Three women have been appointed to prominent positions in the Iranian government after the country’s President, Hassan Rouhani, received criticism for his all-male cabinet.
Shahindokht Molaverdi, the president’s new assistant for civil rights, believes the president’s decision to appoint an all-male cabinet showed that Iran was “treading water.” Ms. Molaverdi, among others reformists, believes that the lack of women in the president’s new cabinet signals that he is yielding to pressure from the religious establishment in Iran.
Though vice-presidency positions in Iran bare significance, there has only been one female cabinet member in Iran since the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1978 to 1979.
It has been difficult since the revolution for women to regain and hold on to lost rights. While women rather regularly gain prominent positions in the country’s political system, key laws meant to protect women have been overruled or suspended.
The new theocratic government suspended the Family Protection Law in 1979, two years after it was enacted.
In a March 11 speech, Molaverdi defended Iran’s commitment to gender equality. Human Rights Watch described the way she touted the “significant progress Iranian women have made in education and science, citing unilateral economic sanctions and violence against women as factors that have impeded the full realization of women’s rights.”
However, Human Rights Watch marked the way her speech failed to address the domestic factors, Iran’s own laws and policies, that contribute to the many setbacks Iranian women continue to suffer from and face.
On the very day Molaverdi gave her speech, Amnesty International released a report about two laws that were in deliberation which would limit a woman’s right to voluntary sterilization and further discriminate against women who are unable to marry or have children.
Molaverdi’s comments on education were correct. Women have made significant gains in education after previously being unable to study certain specialized fields.
It’s a back and forth political battle that often involves the government making it seem like they are advancing women’s rights when in reality they are taking small steps to appease the country’s women population.
While President Rouhani appointed four women as vice presidents in his first two years and three women as governors, he didn’t keep funding for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
However, while the country’s government promotes a narrative of submissive women, this often bears little resemblance to the private and public lives of many women in Iran today.
While the path to equality has been paved with obstacles since the country’s revolution, there have been big victories in education, healthcare and birth control–three very important and often denied human rights.
Though the country’s religious establishment is powerful and unyielding, the strength and persistence of Iranian women will continue to prevail.
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