By Navid Felker
The ongoing nationwide protests that have become an almost daily feature of Iranian life in most cities and towns for the past 14 months are often led by women. Female teachers, medical staff, students, factory workers, and pensioners are demanding an end to corruption, discrimination, and repression, as well as the regime’s military adventurism across the Middle East.
The Islamic Republic is home to some 40 million women, more than half of whom are under 30 years of age. They’ve watched their sisters in the West achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality, while they remain among the most repressed in the world.
Regime change is called for at the protests. Women have clearly been inspired by Iran’s main organized resistance movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), a part of the political coalition, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), headed by its charismatic female leader Maryam Rajavi. In the MEK, many leadership positions are held by women.
The history of the regime shows that women are targeted with oppressive laws that most countries would not tolerate. Iranian women are considered the property of their closest male relative and have no legal rights. Parents can marry off of girls as young as nine. As evidence in court, a woman’s testimony is worth only half that of a man’s. Women cannot have a man charged with rape unless they have four independent witnesses.
The regime’s laws prohibit homosexual behavior, adultery, and sex outside marriage. Women accused of these crimes incur severe punishments — beatings and death, sometimes by stoning.
Prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini wrote to the shah saying that the “interests of the state are better served by preserving the religious teachings of Islam and calmness of the heart.” He advised the shah to forbid women the right to vote. Khomeini stated that equality between women and men was “in fundamental violation of some of the most crucial rulings of Islam and in defiance of some of the explicit commandments of the Koran.”
After the revolution, Khomeini abolished the “Family Protection Law” that gave women family rights. Social services for women were cancelled and the role of female judges in Iran’s justice system was abolished. Out of 290 members of parliament, only 17 members are female.
Women are banned from riding bicycles. Their dress codes are under constant scrutiny. The “morality police” ensure that the hijab is worn in public. Girls who were deemed to be guilty of mal-veiling have suffered horrific acid attacks and stabbings, in assaults openly condoned by the regime. Videos posted by teenage girls on social media, showing them dancing or singing, have led to them being publicly flogged. Young female students who attended end-of-term parties have been fined and beaten. The “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani has overseen the executions of 87 women, since he first took office.
In an appalling crime against humanity, the subject of reports by Amnesty International and an investigation by the U.N., a fatwa issued by Khomeini in 1988 led to execution of 30,000 political prisoners who were mostly members and supporters of the MEK. It is believed that tens of thousands were hanged from cranes every day — grandmothers, mothers, pregnant women, and teenagers. Senior members of Rouhani’s government had roles in this atrocity.
Today, the regime is persecuting female human rights activists and environmentalists. For example, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have detained a young Iranian-British charity worker and mother, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, on “spying” charges. Hers is just one of many cases, although hers has been made very public, thanks to hard work by Amnesty and Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband.
The former first lady of Algeria, Anissa Boumediene has said, “Yes, we stand with you Maryam, as we stand with all our Iranian sisters, in your fierce fight seeking to free Iranian women from what enchains and imprisons them.”
Other female politicians and activists must show solidarity with the main democratic opposition movement, who are fighting for freedom for Iran’s oppressed daughters.