Iran’s court has sentenced Reyhaneh Jabbari to death for the 2007 killing of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, who was a former employee of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Jabbari was acting in self-defense against Sarbandi, who attempted to rape her, and she never received a fair trial and due legal process.
According to testimony of “reliable sources” and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sarbandi hired the 19-year-old Jabbari, an interior designer, to work in his office. While Sarbandi was attempting to sexually harass and rape Jabbari, a struggle began, and she stabbed him.
Therefore, Jabbari was sentenced to death for her action under the Islamic judiciary system of Iran. Why would a young professional woman be executed for defending herself against unwelcome actions from her superior, a sexual abuser?
The profound irony, and the peak of the Islamic Republic’s hypocrisy, became clear this week in a speech marking Women’s Day, when Iranian president Hassan Rouhani made international headlines by condemning any form of sexual discrimination and advocating for equal opportunities and rights for women.
According to Fars News, while speaking at the National Forum on Women Shaping Economy and Culture in Tehran Rouhani pointed out, “We will not accept the culture of sexual discrimination.”
The liberal and mainstream media took these remarks as promoting and projecting a democratic and humane image of the Iranian president.
According to the 104-page UN report and UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran Ahmed Shaheed, the number of executions of women and the number of prisoners on death row has increased under President Rouhani’s rule.
Beyond these sweet remarks, President Rouhani did not even scratch the surface of women’s rights regarding the actual day-to-day discrimination that women face in the Islamic Republic. He solely commented on investing in electronic technology and marketing to lay the ground for women’s scientific progress.
In other words, there was no tangible, legitimate, or nuanced explanation about how to address the institutionalized discrimination against women or how secure equality for them.
For example, he did not mention practical solutions for ongoing gender inequality in terms of marriage and divorce, citizenship rights, nationality, international travel, employment, inheritance, child custody, among other things.
Many Iranian women activists who live in the Islamic Republic, and several of those campaigners whom I have interviewed, shed light on a different reality for women rights under Rouhani’s presidency.
Many women voted for Rouhani due to his promises for social freedom, gender equality, and for being a moderate candidate. Nevertheless, as Sima, an Iranian teacher and women’s rights activist who lives west of Tehran in the city of Karaj, stated,
“President Rouhani has been successful in making a nuclear deal and resolving some of the tension regarding nuclear issues, but the reality is that women’s conditions have not changed. The conditions are still the same as those of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s era.”
In mid-2013, based on a ruling passed by the constitutional body in the Islamic Republic, women are banned from running in presidential elections. A recent university policy excluded women from entering 77 courses of study. These are only few examples of recent laws being passed.
Some might make the argument that Iranian women are serving in the parliament or that President Rouhani has three female vice presidents (Elham Amin-Zadeh, Shahindokht Molaverdi, and Masoumeh Ebtekar). However, we need to comprehend the fact that a handful of carefully selected women does not represent the conditions that millions of other disenfranchised women in the Islamic Republic face. According to the World Bank, the female population in Iran (last measured in 2011) is roughly 49.54 percent, approximately 38.1 million people.
The contradictory messages from the Islamic Republic intriguingly come from top officials and from within the system. While President Rouhani has rhetorically urged for gender equality and promotions of women’s rights, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pointed out in comments this week that gender equality is “one of the biggest mistakes of the Western thought.”
For the Supreme Leader, women’s rights and employments are acceptable as long as these rights do not come in conflict with “the main issue” of family. In other words, from the Iranian hardliners and conservatives’ point of view, based on underlying ideological biases, women’s primary role in society is the fulfillment of the “family environment and household.”
Rouhani’s message and position should not be analyzed as a reversal or a renegade move vis-à-vis the hardliners. Rouhani’s social base is the moderate, pragmatic section of the society and the millions of women who voted for him. This social base will be needed for Rouhani to run for reelections in a few years.
The likelihood of any positive shift in women’s rights is close to zero due to the institutionalized, unfair process in Iran’s judiciary system, Islamic and Sharia law, the fundamental ideological commonalities among moderates and hardliners when it comes to women’s critical rights, as well as the power of the Basij, the moral police, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and other governmental hardliner forces in enforcing the law.
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