Social Issues

Beyond the veil, Iran’s women at the mercy of men

By Jaime León

Tehran, Oct 6 (EFE).- The death of Mahsa Amini in police custody has sparked unprecedented protests against the obligatory headscarf laws in Iran but discrimination against women in the Islamic republic runs much deeper.

Women in Iran have comparatively greater access to work and education than in many neighboring countries but men still have the final say on the extent of women’s rights.

Patriarchal decision-making powers extend to marriage, whereby the mantle of superiority is passed from father to husband.

In Iran, women enjoy their greatest level of freedom when they are single adults, but it comes with caveats – they are prohibited from singing in public, driving motorbikes and attending football games.

Fathers hold veto powers over the marriage of their daughters, even when they are of adult age. Once a woman is married, she needs permission from her husband to study, work and obtain a passport, in accordance with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s civil code.

Written permission for a passport can be withdrawn at the whim of the husband, who can therefore prevent his wife from leaving the country.

A male partner has custody over a daughter until the age of nine and a son until 15, and can divorce more easily than a woman, who requires the approval of a judge, a male-only job in Iran.

The terms of a marriage can be negotiated ahead of time, and such contracts can include special circumstances guaranteeing the woman the right to a passport, to study, work and grant her custody of the children.

“My marriage contract allows me to work because that’s what I asked my husband before we married and he accepted,” an Iranian woman told Efe on the condition of anonymity. “For me, it was important to have more freedom.”

Iran’s officials underline how the situation for women in the country has improved since the post-revolution founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979.

According to the government, 97% of girls receive an education compared to 62% before the Islamic revolution and women make up 17% of senior level roles in work, compared to 3% in 1979.

Women also make up 59% of university students in Iran. In politics, however, things are different.

Of the 290 lawmakers in parliament, just 16 are women, none of whom hold a ministerial role.

The highest-ranking woman in Iran’s politics is Ensieh Khazali, who serves as vice president for family affairs.

Another blemish on Iran’s women’s rights is child marriage. Each year, 30,000 children under 14 are married each year, according to NGO estimations.

Iranian law stipulates that the minimum age for marriage is 13 for girls and 15 for boys, although the age limits can be lowered with parental and judicial permission.

Women are banned from a number of activities that men would take for granted.

The list of prohibitions includes attending football matches, a topic that returned to the international limelight when protester Sahar Khodayari self–immolated in 2019 after she was sentenced to six months in prison for disguising herself as a man to enter a stadium, a tactic used by many women.

In 2019, under pressure from the international community and FIFA, the Islamic Republic permitted 3,500 women to attend a game between Iran and Cambodia. It was the first time in 40 years that women were seen in a football stadium crowd.

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