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Iranian Women Fight Back After Crackdown on Rights

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Life for Iranian women is becoming increasingly more difficult.  Just recently, attacks have been made on female public figures in the Islamic republic.  Iranian actress, Taraneh Alidoosti, who stars in a new film, The Salesman, was vehemently attacked on social media after attending a news conference where a tattoo of hers of a raised fist was exposed, sticking out from under her shirt sleeve.

The tattoo was attacked especially for its expression of “woman power,” and feminism, which apparently is viewed as a threat to traditional Islamic values.  Ms. Alidoosti took to her own Twitter account to stand up for her own beliefs, stating, “Keep calm and YES I’m a feminist.”  

Also, in May, the judiciary in Iran issued a warning for public figures, athletes and actors, telling them to adhere to Islamic values or face public naming and shaming after several such figures were arrested at a party.  

While many urban Iranians say they support equal rights for women, a women’s rights movement is officially non existent in Iran.  But, while such a movement has yet to materialize, Iranian women are taking action, refusing to simply sit down and be silent.  In an effort to stick up for their rights as humans, women in Iran are protesting the custom of covering their hair and bypassing the state ‘morality’ police, by cutting their hair, wearing men’s clothing, and by posting photos of themselves online.

This woman sneaks into a soccer game disguised as a man:

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist, activist, and founder of My Stealthy Freedom, a campaign to give Iranian women the right to choose whether they wish to wear hijabs or not, reports the following on the matter: “The Government wants to create fear but women have found their own way to freely walk in the streets of Iran or drive without covering their heads. It is a serious cultural war between two lifestyles. For women, their hair is their identity and making it short to just avoid the morality police is really heartbreaking, but in a way, it is brave.

“…Iran’s laws require that all women, from the age of seven when they start school, cover their hair out of a traditional respect for culture and morality. But so far, Iranian women are brave to break this discriminatory law.”

In the workplace Iranian women are also facing a current reduction in rights.  A bill that would reduce the working hours of female employees was passed in the last days of Iran’s outgoing parliament on May 10, 2016; and a women’s studies expert told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran this is an attempt by the state to “bring the ‘out-of-control half of society’ back under its control.”

The bill still needs to be approved by the conservative Guardian Council, the powerful body of clerics and jurists that reviews bills to ensure their compliance with Islamic law.  If it is passed, then 4.3 million women in the country’s workforce will see a mandatory and substantial reduction of their working hours.

The Reduction of Office Hours Act For Women With Special Circumstances would reduce women’s working hours by six hours a week, said MP Abdolreza Azizi on April 22.

While a record 18 women were elected to the new parliament in Iran’s February 2016 elections, it is uncertain whether or not they will be able to reverse such discriminatory legislation.  

Another bill that aims to control and limit women’s presence in the workforce is the Comprehensive Population and Family Plan, which was first discussed in parliament’s Cultural Affairs Committee in May 2013, and approved by parliament on November 4, 2015. (The Guardian Council has not yet approved it and so it is not law for the time being.)

Iran already maintains one of the world’s lowest percentages of women in the workforce. According to Iran’s Management and Planning Organization, women hold only 11 percent of the country’s jobs.  With increasing limitations to their working, and possible incentives to stay at home, it could be that this percentage will drop drastically.  And while women are fighting required oppressive dress codes, they do not yet seem to be fighting, at least not as strongly, the laws that threaten their place in the workforce.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org