roject MonMa in Iran

Project Monma travelled to Iran to learn more about the situation of women’s rights in the country. We travelled through various parts of Iran speaking with different men and women about their perspectives on violence and discrimination against women and girls in the country.

Women and girls face widespread discrimination in Iran that is both normalized in daily social relations and in law. For example, according to Iranian law, the husband is the head of the family and his wife is legally bound to obey him. Article 1105 of the civil code states: ‘In relations between husband and wife, the position of the head of the family exclusively belongs to the husband.’

A married woman cannot leave the country without her husband’s permission. A woman’s testimony as a witness is worth half that of a man in compliance with the sharia basis of the legal system. In all public places, women must wear a hijab, headscarf, and loose fitting clothing, usually the Chador or Manto is required. Polygamy and temporary marriage are permitted for men, up to four wives are allowed, but not for women. Women are not even allowed to go to stadiums.

All of the women we met in Iran felt that the rules and restrictions they were subject to were unfair and they wanted to see them change. Leila, a woman living in Tehran said she wants to see her daughter grow up in a country that is more free and fair for women where she can make choices for herself. She also wants her daughter to be able to choose the clothes that she wears and make choices about where she goes and who she goes there with. 

‘I don’t want religion to be taught in school. I try to teach my daughter to not believe in these strict religious beliefs. I don’t mind if she chooses a religion but for sure it should not be Islam, she cannot ever be happy as a Muslim. I don’t want her to have to fear punishment. In school I was taught to be afraid,’ she said. ‘I also don’t want my daughter to be forced to cover. At school she has to start wearing the hijab when she is 7 and wearing it on the street when she is 9. I don’t like this. I don’t want her to be judged if she doesn’t want to cover her hair or for what she is wearing,’ she said.

Leila was arrested by the moral police as a young woman just for walking in the street with a male classmate. She was taken to a police station where she was subject to a forced virginity test and was made to sign many documents saying that she would not socialize with a man again. She has also been arrested by the moral police for wearing boots that were, ‘too sexy’. ‘They took photos of me like I was a criminal,’ she said.

The compulsory veiling and hijab rules in Iran have allowed police and
paramilitary forces to harass and detain women for showing strands of hair under their headscarves or for wearing heavy makeup or tight clothing. Women who have campaigned against the compulsory hijab have faced punishment including imprisonment.

Iran has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees people’s right to freedom of expression, to privacy and to freedom of religion. The compulsory veiling and strict dress codes are in direct contravention to this convention. Iran has been criticized by several United Nations independent experts for the rules that require wearing religious dress in public.

The enforcement of a compulsory dress code on women in Iran violates their rights to private life, personal autonomy and freedom of expression as well as to freedom of religion, thought and conscience. It is also a form of gender based discrimination prohibited under international law. Women are also subject to restrictions on basic daily activities, like singing and riding bicycles. 

‘I always wanted to play music,’ said Leila. ‘But at that time the music teachers were only men and girls were not allowed to be left alone in a room with a man,’ she explained. I also wanted to have a bicycle but I wasn’t allowed. It was a dream for me to be able to ride a bicycle.’

According to state run media in Iran, a decree was issue in 2016 declaring that, ‘riding a bicycle often attracts the attention of men and exposes the society to corruption and contravenes women’s chastity so it must be abandoned.’ Sexual harassment is a serious problem in Iran. Statistics on sexual harassment in Iran are difficult to find, most likely due to the conservative nature of the country. Talking about sexuality is generally not allowed and the culture of shame and stigma surrounding sexual assault and harassment, renders most of its victims silent.

One study conducted in Mazandaran Province however, showed that nearly 90% of women reported that they had experienced verbal sexual harassment and nearly 95% had suffered physical harassment.

In Baluchistan, the problem is particularly endemic. One of the poorest regions of Iran, it is culturally distinct from the rest of the country. Sunni’s as opposed to Shia, they share more cultural similarities with neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan than the rest of Iran. It also a region that has become known for being particularly difficult for women.

‘They’re wild here,’ explained Mahkan Jahandide, 34-year-old woman from the Baluch city of Zahedan, speaking about the men. ‘When I was young, going to school I was persistently sexually harassed. Now I don’t stay out past 10pm, there are men who follow you and say bad words, so it’s not safe. Even if you are in a car, it always happens. We can’t do anything.’

Two Iranian humanitarian workers Sara and Pegah, who moved to Zahedan for work, said that the sexual harassment in Zahedan was some of the worst that they had experienced. Sara said, ‘I have never experienced sexual harassment as bad I have here,’ she said. ‘The police are also harassing women.’ Pegah nodded her head in agreement. ‘The men try to say things to you or to touch you and nobody cares. They’ll blame you and say its because you’re wearing something colourful or because your clothes are too tight.’ 

Neda, a young woman from Zahedan explained that she went  everywhere in a car, just to avoid the sexual harassment. ‘One day I was standing on the side of the road and a man on a motorbike grabbed my ass so hard as he was coming past me. I was so afraid, I didn’t go outside for one week after that,’ she said shaking her head.
‘I called the police and they told me that it was my problem and that if I dressed better, then nobody would harass me,’ she said. ‘When I was younger I wore the Chador but still the men these things,’ she said. ‘Islam always talks about women and says that you should dress a certain way and you shouldn’t go out but this just gives men permission to do these things. This is Islam.’

Jahandide, agreed that discriminatory attitudes towards women in Iran give men permission to behave badly. ‘If you call the police then they’ll just ask what we’re you wearing. That’s the Iranian police. The boys hear them saying this and so they know that they won’t be punished.’ ‘The problem is our existence,’ said Fatima, a young English teacher from Qom. ‘They don’t want us to be a in a public space. They say that if you don’t want men to abuse you then you have to wear hijab in a good way. But if you go out in public, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, they will stare at you.’

For Neda, she also attributes many of the problems in Iran to religious ideas. ‘Some idiots in the past made these rules and men liked it and they named it Islam,’ she said. ‘I believe that Islam is a very violent, in the Quran it says that if a woman doesn’t pray enough you can beat her. I would prefer to be dead if these are going to be the rules, if this is going to be justice,’ she said. ‘These rules were made by Arabs in the past at the time when they were killing women. They were killing girls. Now they think that they have showed us mercy by not killing us anymore but they treat us like animals. They think that they can just throw us away. They believe that women are their property, they can
divorce them whenever they want,’ she said.

For one Balushi man living in Chabahar in Baluchistan, he agrees that the situation for women in Iran is not good. ‘Women are forced to wear the hijab and they don’t have the same rights as men. Women have to rely on men and the rules here don’t support women. When a woman gets divorced for example, she is alone,’ he said. ‘Some men are terrified of women having power,’ he explained. ‘They want to have more power so that they can control women. They want women to stay at home and raise children.’

For now the situation of women’s rights in Iran remains difficult. Much is needed to be done to improve the human rights situation in Iran, particularly the situation of women’s rights.

Project MonMa in Iran

Project Monma travelled to Iran to learn more about the situation of women’s rights in the country. We travelled through various parts of Iran speaking with different men and women about their perspectives on violence and discrimination against women and girls in the country.

Women and girls face widespread discrimination in Iran that is both normalized in daily social relations and in law. For example, according to Iranian law, the husband is the head of the family and his wife is legally bound to obey him. Article 1105 of the civil code states: ‘In relations between husband and wife, the position of the head of the family exclusively belongs to the husband.’

A married woman cannot leave the country without her husband’s permission. A woman’s testimony as a witness is worth half that of a man in compliance with the sharia basis of the legal system. In all public places, women must wear a hijab, headscarf, and loose fitting
clothing, usually the Chador or Manto is required. Polygamy and temporary marriage are permitted for men, up to four wives are
allowed, but not for women. Women are not even allowed to go to stadiums.

All of the women we met in Iran felt that the rules and restrictions they were subject to were unfair and they wanted to see them change. Leila, a woman living in Tehran said she wants to see her daughter grow up in a country that is more free and fair for women where she can make choices for herself. She also wants her daughter to be able to choose the clothes that she wears and make choices about where she goes and who she goes there with. 

‘I don’t want religion to be taught in school. I try to teach my daughter to not believe in these strict religious beliefs. I don’t mind if she chooses a religion but for sure it should not be Islam, she cannot ever be happy as a Muslim. I don’t want her to have to fear punishment. In school I was taught to be afraid,’ she said. ‘I also don’t want my daughter to be forced to cover. At school she has to start wearing the hijab when she is 7 and wearing it on the street when she is 9. I don’t like this. I don’t want her to be judged if she doesn’t want to cover her hair or for what she is wearing,’ she said.

Leila was arrested by the moral police as a young woman just for walking in the street with a male classmate. She was taken to a police station where she was subject to a forced virginity test and was made to sign many documents saying that she would not socialize with a man again. She has also been arrested by the moral police for wearing boots that were, ‘too sexy’. ‘They took photos of me like I was a criminal,’ she said.

The compulsory veiling and hijab rules in Iran have allowed police and
paramilitary forces to harass and detain women for showing strands of hair under their headscarves or for wearing heavy makeup or tight clothing. Women who have campaigned against the compulsory hijab have faced punishment including imprisonment.

Iran has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees people’s right to freedom of expression, to privacy and to freedom of religion. The compulsory veiling and strict dress codes are in direct contravention to this convention. Iran has been criticized by several United Nations independent experts for the rules that require wearing religious dress in public.

The enforcement of a compulsory dress code on women in Iran violates their rights to private life, personal autonomy and freedom of expression as well as to freedom of religion, thought and conscience. It is also a form of gender based discrimination prohibited under international law. Women are also subject to restrictions on basic daily activities, like singing and riding bicycles. 

‘I always wanted to play music,’ said Leila. ‘But at that time the music teachers were only men and girls were not allowed to be left alone in a room with a man,’ she explained. I also wanted to have a bicycle but I wasn’t allowed. It was a dream for me to be able to ride a bicycle.’

According to state run media in Iran, a decree was issue in 2016 declaring that, ‘riding a bicycle often attracts the attention of men and exposes the society to corruption and contravenes women’s chastity so it must be abandoned.’ Sexual harassment is a serious problem in Iran. Statistics on sexual harassment in Iran are difficult to find, most likely due to the conservative nature of the country. Talking about sexuality is generally not allowed and the culture of shame and stigma surrounding sexual assault and harassment, renders most of its victims silent.

One study conducted in Mazandaran Province however, showed that nearly 90% of women reported that they had experienced verbal sexual harassment and nearly 95% had suffered physical harassment. In Baluchistan, the problem is particularly endemic. One of the poorest regions of Iran, it is culturally distinct from the rest of the country. Sunni’s as opposed to Shia, they share more cultural similarities with neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan than the rest of Iran. It also a region that has become known for being particularly difficult for women.

‘They’re wild here,’ explained Mahkan Jahandide, 34-year-old woman from the Baluch city of Zahedan, speaking about the men. ‘When I was young, going to school I was persistently sexually harassed. Now I don’t stay out past 10pm, there are men who follow you and say bad words, so it’s not safe. Even if you are in a car, it always happens. We can’t do anything.’

Two Iranian humanitarian workers Sara and Pegah, who moved to Zahedan for work, said that the sexual harassment in Zahedan was some of the worst that they had experienced. Sara said, ‘I have never experienced sexual harassment as bad I have here,’ she said. ‘The police are also harassing women.’ Pegah nodded her head in agreement. ‘The men try to say things to you or to touch you and nobody cares. They’ll blame you and say its because you’re wearing something colourful or because your clothes are too tight.’

Neda, a young woman from Zahedan explained that she went everywhere in a car, just to avoid the sexual harassment. ‘One day I was standing on the side of the road and a man on a motorbike grabbed my ass so hard as he was coming past me. I was so afraid, I didn’t go outside for one week after that,’ she said shaking her head. ‘I called the police and they told me that it was my problem and that if I dressed better, then nobody would harass me,’ she said. ‘When I was younger I wore the Chador but still the men these things,’ she said. ‘Islam always talks about women and says that you should dress a certain way and you shouldn’t go out but this just gives men permission to do these things. This is Islam.’

Jahandide, agreed that discriminatory attitudes towards women in Iran give men permission to behave badly. ‘If you call the police then they’ll just ask what we’re you wearing. That’s the Iranian police. The boys hear them saying this and so they know that they won’t be punished.’ ‘The problem is our existence,’ said Fatima, a young English teacher from Qom. ‘They don’t want us to be a in a public space. They say that if you don’t want men to abuse you then you have to wear hijab in a good way. But if you go out in public, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, they will stare at you.’

For Neda, she also attributes many of the problems in Iran to religious ideas. ‘Some idiots in the past made these rules and men liked it and they named it Islam,’ she said. ‘I believe that Islam is a very violent, in the Quran it says that if a woman doesn’t pray enough you can beat her. I would prefer to be dead if these are going to be the rules, if this is going to be justice,’ she said. ‘These rules were made by Arabs in the past at the time when they were killing women. They were killing girls. Now they think that they have showed us mercy by not killing us anymore but they treat us like animals. They think that they can just throw us away. They believe that women are their property, they can
divorce them whenever they want,’ she said.

For one Balushi man living in Chabahar in Baluchistan, he agrees that the situation for women in Iran is not good. ‘Women are forced to wear the hijab and they don’t have the same rights as men. Women have to rely on men and the rules here don’t support women. When a woman gets divorced for example, she is alone,’ he said. ‘Some men are terrified of women having power,’ he explained. ‘They want to have more power so that they can control women. They want women to stay at home and raise children.’

For now the situation of women’s rights in Iran remains difficult. Much is needed to be done to improve the human rights situation in Iran, particularly the situation of women’s rights.

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