Thursday, August 28, 2014

Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution covers the candidacy requirements for the office of the president of the Islamic Republic. According to this article the president must be elected from a pool of “religious and political men,” a phrase that has always triggered much dialogue during the presidential election season. Some interpret “men” in the phrase as literal and believe that constitutionally, women do not have the right to run for president. Others consider the word “men” as public figures and as a result the constitution does not restrict women from standing for presidency. This argument specifically gains credibility due to the fact that at the time the Constitution was being written, initially the Farsi word for man (Mard) was used, but after a lot of discussion, it was replaced by the Arabic word (Rajol) which in Farsi can refer to women in certain contexts.
Last week Mohammad Yazdi, a cleric on the Guardian Council responded to a female who was trying to run for president. In a very condescending fashion, he stated that 34 years after the Constitution was written it is clear that “the Constitution does not allow women to be president and I do not understand how this lady has already chosen her cabinet members.” This female candidate had stated that should she be elected, her cabinet would be composed of half male and half female members. Mohammad Yazdi made these statements at a gathering of teachers and students from the Qom religious school. Thirty women have registered to be considered as potential presidential candidates this year.
Prior to this, Gholamhossein Elham, the former spokesman and current member of the Guardian Council stated that “the literal text of the Constitution clearly states that the candidate must be a male and also a political figure.” These comments triggered a lot of criticism. Among the critics, Fatemeh Rakei and Akram Mansouri Manesh, two congresswomen from the sixth parliament and members of the Islamic Iran Participation Front political party, sharply criticized the comments and said that this interpretation of the Constitution reduces the trust of women in the government, because an interpretation such as this suggests that women do not possess the management abilities required for the various government levels.
In an interview with Etemad newspaper concerning the comments by the Guardian Council, Mohammad Hashemi said that the Article 115 of the Constitution does not need any special analysis and it will be interpreted through the norms and social atmosphere in society and the issue should not be settled by a group within the Guardian Council.
Yazdi’s comments were also followed by a wave of criticism from women’s rights and human rights activists. Journalist Asieh Amini told Radio Farda that “Women should not run, because society is not prepared to accept them. Look at the positions well below the presidency. Whenever a woman is designated at the highest level of management in an organization, everybody begins to prejudge. It is this institution, our society and our country that need to be educated about female leaders. We have a lot of competent, highly educated women with a good management background and who can rise step by step just like anybody else who lives in this society. There is no difference between men and women. It is society that needs to learn to accept and at the moment the acceptance is not there.”
Hossein Ghazian, a sociologist based in Washington believes that neither the Iranian government, nor a large portion of society recognize women as legitimate political figures. Concerning the government’s view on women, he believes that “the roots of the issue go back to the government which came out of a revolution based on Islamic ideology. This ideology later became more fundamentalist. In this ideology, women are second class citizens in the service of men”.
Following the vast rejection of candidates, Ahmad Shaheed the UNSR on human rights in Iran said, “These rejections, which included women, were discriminatory and violated the basic right of participation in political process. It is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Iran is a signatory.” In a statement, five UN reporters also warned about the limitations on the rights of Iranian citizens, especially women. Kamala Chandrakirana, the head of the UN discrimination against women working group also said, “This action by the Iranian government increases the lack of participation of women in public, political and professional sectors.”
Thirty-four years after the foundation of the Islamic Republic, it is obvious that discrimination forms a major part in the lack of women’s political, social and economic opportunities. Women are kept from reaching high management positions including the presidency. Although the elimination of women has always been defended through religious arguments, it is internalizing beliefs and creating classes in society. As half of society, women need to legally and religiously obey and they have no other options. Criticisms and protests have not generated any change and this “obeying” is ongoing from the homes to the different levels in society. Major decision making in the Islamic regime is considered a man’s responsibility and women should not interfere with it. Furthermore, following the condescending statements by Mr. Yazdi, no official in the Islamic Republic and no male or female Islamic conservative reacted. This demonstrates the condescending view of the Islamic Republic towards women in the different sectors of society and politics. This belief existed from day one in the regime and it is visible in Article 115 of its Constitution; an article which was passed with doubts, so that it can stop women from running for presidency as any other normal citizen can.
It is notable that some people also believe that women are not qualified for the position either. Hossien Ghazian has said that “the latest information I have on the issue, is from research done in the early 2000s. People were asked this very question – if women are qualified for positions like the presidency. Almost one third of the people believed women are qualified for presidency. The other two third were either opposed to it or were undecided. This poll showed that the idea had still not been created in the society that women are qualified.”
Obviously, the social preparedness or lack that of cannot be a justification for not having equal protection by law and lawmakers must look at all sectors of the society without discrimination and create adequate legislation. Unfortunately, the paternalistic foundation of the bureaucracy in Iran and the paternalistic literature in government organizations has increased a sense of male superiority in the regime. This masculinism is keeping women from acquiring mid and high level positions in the government bureaucracy and obstructs their ability to compete with men. Statistically speaking, women form 4.9 percent of the workforce and the percentage of women in the private sector who reach high management levels is 9.4.
International and national experience shows us that the presence and participation of women in the decision making and management of the country will result in a better use of its national and social resources and encourages sustainable expansion, especially sustainable human development. Considering all this, a basic question is worth asking: If during the past 34 years, the existing qualities and precious experiences of many working and able women had been valued and considered, would not Iranian society be in a better condition than today?

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