Women's rights at risk in Iran: learning about the reality at the Houses of Parliament

In May, human rights defender Narges Mohammadi was arrested in Iran. Though she has poor health and doctors have said that she is too ill to be in jail, she remains at Tehran’s Evin Prison.

On 14 July, I joined rights activists and civil society representatives at the Houses of Parliament to show support for Narges and other women in Iran.

My first experience at the British Parliament couldn’t have been more exciting.

We were taken on a fabulous tour of the floors of the Houses of Commons and of Lords, guided by Professor The Baroness Afshar. While learning about British history, we were slowly getting excited about our next programme: the speaker event.

We were heading to the marvellous River Room, waiting to be joined by a room full of people to take part in a fantastic day with really inspiring speakers – including prominent human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr Shirin Ebadi – who filled us in on women’s fight for gender equality in Iran.

The event kicked off with the welcoming words of Baroness Afshar and my short introduction to Amnesty International UK’s work on Iran.

Demanding Equality

Dr Shirin Ebadi gave us a great insight into the stringent restrictions imposed on women’s daily lives in Iran through discriminatory laws and practices, including the fact that a woman’s testimony at court is valued at half that of a man.

Her speech was full of energy and reproach against the 1979 Revolution and the policies of Islamic Republic. She said that: “The Islamic revolution was a revolution of men against women.”

She argued that during the Revolution women lost all the rights they had gained in the preceding years. Although 46 years have passed, the situation of women in the country is getting worse and their rights are shrinking day by day.

Right now, she explained, around 50 women activists are held in prisons across the country, mostly because of their peaceful fight against inequality. They are kept in harsh conditions, often in solitary confinement for months and without adequate medical care.

Dr Ebadi also spoke movingly about Narges Mohammadi, who was her colleague and a co-founder of her NGO, the Human Rights Defenders Centre, and who I blogged about last month.

Briefly released due to ill health, Narges Mohammadi was recently rearrested and is serving the remaining prison term received as a result of her peaceful human rights activism.

Dr Ebadi made it clear that Narges is still too ill to be in jail, and encouraged us all to call for her immediate release, and that of other prisoners of conscience in Iran.

Refusing to become “baby-making machines”

To end the evening, we heard from our researcher Raha Bahreini. She talked about Iran’s very recent arrests of two human rights defenders, Atena Farghadani and Atena Daemi.

Raha also said that the Iranian government is in the process of introducing two bills that pose further danger to women’s rights in the country – part of a misguided plan to increase the country’s population growth. These laws would turn the clock back hundreds of years.

One of these bills would restrict women’s access to contraception and block access to information about contraceptive methods. Here at Amnesty International we fear that this new law would result in a greater number of unwanted pregnancies, forcing more women to seek illegal and unsafe abortions.

The second bill plans to further exclude women from the labour market, make divorce difficult and deter police and judiciary from intervening in family disputes – thereby increasing women’s exposure to domestic violence.

Raha explained that the regime’s current policies foreshadow a future in which women would face increased inequality, discrimination and poor health.

Take action for human rights in Iran

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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