Women against women
Women in Iran's
November 5, 2004
Parliament, or Majlis, in post-revolutionary
Iran has been, for the most part, a conservative force with an
sixth Majlis which formed three years after Khatami's election
in 1997. The sixth Majlis (2000-2004) reflected the vote of 84%
of the voting population and was comprised of reformists (dovom
Women of the sixth Majlis made history by standing
up for women's issues or at least discussing them in Parliament.
Jamileh Kadivar and Elahe Kulayi were the two outstanding female
reformists in the sixth Majlis who pursued women's issues despite
the opposition of the powerful right wing in the country.
was manifested in their struggle to bring Majlis to pass the
bill on Iran joining the Convention on the Elimination of All
forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). There are twelve
in the seventh Majlis, but they exert no political power and
represent the far right despite their occasional reformist
The women in the seventh Majlis are against the bill
joining CEDAW, which the female reformists in the sixth Majlis
for vigorously. So far, the women in the seventh Majlis have
exhibited conservative, right wing tendencies setting them
apart from their
counterparts in the preceding parliament.
The CEDAW, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly,
is an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble
and 30 articles, it clearly defines the grounds for discrimination
against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end
By accepting the Convention, the Iranian state
would commit to undertake a series of measures that would end
discrimination against women in all forms. The state would have
the principle of equality for women in their legal system, abolish
all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting
discrimination against women, and ensure the elimination of all
acts of discrimination against women by any persons, organizations
The seventh Majlis is not a popular one as reflected in the declining
voter participation in the parliamentary elections earlier this
year. After the political defeat of Khatami's reform agenda, the
Parliament members who won their seats due to the official exclusion
of the reformist candidates by the judiciary branch of the government
implemented a new strategy.
The conservative parties, such as Abad-garan-e
Eslami and Jameh Zeynab, made their lesser-known members candidates
for the parliament. These candidates, who have not been in the
forefront of politics up to this election, used reformist rhetoric
in a desperate attempt to win popularity in the eyes of the public.
But it did not take long for their true loyalties to emerge.
Once elected to Parliament, the female MPs segregated their lunch
space from men and reverted back to traditional gender segregation
in the parliament, a symbolic gesture showing their commitment
to the ultra religious faction in the government. In another instance,
which made headlines in Iran's national media, Fatemeh Alia (MP
from Tehran) said that one symptom of Western influence which should
be confronted in Islamic Iran is a debate on "legal rights."
proposed that people should instead think about their religious
duties, not "legal rights" in order to reach prosperity
as a nation. She argued that the concept of law is an imported
concept from the West and therefore should be eliminated from public
discussions in the country.
If we think of the reformist movement
as one distinguished by its ceaseless efforts to establish an independent
judiciary branch and create an atmosphere of respect for law in
the country, then Alia and her colleagues are vehemently against
reformism and its social and political aims. These instances reveal
the true loyalties of female MPs in the current Majlis, despite
their initial attempt to portray themselves as "reformists".
Female MPs in this Majlis are overwhelmingly opposed to having
Iran join the CEDAW based on religious grounds. Nafiseh Fayaz-bakhsh
(MP from Tehran), who holds a Ph.D in Islamic theology, is against
the convention because of her religious beliefs. She, along with
Rafat Bayat (MP from Zanjan), argues that the convention rules
and regulations are "Western" and Iran, as an Islamic
country, cannot submit to Western definitions of women's rights.
This position is supported by Fatemeh Rahbar (MP from Tehran),
who is in favor of filtering the Internet for the same reason.
Fatemeh Alia has stepped further by supporting polygamy- in direct
contrast to rules in CEDAW- as beneficial to women since it alleviates
women's economic difficulties.
Laleh Eftekhari (MP from Tehran),
who is a member of Zeynab, a conservative state-run organization
which polices women in public spaces in regards to the Islamic
dress-code, is also against CEDAW. The three independent MPs,
Effat Shariati-Koohbani (Mashad), Hajar Tahriri (Rasht) and
(Karaj) also follow the above mentioned position on CEDAW.
The other female MPs have not voiced their position on CEDAW,
but are expected to follow their female colleagues closely. Elham
Amin-Zadeh holds a Ph.D in International Law from University of
Glasgow in England. Her distinct educational level coupled with
her multilingual skills qualifies her for membership in foreign
relations and national security commission in Parliament.
well versed in international law and more inclined to support
CEDAW, but is not expected to withstand the pressure from the
conservative faction in Parliament. Mehrangiz Morovati (MP from
Khalkhal), the only MP from the last Majlis, has remained silent
on the issue. Nayereh Akhavan-Bitaraf (MP from Isfahan) has followed
her husband's lead on issues. Her husband, Hassan Kamran, a longtime
MP since the fourth Majlis, has repeatedly voiced his opposition
to the reformers.
As reflected in their position on CEDAW, the female members of
the seventh parliament are leaning more towards the right wing
political power in Iran. They are unable or unwilling to improve
women's conditions - a task in which female MPs of the sixth Majlis
stood for staunchly.
On International Women's Day, March 8, in
2000, female MPs of the sixth Majlis debated the necessity of
chador (a long cloth covering the whole female body except the
argued that a scarf and a long dress should suffice in order
to fulfill the criteria of the Islamic modest dress code enforced
Today, female MPs wear chadors and insist that all female
reporters dress the same or be denied entry to Parliament.
Recently the seventh Majlis rejected a bill which was an extension
sixth Majlis preparatory work to join CEDAW that argued for
equality for men and women. The female MPs in this Majlis have
clock back to the time when the right wing and conservative Akhounds
enjoyed absolute power without any resistance.
Elham Gheytanchi is a sociologist in Santa Monica, California.