Welcome to The Media Line
Bringing you trusted mideast news from every point of view
Your News, Your Rules.
  • Personalized News Feed
    Choose the topics that matter to you and how you’d like to view them
  • Storyline Subscriptions
    Follow your favorite storylines, from regions to lifestyle
  • RSS Notifications
    Get notified the moment stories you are following go on line
Theme
Which color scheme would you prefer to use?
Premium Content
  • Premium Content
    Receive access to all content available to paid subscribers
  • Archive Access
    Gain entree to stories published beyond four years
  • Save your stories
    Keep a personal account of stories you selected.
A woman holds the Iranian flag as she walks past an anti-U.S. mural depicting the Statue of Liberty on the wall of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran in 2010. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran Continues Crackdown on Women Activists

Government crackdown hindering work of rights activists

An Iranian appeals court earlier this week sustained a lower court’s decision to imprison activist Hengameh Shahidi for seven-and-a-half years after she publicly criticized former chief justice Sadegh Larijani.

Tara Sepehri Far, a researcher with the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told The Media Line that Iranian authorities are holding at least 12 women activists, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, a distinguished human rights lawyer, and Narges Mohammadi, a civil liberties campaigner.

Far says that on May 1, International Labor Day, several activists were arrested, including five women for protesting a compulsory hijab law that requires adult females to wear a headscarf and cover much of their bodies.

Omid Memarian, deputy director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, told The Media Line that “the Iranian judiciary has been politicized for a long time. It doesn’t tolerate dissent. People face grave consequences for such acts, which shows the lack of freedom of expression in Iran.

“The judiciary intelligence apparatus has blocked peaceful ways to bring about change” he continued, “and this has created a suffocating environment for activists in the nation. That’s why you see so many of them behind bars.”

Soraya Fallah of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the US National Committee for United Nations Women (UN WOMEN USNC LA) was previously imprisoned by the Iranian regime, and argues that females in the country face more challenges than their male counterparts.

“Fighting for human rights by a woman is very different than for a male colleague due to gender-specific challenges that women face,” she said. “There are also many human rights issues…[that] must be addressed not from a gender-neutral perspective but from a gender-sensitive and awareness point of view.”

One such issue is the compulsory hijab law, which the current regime implemented soon after coming to power.

“There has been consistent pushback by everyday Iranians over being told what to wear,” Fallah said. “Our right to choose an outfit and decide on our public appearance has been denied since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.”

HRW’s Far contends that nation-wide protests last year changed the nature of the debate in the country.

In fact, the Iranian government recently released two studies indicating that public support for prosecuting violators of the hijab law has declined. The Iranian parliament’s research center study showed that 70 percent of women do not even adhere to the regime’s strict religious interpretation of the law.

“I think the Hijab law will change because you can’t force people to observe what they don’t believe,” Fallah affirmed. “Iranian society has evolved a lot in terms of social issues, and it is inevitable that it will continue to do so. The government should realize that the compulsory hijab policy failed a long time ago.”

According to Fallah, women contend with many other inequities such as being “discriminated against in all arenas…[including] gender-specific education and segregation.”

HRW’s Far likewise stresses that Iranian women are treated unfairly when it comes to marriage, divorce and many other legal issues. “A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s so if you need two witnesses in a trial, you would have to bring in four women,” she noted.

For his part, Memarian from the Center for Human Rights in Iran suggests that the work of Iranian female activists has been hindered by the government’s crackdown on public demonstrations.

“The [regime] has raised enormously the cost of peaceful activism, which poses a major challenge for agents of change in the country,” he said.

Despite this, Memarian has a positive view about the future.

“Regardless of the situation, women continue to ask for change and push boundaries because of the very determined generation now in Iran that dares to challenge the state. The enthusiasm and the will of the women activists make many people hopeful,” he said.

Memarian points to recent successes such as the draft nationality law, approved earlier this week by the lower house of parliament, that if green-lighted by the upper house would enable mothers (like fathers now) to pass on their nationality to their children.

Overall, Memarian emphasized that one of the top issues for Iranian female activists is the promotion of draft legislation to address violence against women. While the bill has not been passed, women continue to apply pressure on the government to approve the motion.

“It shows how civil society in the country and beyond can lead to grand change,” he said. “[The proposed legislation] does not go far enough, but it is keeping women activists [confident] that by insisting on their rightful demands they can have a [positive impact].”

By contrast, Fallah from the UN WOMEN USNC LA insists that “it is unlikely big changes are on the way in Iran. Sharia [Islamic] law is far more powerful than allowing women to gain more rights,” she concluded.

Personalize Your News
Upgrade your experience by choosing the storylines that matter most to you.
Click on the icon to add the category to your Personalize news
Browse Storylines and Topics
Help us deliver the independent journalism the world needs
Donate
Mideast Daily News Email - Get the latest headlines and stories

By subscribing, you agree to The Media Line terms of use and privacy policy.
Mideast Daily News Email - Get the latest headlines and stories

By subscribing, you agree to The Media Line terms of use and privacy policy.