Iranian Female Politicians Speak Out Against Conservative Rival’s Male Chauvinist Views
Several female politicians in Iran have criticized a conservative colleague for attempting to smear a bill proposed by the Rouhani government that aims to reduce domestic violence in the Islamic Republic.
“This bill defends prostitutes rather than chaste, oppressed women,” wrote Zahra Ayatollahi, the head of the Women’s Cultural and Social Council, in an op-ed in the conservative Kayhan newspaper on December 24, 2017.
“You can predict where our Islamic traditional society will end up: in the same swamp that brought the downfall of the West,” she added.
The Women’s Cultural and Social Council is a branch of the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council controlled by the country’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.
“Experience has shown that the best way to protect women is by letting the man of the family be in charge of their protection,” wrote Ayatollahi. “Fathers, husbands, brothers, grandfathers, father-in-laws, and the like have the strength to defend women.”
According to a study presented at a conference hosted by the non-governmental Imam Ali Foundation on “Violence Against Women in Peripheral Families” in May 2017 in Tehran, 32 percent of Iranian women in urban areas and 63 percent in rural areas have experienced some form of domestic violence.
In her op-ed, Ayatollahi also accused the government of centrist President Hassan Rouhani of injecting Western concepts into the bill from UNESCO’s 2030 Agenda educational guidelines.
President Hassan Rouhani had planned to implement the guidelines until Khamenei voiced his adamant opposition in 2017.
The anti-domestic-violence bill, which was introduced by the Rouhani government, is currently under deliberation in parliamentary committees. Its details have not yet been made public, but conservatives began attacking it the moment they heard about it.
“If this bill is passed, no man will dare get married, not even if he was Rostam [the mythical Iranian superman],” wrote Ayatollahi in her op-ed.
The Vice President’s Office for Women and Family Affairs issued a statement on December 26 rejecting Ayatollahi’s claims.
“The bill for the protection of women against violence, which was initially drafted by the government after 2013 with input from distinguished academics and high-ranking judges, is in its final stages,” said the statement. “Surely the dozens of committed Muslim experts and jurists who worked on it can distinguish between what is Islamic and what is Western.”
“The author’s claim regarding the use of Western concepts is not true,” added the statement. “We find these statements regrettable and reserve the right to counter any insults and slander.”
“Human Beings With Rights”
The leader of the women’s block in Parliament, reformist MP Parvaneh Salahshouri, criticized Ayatollahi for refusing to recognize the needs of abused and exploited women.
“When you read her comments against the bill for the protection of women, it is as if they are coming from a violent man who hates women,” said Salahshouri in an interview with the semi-official Borna News Agency on December 26.
“What should a woman do if she is treated violently by her husband, her father, or her brother?” wrote Salahshouri. “What should she do if they force her into prostitution?”
“There have been many cases of women coming to me and saying they were raped by their drug-addicted father or brother and forced into prostitution,” she added. “Can we expect the father to protect her?”
The lawmaker continued, “We must avoid political judgments and look at women as human beings with rights.”
Other female politicians voiced similar responses to Ayatollahi via social media.
“It is not just men who commit violence against women,” tweeted reformist MP Fatemeh Saeidi. “Sometimes women say things that are completely against women’s demands and feelings.”
“I hope reasonable men who care about women will take a stand as well,” she said on December 26.
According to reformist MP Tayebeh Siavashi, “The bill banning domestic violence is the least we can do as lawmakers to protect women. We are shocked by Zahra Ayatollahi’s statements. We will look into this matter in the women’s parliamentary block.”
Male television scriptwriter Mehrab Ghasemkhani supported the female MPs by contributing a sarcastic remark to the discussion on Twitter, “Laws are just Western nonsense. Women should belong to men. Men should pull out knives to protect their honor [women].”
Female journalist Amene Shirafkan tweeted, “It seems like this woman [Ayatollahi] has no understanding of even one percent of society’s realities. It is a shame that public money goes into the pockets of incompetent managers.”
In her op-ed, Ayatollahi echoed the views of conservative male politicians.
“This proposal has some 100 articles, 70 of which describe situations with criminal implications,” said the judiciary’s assistant for legal affairs, Zabihollah Khodaian, on August 24, 2017. “They impose prison sentences for every little tension between couples.”
“We should not be putting everyone in jail for making mistakes, including husbands and wives who get into fights,” he added.