When Iran was elected by the UN Economic and Social Council to its Commission on the Status of Women, concerns were raised about the kind of message the international organization was sending to the world.
Since the commission’s job is the global promotion of equality and women’s empowerment, the minimum requirement for membership should be respect for women and their right to make their own decisions. As a woman who was born and raised in the Middle East and has spent most of her adult life fighting for women’s rights in this troubled region, I was insulted and flabbergasted by this outrageous move, given Iran’s poor record in that area and many others.
To empower women in any country, its government needs to change and improve the circumstances of their lives to provide them with the right opportunities and tools to improve their own living standards and make informed choices. Is this how the women of the Islamic Republic of Iran are being treated by their own government?
Last week the US State Department published its 2020 report on human rights in Iran. It highlighted the dire struggle of Iranian women who live at the mercy of a misogynistic regime that does not recognize human rights in the first place.
According to the report, domestic violence is not prohibited by Iranian laws; domestic abuse is considered a private matter, and seldom discussed publicly. Because the law gives men in Iran the ultimate power over their wives, sisters and daughters, and the freedom to do whatever they see fit to physically punish women, it is impossible to estimate the number of victims of domestic violence.
“Most rape victims likely did not report the crime because they feared official retaliation or punishment for having been raped, including charges of indecency, immoral behavior, or adultery, the last in which conviction carries the death penalty. Rape victims also feared societal reprisal or ostracism,” the report said, pointing out that about 80 percent of rape cases went unreported.
Living under one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, how is it possible for Iranian girls to dream of a bright future filled with possibilities? How could anyone convince a young Iranian girl that when she grows up she can be whoever she wants, do anything she desires, and achieve all the dreams in the world, while this same girl can see fear in her mother’s eyes?
The regime that was elected by 43 nations to be a global guardian of women’s rights and equality for four years has been gradually stripping its own women of their rights for over 40 years. Although female education was one of the priorities in Iran during the secular rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi, nearly a century later female university students in Iran are banned from studying some subjects, including English literature and — no surprise — human rights.
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