Amnesty International’s submission to the Commission on the Status of Women regarding concerns about the harassment and imprisonment of women, including rights defenders and members of minorities, in Iran
Women in Iran face widespread discrimination under the law. They are excluded from key areas of the state – although they can be appointed as assistant judges, they cannot, for example, head a court, nor stand for the Presidency. They do not have equal rights with men in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. Criminal harm suffered by a woman is less severely punished than the same harm suffered by a man. Evidence given by women in court is held under Iranian law to be worth half that given by a man. Although the legal age for marriage is 13, fathers can apply for permission to arrange that their daughters are married at a younger age – and to men much older than their daughters. Men are allowed to practice polygamy, women are not. Men have an incontestable right in law to divorce their spouse. Women do not.
However, the women’s movement in its various strands is one of the most dynamic parts of civil society in Iran. Many Iranian women – who are often highly educated, as women make up over 60 per cent of university entrants - are no longer prepared to sit back and allow blatant discrimination against women to continue unchallenged.
In recent years, Iranian women’s rights defenders – including those associated with the One Million Signatures Campaign (a grassroots network which aims to collect a million signatures of Iranians demanding an end to discrimination against women in Iranian law) and the Women’s Field network - have courageously campaigned for an end to legal discrimination against women. Their efforts are viewed with suspicion by Iranian government authorities, who have launched a campaign of intimidation and repression against them, consisting of a wide range of violations from threats, travel bans and obstruction of their lawful work, to arbitrary arrest, torture or other ill-treatment, unfair trial (sometimes leading to harsh prison sentences) and denial of adequate medical treatmenti. For example, people participating in peaceful demonstrations in 2005 and 2006 against discriminatory legislation were forcibly dispersed. At the 2006 demonstration, at least 70 people were arrested, some of whom were beaten. In March 2007, 33 women were arrested following a peaceful gathering of women outside the courtroom where five women were on trial in connection with the 2006 demonstration. Many of the women arrested on these occasions have been tried. Some have been acquitted, but others have been sentenced to prison terms, and flogging. In recent years, and particularly after the disputed presidential election of 2009, the authorities have accused the women’s movement of being part of a “soft revolution” aimed at overthrowing the state, which activists deny.