To many westerners, it may seem that women are strongly discriminated against in Iran today. While it is true that in modern day Iran the law is still slanted in favor of men, it is also important to understand that Iranian women do participate more actively in society than in the majority of Islamic countries. Additionally, Iranian women are better educated than most other Islamic women. All in all, conditions for women in Iran are gradually improving today.
Why do women in Iran face the restrictions that they do?
Under the current Iranian constitution, which was adopted after the revolution in 1979, women are not considered equal to men. Even with their relative freedom, women in Iran are legally considered as half a human, in much the same way African Americans were once legally considered 3/5ths a human. For this reason, a woman’s testimony in court is only considered to carry half the weight of a man’s. Upon a man’s death, his son automatically inherits twice the amount of his daughter. If a man is accidentally killed, compensation for his death would be two times greater than that provided for the accidental death of a woman.
How are these laws determined?
According to Iran’s constitution, the legal code must adhere to the Islamic moral code, known as Sharia law. This code is based in the Islamic holy book, the Koran, and it is mandated that all laws be based on this criteria. This means that every aspect of life must be shaped in accordance with the Koran, including laws governing the economy and finances, cultural expression, politics, the military, administrative, penal and civil codes and indeed all regulations and laws.
The Koran and The Old Testament are very similar in many ways, and the terms of Sharia law are often quite harsh. They include the stoning to death of women who have been found guilty of adultery and public lashings as punishment for a variety of offenses.
Just as in the Koran, men may have multiple wives. Islamic men are allowed to keep four wives, and they may choose to marry women who are not Islamic. A woman can have only one husband, and he must be Islamic. Men are allowed to divorce their wives as they see fit; however, a woman must have extreme justification for divorce.
How are women in Iran better off than women in other Islamic countries?
Even with this state of inequality, the women of Iran experience quite a bit more freedom than women in Saudi Arabia. One example of this is the fact that women in Saudi Arabia cannot hold a public office. Furthermore, they may not attend university or even drive a car.
Iranian women, on the other hand, are allowed to hold public office. They may also attend university, and in fact, sixty five percent of students currently attending university are female. Additionally, women in Iran are allowed to drive a car, and some Iranian women even make a living as taxi drivers. Not only that, women hold other non-traditional positions in Iran as evidenced by the fact that one unique Tehranian fire department is composed entirely of women.
Iranian women also experience somewhat greater freedom in dress. While most Islamic women must cover their hair and their faces, Iranian women are required only to keep their hair covered. Indeed, the all woman fire brigade must wear hijab beneath their fire helmets.
Will Iranian women ever enjoy full equality?
Because of the requirements of Sharia law, it may seem that women will never enjoy equal rights in Iran. It is important when considering this issue to realize that, even in the most forward thinking nations, women worldwide do not generally have full, equal rights. For this reason, it is important to view this matter in a pragmatic way. Inasmuch as women the world over have quite a way to go to attain full equality, the hope that Iranian women would gain it any time soon is quite impractical.
Be that as it may, many experts point out that the relative freedoms the women of Iran now enjoy are a vast improvement over circumstances of the past. It is important to remember that it can take a very long time to change tradition; however, there is hope that in the future, the laws in Iran will become more flexible and provide women with a better quality of life and greater equality.