July 16, 2008

Iranian Women Can Make a Difference

Youth Views~ Iranian women a force to be reckoned with
Talajeh Livani
Washington, DC - Iran's parliament convened last month for the first time since the April 2008 elections. The results of the parliamentary elections are in and all the votes have been counted. Surprisingly, or perhaps alarmingly, women now account for a mere 2.8 percent of this new conservative-dominated parliament. This is a decline from the already low 4.1 percent representation in the previous Iranian parliament.
Those familiar with Iranian society may find this shocking. Iran performs much better than other Middle Eastern countries on female education, health, and labour force participation. Iranian women comprise around two-thirds of university entrants, which has led to government-imposed quotas on university admittance, where women were dominating fields such as medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy. And, while lower than the world average of 58 percent, Iran's female labour force participation – 42 percent – is the highest in the Middle East.
How is it then possible that the political representation of Iranian women is lagging, even when compared to other countries in the region; the average for the Middle East and North Africa is approximately 9 percent with Iraq having the highest female representation in parliament – 26 percent.
The answer to this question is complex. First, Iran does not use gender quotas for female political participation like some other Middle Eastern and North African countries; it is not certain how the other countries would have performed without the use of quotas and appointments.
Second, to qualify as a candidate in the parliamentary elections, the conservative Guardian Council – a powerful political body that has the power to veto candidates – has to be convinced of the prospective candidate's belief in Islam and the Islamic Republic. Women in Iran have played a crucial role in shifting the conservative-liberal balance in the government. Many believe that women were an integral part in bringing to power former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. Therefore, it may simply be that females who register to run are likely to be less conservative than their male counterparts leading to a lower qualification rate.

Third, some of
Iran's laws discourage women from rising to positions of leadership and decision-making. Women are not allowed to serve as judges or to run for the presidency. And the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, encourages women to stay at home and focus on the institution of family. Only two women hold secondary cabinet positions, the Centre for Women's Participation has been renamed the Centre for Women and Family Affairs and Ahmadinejad has publicly announced support for larger families with women staying at home to take care of children.
[...] Finally, in light of external pressure with regards to its nuclear program, the Iranian government has come to view domestic women's groups as a threat to national security. There have been crackdowns on the One Million Signatures Campaign, a campaign aimed at collecting one million signatures in support of gender equality in Iran, peaceful women's rights demonstrations, and over the dress code. And the premier women's magazine, Zanan, was shut down in January 2008 allegedly because it offered a dark picture of the Islamic Republic and compromised the psyche and the mental health of its readers by providing them with "morally questionable information."
Despite these challenges, Iranian women's determination to break stereotypes cannot be underestimated. Today, Iranian women are present in every educational and employment field that is traditionally male-dominated. And they are active politically, especially at the local level. In the 2006 municipal elections, 44 seats out of the 264 on provincial capital councils went to women.
In addition, Iranian women represent such a large share of voters in local and national elections that they are able to significantly influence national politics. For instance, the 2008 parliamentary candidates had to adjust their election campaigns to attract women voters by vowing to change family and labour laws to ensure more equal treatment of women. [...]
Please go to the home page for One Million Signatures to learn about one aspect of women power in Iran.

Women's Learning Partnership
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More from Wikipedia:
The Campaign, “One Million Signatures Demanding Changes to Discriminatory Laws,” also called the "Change for Equality" campaign, is a campaign initiated by Iranian women's rights activists in Iran which aims to collect one million signatures to demand changes to discriminatory laws against women in Iran. This campaign is a follow-up effort to the peaceful protest of the same aim, which took place on June 12, 2006 in Haft-e Tir Square in Tehran. Preparation activities in support of this campaign commenced in June of 2006 and the campaign was officially launched on August 27, during a seminar entitled: “The Impact of Laws on Women’s Lives.”

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