Low Female Participation Rate in Iranian Elections Symptom of Gender Inequality
The low number of female participants in Iranian elections is an indicator of inequality in the political, social and cultural fabric of the country, women’s rights advocate Nahid Tavasoli told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Speaking from Tehran, the editor-in-chief of Nafe, an academic women’s periodical, said Iranian women are denied many rights as citizens that affect their participation rate in politics.
“Women in villages work from dawn to dusk and carry out tough tasks, sometimes even tougher than men’s work,” she said.
“Sometimes, the situation in Iran seems completely paradoxical,” said Tavasoli. “On the one hand, women can take part in various political activities, but only with certain restricting conditions. For instance, to become president, a women should be a proven ‘political personality.’”
“In other words, her political knowledge should equal that of men,” she said. “There are many women with that qualification, but in practice, they have never been given the opportunity to prove themselves.”
On May 19, 2017, Iranians will head to the polls to elect their next president and their city and village councils.
“There are fewer red lines and obstacles to cross in running for a seat in the council elections, and I’m surprised so few women registered to become candidates,” she added.
Unlike registrants for president or Parliament, council seat applicants do not require the approval of the Guardian Council, an unelected, 12-member body that vets candidates.
Figures released by Iran’s official Election Headquarters show 17,885, or just 6.3 percent of the total local elections registrants (287,425) were women. That number is up about 1 percent compared to the previous elections in 2013 (5.4 percent).
“For women, having a presence in public means they can participate in politics,” said Tavasoli. “That’s the most basic right of every citizen, which cannot be taken away so easily. That would be completely unacceptable.”
Tavasoli also told CHRI that women bear equal responsibility for their low participation rate in politics.
“If we take a serious look at the fight for our legitimate rights, women’s indifference and lack of knowledge are responsible for half the problems,” she said. “I put the ball in women’s court because, unlike the early years after the 1979 revolution, today we have the chance to create solidarity and build foundations to realize our rights.”
“But instead of building civil society institutions, we have spent most of our energy on individual efforts to get into politics, business or social and cultural fields,” she added.
According to Tavasoli, women must work together to improve national gender equality.
“Inevitably, changing cultural norms should begin with women in the cities using their resources to raise awareness in the provincial towns and villages where women have not been educated about their basic human rights to be able to realize their potentials,” she said.
“Some of the women candidates (in the local elections) are from an elite class of experienced political and social activists, or they are the wives and relatives of ruling officials,” said Tavasoli.
“However, the more significant class of candidates is in smaller cities and villages, and it would be interesting to find out if these women were encouraged to sign up by family and friends, or if they were socially and politically mature enough to want to fight for equal rights,” she added.
“In any case, we should note that women’s participation in the elections or their presence on the political and social stage does not mean they have achieved equality with men in these areas,” she said.
The country’s official Election Headquarters director Ali-Asghar Ahmadi has announced that out of the 1,636 people who registered to become presidential candidates, 137 were women.
According to Article 115 of Iran’s Constitution, the president must be elected “from among religious and political personalities.” However, no female applicant has ever been deemed to have that qualification by the Guardian Council in the Islamic Republic’s previous 11 presidential elections.
On April 14, prominent political activist Azam Taleghani registered for the third time for the presidential election for this year’s vote.
“The Guardian Council has never presented its argument for rejecting the qualifications of women candidates,” she told CHRI in an interview. “It has never explicitly stated that women have been disqualified for being women.”
“The council’s position has not been completely negative,” she added. “It has the capacity to accept women’s participation by presenting a different and correct interpretation of the Constitution.”
In response to questions on the status of women in the presidential elections, Guardian Council spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodaie pledged on January 12, 2017 that the Council would clarify its position on Article 115 before the May 19 election.
To date, no announcement has been made.