Iranian Regime Erases Progress on Women’s Rights

   •    March 8, 2006

This article was originally published by The Washington Times.

Despite International Women’s Day celebrations today, women in Iran still struggle for basic rights. The country’s conservative authorities forbid women from simple activities such as watching the World Cup qualifying soccer game live in a stadium. More prominent are restrictions on their legal and civil rights. Women in Iran can inherit only half as much of their parents’ wealth as their brothers. Their husbands can marry more than one woman, and automatically get custody of children after a divorce. Women can be jailed or hanged for defying the dress code, and they can be stoned to death for adultery.

Since the 1979 overthrow of the Shah, the fundamentalist governments dominated by clerics have stressed the traditional role of women and restricted their civil rights and participation in political activities.

“The changes of women’s conditions are very minor, only about surface things. But the limitations on basic rights and the legislation infrastructure haven’t been changed at all,” said Mahnaz Afkhami, president of Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development and Peace, a nongovernmental organization based in Washington.

Iranian women are better-educated and more politically sophisticated than many of their Muslim neighbors. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization reports that the literacy rate of Iranian women is 70 percent, compared with an average 46.2 percent in the Middle East.

A large number of Iranian women hold professional jobs in journalism, medicine or law, or become human-rights activists. Up to 70 percent of university students in Iran are female, said Swanee Hunt, director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

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