‘Iran’s authorities are trampling all over the fundamental rights of women - even the marital bed is not out of bounds’ - Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui
Amnesty International has warned that the Iranian authorities are trying to turn women in Iran into “baby-making machines” with two proposed new laws.
Women in Iran could face significant restrictions over their access to contraceptives and be further excluded from the labour market unless they have had a child if the two laws are approved, said Amnesty International as it published a new report on Iran today (13 March).
Amnesty’s 45-page report, You Shall Procreate: Attacks on women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Iran, details the extreme lengths to which the Iranian authorities are currently going in order to encourage repeated childbearing in a misguided attempt to boost the country’s declining population figures.
The first of the proposed laws - the Bill to Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline (Bill 446) - outlaws voluntary sterilisation (believed to be the second-most common method of modern contraception in Iran) and blocks access to information about contraception. Three years ago Iran’s state-funded family planning programme was scrapped and Amnesty believes the new law would result in greater numbers of unwanted pregnancies, forcing more women to seek illegal and dangerously unsafe abortions.
Meanwhile, the Comprehensive Population and Exaltation of Family Bill (Bill 315), due to be discussed in parliament next month, would further entrench gender-based discrimination in Iran, particularly against women who choose not to or are unable to marry or have children. When hiring staff for certain jobs, the bill instructs all private and public entities to prioritise, in sequence, men with children, married men without children and married women with children, It also makes divorce more difficult and discourages police and judicial intervention in family disputes, thereby increasing the risk of domestic violence. Bill 315 would also incentivise judges to rule against divorce by offering them bonuses based on how many of their cases result in marital reconciliation. The bill was passed in parliament with an overwhelming majority in August and is undergoing amendments as recommended by the Guardian Council, a body which needs to approve it before it can become law.
Women’s rights activists in Iran have opposed the proposed laws. Painter and activist Atena Farghadani, 26, has been detained for over two months in relation to her campaigning activities, including an illustration she posted to Facebook depicting members of the Iranian parliament debating Bill 446. Farghadani, whom Amnesty considers a prisoner of conscience, has recently been hospitalised after a three-week hunger strike.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“The proposed laws will entrench discriminatory practices and set the rights of women and girls in Iran back by decades.
“The authorities are promoting a dangerous culture in which women are stripped of key rights and viewed as baby-making machines rather than human beings with fundamental rights to make choices about their own bodies and lives.
“In their zealous quest to project an image of military might and geopolitical strength by attempting to increase birth rates, Iran’s authorities are trampling all over the fundamental rights of women - even the marital bed is not out of bounds.
“The authorities already seek to control what Iranian women wear, where they work and what they study. Now they are interfering with their private lives by seeking to control their bodies and tell them how many children to have.”
Discrimination already rife
Despite claims by the Iranian authorities, including statements by President Hassan Rouhani that men and women in Iran are treated equally, this is far from the truth. Sexual violence and discrimination against women in Iran is rife, and women are denied equal rights over marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, travel and even their choice of clothing.
Iran’s Penal Code penalises women and girls as young as nine who fail to cover their hair with a headscarf or comply with compulsory dress codes. These laws are regularly used by the police to harass and detain women for their appearance and clothing. Meanwhile, Iran’s Civil Code specifies that a woman is not entitled to spousal maintenance if she refuses to comply with the “duties of marriage”, which can include refusing to have sex with her husband or leaving the house without permission.
A woman’s testimony in court in Iran is valued at half that of a man and reparations paid for killing or causing injury to a woman are half those payable in the case of a man. The age of criminal responsibility for girls is just under nine, but just under 15 for a boy. Rape within marriage and domestic violence are not recognised as criminal offences. Early and forced marriages are common, with 41,226 married girls between the ages of ten and 14, according to the 2013-14 annual report by the National Organisation for Civil Registration, and at least 201 girls married under the age of ten. At some universities women are barred from studying certain subjects, ranging from engineering to English Literature, as a result of quotas that seek to reverse advances made in the number and proportion of female university students. Women also face restrictions over attending sporting fixtures in public stadiums.
Under Iran’s Civil Code women seeking a divorce need to prove they are facing “unbearable hardship”, while men can divorce without giving a reason. Men also have the exclusive right to have at least two permanent wives in polygamous marriages and as many wives as they wish in “temporary” (sigheh) marriages.
You Shall Procreate is part of Amnesty’s global My Body My Rights campaign aiming to stop government control and criminalisation of sexuality and reproduction.