated.

She was living the life and enjoying every last minute of it. She also, sadly, remembers going to her family beach house, after the revolution, on the Caspian Sea and having to wear jeans and a veil just to go swimming. She felt robbed of the simple pleasures.

Many other executions have taken place since, and age was definitely not an issue when these young women met their demise: 

Islamic Republic of Iran Coroner's Office "Burial Permit": This document, authorizes the burial of Maryam, daughter of Mohammad Kazem Ghodsi-Mo'ab, aged 16, whose death on 7th October 1981 resulted from eight bullets entering her chest, eight her back and one her head. (Executed by the Revolutionary Court.) Coroner- Dr. Pazhuheshi

Sediqeh Sadeqpour, a political activist, was arrested and severely tortured to the point of paralyzation, and thus released only to be captured again, and savagely tortured. Her eyes were gouged out and she was killed in Shiraz on November 4, 1985, when her throat was cut. She was 20 years old.

A disturbing quote from an online book published on this effort found here states:

According to a "religious" decree, virgin women prisoners must as a rule is raped before their execution, "lest they go to Paradise." Therefore, the night before execution, a Guard rapes the condemned woman. After her execution, the religious judge at the prison writes out a marriage certificate and sends it to the victim's family, along with a box of sweets. In a written confession in January 1990, Sarmast Akhlaq Tabandeh, a senior Guards Corps interrogator, recounted one such case in Shiraz prison: "Flora Owrangi, an acquaintance of one of my friends was one such victim. The night before her execution, the resident mullah in the prison conducted a lottery among the members of the firing squads and prison officials to determine who would rape her. She was then forcibly injected with anesthesia ampoules, after which she was raped. The next day after she was executed, the mullah in charge wrote a marriage certificate, and the Guard who raped her took that along, with a box of sweets, to her parents.

Muslim law dictates the laws that Iranian people must follow in order to be safe from torture, imprisonment and death, they also dictate the status of inequality as shown by the quote that opens this article. For instance, if a woman is raped, and she fights off her attacker, she must prove in court that he meant to rape her, a court that is already favoring the male before the trial even began. If she does get raped, she is a shame to her family and there are even documented cases where the eldest boy in the family killed his raped sister in order to bring honor back to a family.

Even so, a woman that is married and raped is charged with adultery, a crime punishable by death from stoning. If a woman kills her aggressor, she is automatically charged murder and subject to death by hanging. These laws leave no room for a woman to seek justice for the violation that has occurred; it's not even considered a violation.

As noted in the article on the life of a woman, even Vice President Massoumeh Ebtekar, is worth half that of a man's in monetary compensation in the event of accidental death. Moreover, she has to ask her husband for written permission to leave the country on business. If a headdress is worn incorrectly in public, it is considered that a woman's crime was evident and a she is flogged for her crime without a court hearing. No court is considered necessary because of the nature of the crime.

These are clear violations of a woman's right to a trial, but with these laws, what would a trial accomplish?

The UN has slowly been applying pressure to Iranian Parliament to change the laws against women. Most of them are in clear violation of CEDAW, also known as the UN's Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Unsurprisingly, Parliament vetoed the organizations presence in Iranian laws. The clergy often state that such laws and movements are propaganda from Western influences that are meant to "undermine Islam" as Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani stated. In recent years, the European Union lobbying has been attributed to the suspension of public stoning women accused of adultery. 

Currently, many more women are receiving university degrees and the literacy rate has been at a steady climb. The younger generation in Iran, those in university and at the age their parents were during the revolution, are trying to reshape Iran's future. Girls go shopping and wear colorful scarves in place of veils. Their clothing is more transparent and clingy than ever before. Some clothing stores in area malls are even shut down by the police for their advertisement of western ideas. But nonetheless, the students persevere and shed their drab clothes for the tasteful and flattering. 

Women worldwide can aide in this effort as well as men; students in Iran have been lobbying for international support in the effort. They claim that the underground organization known as the People's Mojahedin should be removed from Europe's terrorist organization list and be aided in its effort to change the government. They say that the UN should supervise the supposedly free elections, especially after the most recent election proved the fallacies of the Mullah clergy.

In the most recent election, students boycotted the election, and as a result, the number of turnouts for the election was drastically inflated, the mullahs did not account for the boycott. Their credibility has reached a stand still and the people want change. Now is the time for other organizations to step in and aid in the fight for freedom and equality.

Ghazoll Motlagh is a Junior at Penn State University Majoring in Civil Engineering. She left Iran in 1986. She has not returned since.

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