Fariba Davoodi Mohajer
On Tuesday November 13th, 2012 the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of the Majlis (Iranian parliament) passed a bill that makes it mandatory for single women under the age of 40 to have permission from their “custodian” or a warrant from the “Sharia Ruler” (Islamic court judge) to receive their passport. Hossein Naghavi, the chairman of the committee, explained that the intention of the bill is to protect the safety of women. The bill will be presented to parliament for the final vote.
The new “passport bill” was introduced by the executive fiat through the Government Council which consists of the president and his cabinet on January 26th, 2012. Similarly to current law, the first chapter of article 15 of this bill, without mentioning women, explains that in order to issue a passport for “individuals younger than 18 years of age and those living under the protection of a ‘legal guardian’ or custodian, written permission from the ‘legal guardian’ or custodian is mandatory.” An amendment added to article 15 in this chapter of this bill specifies that; “individuals pronounced as ‘legal adults’ by a court warrant” can be issued passports without the consent of a legal guardian.
It is clear that women under 40 do not live under the protection of a legal guardian or custodian, only the mentally challenged and minors fall under that category. Furthermore, legal experts believe this proposal by the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee has no legal legitimacy.
Based on the current laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran concerning passports; all individuals under 18 years of age need official consent from their custodians or legal guardians to obtain a passport. Married women need their husbands’ permission or a warrant from the “Sharia Ruler” to get a passport. Widows must have their husbands’ death certificate and divorced women need to present their ID in which the divorce has been registered.
In a statement women rights activists, who already had objections to the law requiring the husband’s consent for married women applying for passports, expressed their objections to the new bill from the committee. The organization we-change.org asked all male and female citizens to call their parliamentary representatives and protest this bill. Shirin Ebadi, a human rights activist and Noble Peace Prize winner stated, “This bill will face serious objections from Iranian women if it is brought before parliament.” On her Facebook page, Iranian director Rakhshan Banietemad also asked people to contact their representatives in parliament and object to this chapter in the bill.
In an interview Mohammad Ali Esfenani, the spokesman of the Judicial-Legal Committee of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, announced that as single women need the permission of their legal custodian to marry, it is natural that they would need permission for passports as well. These comments were made even though the age of majority for girls in Iran is nine, and they are held legally responsible for their actions and criminally accountable. Despite all this, once the bill is finalized and it becomes law, women and girls will have to ask for the permission of their fathers or custodians to get a passport until they are 40 years old.
Laleh Eftekhari, a representative in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, told ISNA news agency that single women have “…abused their rights during foreign trips and contaminated the image of the regime. As a result, the decision was made to form the conditions for the girls who do not have any plans to abuse their rights, so that they are able to leave the country under certain conditions and regulations.”
This member of the Congressional Women’s Caucus of the Islamic Consultative Assembly stated, “In our opinion, not absolutely everybody should be granted permission to leave the country; it has consequences. And not absolutely everybody should be prevented from leaving the country. So this caucus has proposed in the ‘passport bill’ that women under 40 are not banned from leaving the country as long as they are ‘legal adults’ and authorities approve that they are ‘legal adults’.”
By definition, a “legal adult girl” is a girl who understands her own interests, can run her own life and is not in danger of being deceived. Under another definition; this girl is someone who can understand right from wrong. For example, this girl can handle important transactions and her decision making will not be negatively affected by emotions.
Undoubtedly, all the decisions made by the Islamic Republic governmental institutions on women, are not only aimed at controlling women, but they are also made to fit specific political goals. Control and limitations for half of the population, does not convey any other message than control and limitations over society as a whole. When the general freedoms of half of society can be easily undermined, the foundations for the loss of further freedoms have already been laid. Also, control over women is of huge importance for the rulers of the Islamic Republic as a patriarchal regime and it can promote the hierarchy in the relationships and superiority of one gender over the other on a daily basis. Iran needs to appear Islamic as it considers itself the motherland of Islamic nations and claims it is upholding Sharia law. Hijab is among the laws whose implementation through legislation and enforced by police is very visible. However despite pressure, Hijab is violated by women. Iranian women believe that the Islamic laws about women are discriminatory. In other words, they question the laws rooted in Islam. They are demanding equality with men and their campaign against the Islamic Republic is serious. They are confronting the Islamic Republic and want human rights organizations to assist them. They are creating sympathy about these kinds of laws both inside Iran and abroad. The women’s movement is a serious part of the democratic movement in Iran. Intelligence organizations, the police and the judiciary are trying to control women by increasing and enforcing restrictions on their movement.
The bottom line is that support for Iranian women by human rights organizations is a great help to the development of the women’s movement and democratization of Iran. Resistance by women against laws such as these and the expansion of the battlefield of women against the Islamic Republic increases the gender equality dialogue both inside and outside Iran and undoubtedly weakens the ideological discourse of the Islamic Republic.
Fariba Davoodi Mohajer