Women, Islam & Equality

The National Council of Resistance of Iran Foreign Affairs Committee

A publication of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Correspondence address: B.P. 18, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise, France

Chapter Two - Prime Victims

Equality does not take precedence over justice... Justice does not mean that all laws must be the same for men and women. One of the mistakes that Westerners make is to forget this.... The difference in the stature, vitality, voice, development, muscular quality and physical strength of men and women shows that men are stronger and more capable in all fields... Men's brains are larger.... Men incline toward reasoning and rationalism while women basically tend to be emotional... These differences affect the delegation of responsibilities, duties and rights.
Hashemi Rafsanjani, June 7, 1986(1)

The revolution of 1979 marked the end of an era for Iran. After 2,500 years, the monarchy had been abolished. A new era of freedom, the people believed, had dawned, and they would at last live under a system which reflected both their aspirations for modern democracy and their national heritage. But all too soon, the dream became a nightmare, with the return of dictatorship, this time under the guise of religion. Within two years, the Velayat-e Faqih (absolute rule of the jurisprudent) regime installed by Khomeini had monopolized all power, imposing its medieval world view on the society through a reign of terror. Political dissidents were arrested, tortured and executed. Non-conformists and minorities were persecuted. A devastating war took one million lives, and destroyed 3,000 villages. The feeble economic infrastructure created under the shah collapsed, and living conditions went from bad, to worse, to intolerable.

This medieval theocracy's first and foremost victims have been women. Khomeini and his heirs view women as sub-human, and deny their fundamental rights. Indeed, misogyny is the underpinning of the velayat-e faqih mentality. Under the mullahs' rule, discrimination against women was institutionalized, and violence against them became the norm. In every aspect of life, women were doubly oppressed. The economy was no exception.

Prime Victims of Poverty

The economic crisis permeating Iranian society has persisted for several years. Of late, however, after 17 years of clerical rule, the catastrophe has reached explosive proportions. Inflation is running at 100%. The regime is faced with a 50 billion dollar foreign debt. Eighty percent of the Iranian population now lives below the poverty line. According to The Times, June 6, 1992, seventy percent of the population lives in absolute poverty, earning less than $1 a day.

While poverty affects households as a whole, because of gender-based discrimination, Iranian women bear the brunt of the burden. Their plight is aggravated by an unjust legal system, which deprives women of their share of capital earned during marriage; the absence of a social welfare system geared to their needs; and a lack of economic opportunities. This situation has had grave consequences for the society. Infanticide and abandonment of children by mothers crushed under the weight of severe poverty have become common in today's Iran.

According to the state-controlled daily, Abrar, on September 8, 1987: "A woman entered Aburayhan clinic at Vali-Asr Avenue in Tehran at noon yesterday and asked the clinic clerks for powdered baby milk. She was given no milk because she had no coupons. Subsequently, she abandoned her baby son there and left the clinic." In December 1992, in Tehran, a mother abandoned her four-month-old infant in Shoosh Square. A note found on the child read: "I feel ashamed before God, but had no other choice." The head of a hospital ward said during an interview with the state television: "Most of the infants who are abandoned and brought to our ward have had significant portions of their bodies bit by insects and other animals. Some of them were found in trash cans; others were abandoned in cemeteries." Jomhouri Islami reported on August 20, 1993, that a mother killed her three sons, aged eight, six and four. Ressalat reported on November 18, 1992, that a mother stabbed her eight-year-old twins in Tehran.

Persistent and chronic poverty among women has forced multitudes into begging or pick-pocketing. According to Kayhan on September 30, 1989, the head of the Organization for Rehabilitation said: "Some of the women beggars whom we were about to arrest thanked us and insisted that we arrest them. One of them said, `Our neighbor sent his wife to beg, so my husband has forced me to do the same.'" In September 1991, 70 women were arrested in Tehran for begging. One, age 43 and a mother of four, said that her husband was a laborer and that his salary was not sufficient to keep the family alive. The Iranian dailies abound in stories of women whose belongings have been thrown into streets, and who live on street corners due to extreme poverty. These women's plight is exacerbated by the lack of provisions or institutions to look after their welfare.

Brutalizing Dissident Women

As stated in the Draft Platform For Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women, "Violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace. Violence against women both violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of their universal human rights and fundamental freedoms."

In discussing the rights and freedoms of women, it is often correctly observed that the emancipation of women is one of the most obvious indicators of the development of a country. Of course, the reverse also holds true: widespread discrimination and prejudice against women indicate how backward the ruling system is.

On February 3, 1984, Khomeini said: "Killing is a form of mercy because it rectifies the person. Sometimes a person cannot be reformed unless he is cut up and burnt....You must kill, burn and lock up those in opposition." To survive, the clerical rulers must kill the thirst for freedom in all human beings, or they will reject its monopoly on power. With its cruel massacres, stoning and hangings in public, the regime wants to instill despair in the lives of all Iranians. For this reason, 100,000 Iranians, among them tens of thousands of women, have been executed and another 150,000 have been incarcerated, and subjected to 74 forms of physical and psychological tortures.

While no sector of Iranian society is immune to the mullahs' oppression, the sharpest edge of this misogynous rule's savagery is directed at Iranian women.

The clerics have systematically launched one crackdown after another on women, arresting, beating, flogging and torturing tens of thousands on the pretext of combating mal-veiling, enjoining good and prohibiting vice. This terror is extended into every household through severe restrictions on women, and vicious punishments for infractions. Regardless of economic or educational level, ethnic or religious background, political or personal outlook, no Iranian family can escape the pervasive threat of violence to its female members.

As the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women reported on November 22, 1994, certain practices and sanctions "which are violent towards women are justified by special legislation. The public stoning and lashing of women serve to institutionalize violence against women."

Violence against women is the only sphere where there is no discrimination between men and women. If anything, there is a policy of reverse discrimination, and women are treated more viciously. The mullahs show a particular vengeance towards women who become politically active and join the resistance. Tens of thousands have been arrested on political charges and severely tortured and executed. Many have died under torture. One method is particularly revealing: the Pasdaran (Guards Corps) fire a single bullet into the womb of the condemned women political prisoners, leaving them to bleed to death in a slow process of excruciating pain. Even pregnant women have not been spared. Hundreds, including Massoumeh Qajar-Azdanloo, Azar Reza'i, Zahra Nozari, Nayyereh Khosravi and Parvin Mostofi, have been executed with their unborn children.

The Iranian regime is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. According to article 6 of the Covenant, the execution of individuals under the age of 18 as well as pregnant women is prohibited.

Disregarding their international commitments, the mullahs have shown no qualms about executing women of all ages; from 13-year-old adolescents like Fatemeh Mesbah, Maryam Ghodsi-Maab, 16; Ezzat Mesbah, 15; Mojgan Jamshidi, 14; and Nooshin Emami, 16; to 70-year-old grandmothers like Ettesamossadat Karbasi; Arasteh Qolivand, 56; Soqra Davari, 54; and Massoumeh Shadmani, 50.

Maryam Ghodsi-Mo'ab, a 16-year-old high school student activist, was arrested and went through extreme torture in the southern city of Ahwaz. She was executed on October 1981. Her burial permit read:

Islamic Republic of Iran Coroner's Office "Burial Permit" This document, authorizes the burial of Maryam, daughter of Mohammad Kazem Ghodsi-Mo'ab, aged 16, whose death on 7th October 1981 resulted from eight bullets entering her chest, eight her back and one her head. (Executed by the Revolutionary Court.) Coroner- Dr. Pazhuheshi

Sediqeh Sadeqpour, a political activist, was arrested and severely tortured. She was released from jail when her legs became paralyzed, but later rearrested and again savagely tortured. Her eyes were gouged out and she was killed in Shiraz on November 4, 1985, when her throat was cut. She was 20 years old.

Mina Mohammadian was executed on February 29, 1987, on political charges. She was held in solitary confinement for eleven months prior to her execution. During that period, she went through forty interrogation sessions, during which she was subjected to the most horrendous tortures. She was repeatedly raped by the regime's Guards. She was 22 at the time of her execution.

Women political prisoners are kept in so-called "residential units" (cement cages, 50 cm square), with their heads cramped down onto their knees, for months at a time. They are beaten regularly, up to 50 times a day. Another common torture of women political prisoners, besides systematic flogging, is suspension for hours from the ceiling by the hands, or upside down, by the feet. In some cases, the torture leads first to paralysis, then to the woman's death. Nahid Shahrokhi- Mahalati, a 22-year-old teacher, was suspended from the ceiling for a prolonged period. She died under torture.

Exceptions are not made for foreign nationals. Annie Ezbar, a French nurse who had come to the assistance of the Iranian Resistance's National Liberation Army, was captured in an ambulance with her medical equipment. Hashemi Rafsanjani, then the regime's parliament speaker, acknowledged her arrest. After going through extensive torture, Mrs. Ezbar was executed.

According to a "religious" decree, virgin women prisoners must as a rule be raped before their execution, "lest they go to Paradise." Therefore, the night before execution, a Guard rapes the condemned woman. After her execution, the religious judge at the prison writes out a marriage certificate and sends it to the victim's family, along with a box of sweets. In a written confession in January 1990, Sarmast Akhlaq Tabandeh, a senior Guards Corps interrogator, recounted one such case in Shiraz prison: "Flora Owrangi, an acquaintance of one of my friends was one such victim. The night before her execution, the resident mullah in the prison conducted a lottery among the members of the firing squads and prison officials to determine who would rape her. She was then forcibly injected with anesthesia ampoules, after which she was raped. The next day, after she was executed, the mullah in charge wrote a marriage certificate and the Guard who raped her took that along with a box of sweets to her parents."

Violence against women

The penal code subjects women to extreme penalties if they do not comply with dress codes laid down by the clerical establishment. In his final report on January 2, 1992, to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, the Special Representative on the situation of human rights in Iran wrote: "... the Prosecutor General, Abolfazl Musavi Tabrizi, said that `anyone who rejects the principle of the `Hijab' (dress code) is an apostate and the punishment for an apostate under Islamic law is death.'" According to Ressalat on January 6, 1987, Khomeini declared, "Hijab is a requirement, and those who reject it must be condemned to Takfir (excommunication)." It goes without saying that under the mullahs' rule, Takfir translates into execution.

The dress code, which also applies to women of the Christian and other minority faiths, violates the right of all Iranian women to freedom of conscience and belief.

Note (1) of Article 102 of the penal code on Ta'azirat (penitences) states: "Women who appear on streets and in public without the (prescribed) `Islamic hijab' will be condemned to penitences of 74 strikes of the lash." As reported by the state-controlled newspaper Kayhan on March 30, 1983, the regime's Prosecutor General announced that if an improperly veiled woman is arrested, there is no need for a court, since the crime is established. Public floggings of women in the streets are common.

Vice squads regularly mount crackdowns against women; some include roadblocks to enforce the dress codes. On May 9, 1995, Agence France Presse reported that the regime's security forces had arrested 100 female foreign nationals visiting Iran from the Central Asian Republics for ignoring strict dress regulations. According to The New York Times, on June 23, 1993, "More than 800 women were arrested for dress code violations, with many being detained for wearing sunglasses, witnesses said.... A Western European diplomat was said to have been beaten on Sunday for refusing to allow the authorities to search his car." The U.N. Special Representative on the human rights situation in Iran reported in 1992 that "165 improperly veiled women were arrested on June 7, 1992, in Tehran by security agents implementing a new plan to combat social corruption." Reuters quoted the Islamic Republic's news agency, IRNA, on April 23, 1991, as reporting that Tehran police had detained 800 women in two days for flouting the dress codes.

In some occasions, the punitive action leads to the death of the woman. On September 2, 1993, in Tehran, Bahareh Vojdani, a 20-year-old girl, was stopped by the vice squads for mal-veiling. She resisted the Guards' condescending behavior and the public reprimand. The Guards shot and killed her on the spot in broad daylight, as onlookers watched.

According to the regime's figures, in 1992, "113,000 persons were arrested and referred to the judicial authorities on charges of dissemination of moral corruption and mal-veiling." The harassment is not limited to arrests. The regime's officials also send motorcycle gangs of club-wielders into the streets to attack women, sometimes slashing their faces with razor blades or throwing acid into their faces. On June 11, 1994, Agence France Presse quoted the Iranian press in a report on security officials' warning to women to avoid "improper smiles" in the streets. They were also instructed to fully observe the dress code before "looking out the windows" of their homes. In some cases, the fine for murdering a tribal woman in southern Iran for crimes of honor is as low as $6.20.

Besides the "normal" penalty of 74 lashes, female government employees who violate the dress code are liable to temporary suspension from work for up to two years; expulsion and suspension from the public service, and indefinite deprivation of any employment in the public service. According to the state-controlled daily, Ressalat, on May 23, 1991, the head of the Security Forces' Politico-Ideological Bureau announced: "Employees whose wives appear in public improperly veiled are considered to have violated the administrative law." This means that the woman's husband is also summoned at his workplace for administrative violation. In this way, the husband, too, becomes part of the "vice patrol," controlling the behavior of his wife for fear of losing his job.

Stoning to death

The stoning of women is one of the more savage, and revealing aspects of the mullahs' rule in Iran. This vicious punishment of women is without precedent in Iran's recent history, and is not to be found anywhere else in the world. Since the inception of the mullahs' rule, hundreds of women of various ages have been and continue to be stoned to death throughout Iran.

What makes this hideous crime more abhorrent is that these crimes are carried out under the name of Islam. The Quran and the Prophet of Islam deeply despised such behavior and denounced such barbarism. The Prophet did his utmost to eradicate backward traditions, including stoning which victimized women.

The penalty for adultery under Article 83 of the penal code, called the Law of Hodoud is flogging (100 strikes of the lash) for unmarried male and female offenders. Married offenders are liable to stoning regardless of their gender, but the method laid down for a man involves his burial up to his waist, and for a woman up to her neck (article 102). The law provides that if a person who is to be stoned manages to escape, he or she will be allowed to go free. Since it is easier for a man to escape, this discrimination literally becomes a matter of life and death.

Interestingly, Article 6 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified, states: "Sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime." Offenses for which the Law of Hodoud provides the death penalty do not involve murder or serious bodily harm, constituting the "most serious crimes".

Article 104 of the Law of Hodoud provides that the stones should not be so large that a person dies after being hit with two of them, nor so small as to be defined as pebbles, but must cause severe injury. This makes it clear that the purpose of stoning is to inflict grievous pain on the victim, in a process leading to his or her slow death.

Anecdotes of this brutal process reveal ever more dimensions of cruelty. Most of the time, the regime's authorities force the victim's family members, including children, to watch the stoning to death of their loved one, and in some instances, even when the woman miraculously managed to escape, contrary to the regime's own law, she was recaptured and either stoned again or killed on the spot.

On August 10, 1994, in the city of Arak, a woman was sentenced to death by stoning. According to the ruling of the religious judge, her husband and two children were forced to attend the execution. The woman urged her husband to take the children away, but to no avail. A truck full of stones was brought in to be used during the stoning. In the middle of the stoning, although her eyes had been gouged out, the victim was able to escape from the ditch and started running away, but the regime's guards recaptured her and shot her to death.

In October 1989 in the city of Qom, a woman who was being stoned managed to pull herself out of the hole, only to be forced back into it and stoned to death. In justifying the murder, Qom's Chief Religious judge, Mullah Karimi, elaborated to Ressalat newspaper on October 30, 1989: "Generally speaking, legal and religious decrees on someone condemned to stoning call for her stoning if her guilt was proven on the basis of witnesses' testimonies. Even if she were to escape in the middle of the administration of the sentence, she must be returned and stoned to death."

On December 7, 1994, Reuters qouted a state controlled newspaper, Hamsharhi, on a married woman who was stoned to death in the city of Ramhormouz, southwestern Iran. Ressalat, March 1, 1994, read: "A woman was stoned to death in the city of Qom." Kayhan of February 1, 1994, reported that a woman named Mina Kolvat was stoned to death in Tehran for having immoral relations with her cousin.

The U.N. Special Representative on the human rights situation in Iran reported to the U.N. General Assembly in 1993: "On November 1, 1992, a woman named Fatima Bani was stoned to death in Isfahan."

Abrar reported on November 5, 1991, that a woman was stoned in the city of Qom charged with immoral relations. According to Kayhan, August 21, 1991, a woman charged with adultery by the name of Kobra was sentenced to 70 lashes and stoning. The verdict was carried out in the presence of local people and district officials.

Jomhouri Islami wrote on March 11, 1991, that in Rasht (northern Iran), "Bamani Fekri, child of Mohammad-Issa, ..., was sentenced to stoning, retribution, blinding of both eyes and payment of 100 gold dinars. After the announcement of the verdict, she committed suicide in prison."

Ressalat reported on January 16, 1990, that a woman was stoned to death in the city of Bandar Anzali (northern Iran). Ettela'at reported on January 5, 1990: "Two women were stoned publicly on Wednesday in the northern city of Lahijan (northern Iran)." Jomhouri Islami, January 2, 1990: "Two women were stoned in the city of Langrood (northern Iran)."

Kayhan wrote on July 31, 1989: "Six women were stoned to death publicly in Kermanshah on charges of adultery and moral corruption." Kayhan, April 17, 1989, quoted the Religious judge and head of the Fars and Bushehr Justice Department as sentencing 10 women to stoning to death on prostitution charges which were immediately carried out.

Tehran radio, reported on March 6, 1989, that a woman was stoned in Karaj for committing adultery." Kayhan, October 4, 1986, reported that a 25-year- old woman named Nosrat was stoned to death in the city of Qom. She died after an hour of continuous stoning.

On April 17, 1986, a woman was stoned to death in the city of Qom. Prior to being stoned, she was whipped in public. In July 1980, four women were simultaneously stoned to death in the city of Kerman.

The brutality is not limited to stoning. For example, in late May 1990, in the city of Neyshabour (northeastern Iran), a woman charged with adultery was thrown off a 10-story building. The execution was carried out before the public, and the victim died on impact.

The regime's duplicity, when it comes to publicizing the news of such Byzantine atrocities, is very telling. Inside Iran, they are trumpeted with great fanfare, but when it comes to the international arena, officials brazenly deny their methods. In an interview with Le Figaro on September 10, 1994, Rafsanjani was asked, "Are women accused of adultery stoned in Iran?" He replied: "No, no such thing exists in Iran. This has been fabricated to damage us."

Inequalities in Health Care

"Women have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The enjoyment of this right is vital to their life and well being and their ability to participate in all areas of public and private life," states the Draft Platform For Action for the Fourth World Conference on Women.

Health and hygiene have reached crisis proportions in Iran, and women are particularly affected by the consequences. The mullahs have devoted fewer and fewer resources to women's health, regardless of their special needs, especially during the maternity period. Attempts to segregate what limited health facilities are available have aggravated this situation. Based on United Nations statistics, Iran is among only a few countries in the world where more young women die than young men. In the 15 to 22 age group, 25 girls and 20 boys die out of every 1,000 young Iranians.

According to Abrar, a state-controlled daily, of March 30, 1989, for every 1.5 million residents of the rural areas of Fars Province (southern Iran), there is only one gynecologist. Likewise, there is only one for every 600,000 residents in rural areas of Kermanshah Province (western Iran). Another daily, Jomhouri Islami, reported on October 16, 1988, that in the town of Faresan, (southern Iran), 25 percent of all deliveries end in the death of the mothers due to shortages of hospitals for women. A Majlis deputy from the northeastern city of Ahar, acknowledged in July 1988: "Despite its size, the city of Ahar does not have even one gynecologist. We have been witnessing the deaths of pregnant women and their babies becoming orphans."

According to Abrar, April 28, 1993, hospitals will gradually be segregated. The Ministry of Health and Medical Education seeks to gradually separate women's wards and women's hospitals from those of men. This would make the scarce medical facilities for women even scarcer, compounding their problems.

Women & the Iran-Iraq War

The eight year Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) had a devastating impact on Iranian society. After 1982, when Iraqi forces pulled back behind internationally recognized borders, a just and comprehensive peace was within reach, but the Khomeini regime protracted the war until 1988, as the main means of maintaining its grip on power. The tangible result on the Iranian side alone was two million dead or wounded, several million refugees, 1,000 billion dollars of economic damages, the destruction of 50 towns and cities, and the devastation of 3,000 villages.

During the war, women were urged to send their loved ones to the war front, sell all their belongings and donate them to the mullahs' war chest, and even participate in such gruesome tasks as searching through the corpses and blood-drenched clothes of victims, piecing them together, and washing and burying them.

As the state-controlled daily, Jomhouri Islami, reported on September 18, 1986, according to the regime's view, "A woman with character is a woman who sends her husband to the front, and then escorts her husband's corpse [in his funeral procession]. After she has escorted her husband's corpse, she helps behind the lines."

In an interview with Tehran radio on November 28, 1989, Khomeini's son, Ahmad, described the kind of woman officially promoted as ideal: "While little has been said about the Bassiji sisters, one cannot describe their sacrifices. They sent their sons, husbands and brothers to the fronts, then washed their blood-drenched clothes (after they were killed)."

Kayhan, September 24, 1987: "Mother Beygoum is designated to separate the pieces of flesh and bones from the clothes of a (dead soldier) and put them in a plastic bag. Another mother washes these pieces of flesh and bones and buries them."

But the misery did not end with the hostilities. This role, designated to women, has continued ever since. Kayhan, November 21, 1994: "The aging, frail woman was sitting outside the entrance of Alamal Hoda Base. With her tearful, poor-sighted and weak eyes, she was searching in the blood- stained military uniforms of the combatants of this land."

The social consequences of this war among its primary victims, women and children, went unnoticed. Since it was very difficult for a widow to provide for herself and run a family in Iran's highly patriarchal society, multitudes turned to prostitution as the only means to survive. According to the Associated Press of July 21, 1989, the arrest of a war widow charged with prostitution (which could end in a death sentence) caused a national scandal, because the woman had prostituted herself as a last resort to support her family.

A confidential report to the mullahs' parliament in 1991 said the sudden surge in the rate of suicide among women throughout Iran was due in part to the pressures exerted on the wives of the Guards and soldiers who had served in the eight-year war with Iraq and who suffer from psychological disorders. The report pointed out that the most severely affected were men who spent time in the war as teenagers, when they had killed or captured scores of people or witnessed sexual intercourse with animals on the battlefield. The women suicides pointed to the psychological imbalance of their husbands as the sole reason for their decision to kill themselves.

Scores of war widows also turned to drug dealing as a means of survival, often becoming addicted to drugs as well. According to the regime's figures, 61% of women prisoners are jailed for drug-related offenses.

Girl Children Abused

Girl children suffer from the worst conditions in Iran today. According to the clerical regime's rules and regulations, a girl child can virtually be bought or sold with the consent of her male guardian. Article 1041 of the Civil Code provides that "Marriage before puberty is prohibited. Marriage contracted before reaching puberty with the permission of the guardian is valid provided that the interest of the ward are duly observed."

It has become common practice to sell or force very young girls to marry much older husbands, giving rise to all sorts of social ills. Adineh magazine, Summer 1991: "An eleven-year-old girl was married off to a 27-year-old man. The father, who had seven daughters, received $300 for his consent. The morning after the marriage ceremonies, the girl was taken to hospital suffering from severe lacerations to her genitals."

The state-controlled daily, Ressalat, reported on December 15, 1991, that due to extreme poverty and the absence of the most basic facilities, the deprived people of northern Khorassan sell their young girls for up to 100,000 rials ($33). The buyers, who are mostly from Gonabad, northeast Iran, take the girls away and put them to work on farms and in workshops. In the province of Sistan/Balouchestan, southeastern Iran, girls eight to 10 years old are sold by their addicted parents for 12,000 rials ($4).

The confidential report of the regime's parliament, September 2, 1992, on a sudden surge in suicide among women states that girl children as young as 10, instead of spending their days playing with other children, were being forced to marry men three to four times their age. Suddenly finding themselves faced with a mountain of problems beyond their capacity, they were led on numerous occasions to commit suicide.

Note (1) of article 1210 of the Civil Code states: "Age of puberty for a boy is at 15 full lunar years and for a girl is at nine full lunar years."

Article 48 of the Penal Code of 1991 provides that children are free from penal responsibility. Note (1) of the same article defines a child as a person who has not reached the age of legal puberty. This means that a nine-year- old girl can be punished as an adult by flogging, execution and even stoning. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions indicated in his 1992 report that four minors, 16 and 17 years of age, who were accused of taking part in an anti-government demonstration, had been executed.

Girl children are abused in the labor force as well. Girls as young as four are used in the brick manufacturing, carpet weaving, textile and clothing industries. Kayhan, October 26, 1992: "Several 12 to 13-year-old children work in factories near Tehran." On November 22, 1994, Tehran radio quoted the Deputy for Health Affairs of the regime's Ministry of Health and Treatment as saying: "There are more than 5 million girls, 10 years old and older, who work at carpet workshops throughout Iran. Some of them have contracted various diseases like anthrax, deformed dorsal vertebrae, blindness, deformed knee joints, inflammation of finger joints, infection of gums and teeth and weakness of the legs."

Nor are the children immune to the despair which the regime propagates to society at large. Salaam newspaper reported on September 8, 1992: "Nine- year-old commits suicide because of poverty." Ressalat wrote on January 8, 1992: "In one high-school in Tehran, three girls committed suicide by throwing themselves off the top of a building in a matter of 10 days. Investigations revealed that two teachers from the Educational Affairs Bureau made lengthy speeches every morning on the futility of worldly life. They even took the students to Behesht-e-Zahra (Iran's largest cemetery in southern Tehran), and had the children lay down the graves."

In recent years, mal-nutrition has evolved as a major problem for Iranian children, in particular girls. According to Salaam newspaper, by the year 1992, more than 40,000 students of Ilam province, i.e., one fourth of the total, had contracted serious diseases and their lives were endangered due to destitution and mal-nutrition.

According to Kayhan on January 22, 1992, out of 1.1 million elementary students who were medically examined, more than 610,000 of them, i.e. 60 percent, had some sort of disease. Of these, 190,000 students had contagious diseases and more than 12,000 had psychological ailments.

Despite such figures, on April 26, 1995, the regime's parliament passed a bill banning imports of powdered milk and baby food. These items can only be purchased by prescription from pharmacies. The mullahs have cited austerity measures to save foreign currency as the reason for this callous decision, which only aggravates the mal-nutrition of Iranian children, in particular infants.

Educational Opportunities

It has been said, "If you educate a man, you educate one person; if you educate a woman, you educate an entire family." Women's education is the key not only to their own welfare, but to that of the whole society. A sound, comprehensive educational system is a prerequisite to a society's progress. By the same token, a poor, inadequate and unequal educational system culminates in a society's destitution, stagnation and poverty.

The Iranian educational system has been in constant decline ever since the mullahs took over. Sixteen years later, it is on the verge of complete collapse. In the academic year 1994-1995, there were 17.8 million students in Iran. The budget allocated for each student in 1979 was equivalent to $260; by 1991, this figure had plummeted to $6 per year, i.e. 1/43 of what it was 12 years ago.

In 1992-1993, more than four million students were unable to attend schools and continue their education due to lack of facilities. According to the daily, Ressalat, September 24, 1994, there is a shortage of 314,000 classrooms in Iran. As a result, in some areas of the country, schools operate in three to six shifts a day. For example, according to the regime's officials, in Isfahan children can attend school only three half-days per week, and spend the rest of their time at home.

Two million of northeastern Khorassan Province's six million inhabitants (i.e. 33%) are illiterate. In Sistan/Balouchestan Province 50% of eligible students cannot attend schools. According to the daily, Salaam, in 1992 more than 40,000 students, over 25% of this state's students, contracted serious diseases and were at critical risk due to destitution and poverty.

This precarious situation is exacerbated for Iranian women. The Platform of Action for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women stipulates that "education is a basic human right and an essential tool for achieving the goals of equality, development and peace. Non-discriminatory education benefits both girls and boys, and thus ultimately leads to more equal relationships between women and men."

According to the Compendium of Statistics on Illiteracy (1990) by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, for the years 1970-1990, the illiteracy rate is decreasing for young women worldwide. Illiteracy among Iranian women is increasing at an alarming rate. According to a report on Tehran radio in November 1989, an official of the Bureau of Statistics said the illiteracy rate among adolescent women, formerly 51%, had reached 70%.

Some 57.7% of women aged 15 to 24 are illiterate; the figure for men in the same age group is 29 percent. The figures get worse on technical training and higher education. There exits only one technical training center for women in Tehran, with a population of more than 13 million, in effect making it impossible for them to pursue technical training for a vocation. As for higher education, Iranian women are banned from such fields as law, accounting, commerce, engineering and agriculture. According to the report to the United Nations in 1992 by Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, women are excluded from 91 specific fields of study at the university level. These include 55 fields of technology and seven of natural sciences. In the arts, women have access to only 10 out of 35 fields of study.

According to Hamshahri, on July 5, 1993, women "are barred" from pursuing an education in 55% of math, engineering, technical and hard sciences fields; 28% of social sciences fields; and 23% of natural sciences and medical fields. The list entailed most of the important and productive fields, with professional prospects and opportunities.

On November 28, 1993, the regime's Ministry of Higher Education announced that restrictions on technical fields and engineering, basic arts and sciences, medicine and social studies had been lifted, but an official immediately announced that there might still exist some restrictions for women in some of these fields (Tehran radio, November 29, 1993). In practice, nothing changed.

The scope is limited for Iranian women to pursue higher education. Even in fields that women are allowed to enter, a very small portion of the quotas are allotted to them, regardless of their educational qualifications. Men get most of the opportunities. According to published statistics of the United Nations in 1986, throughout Iran there were only 49,000 female university students, a meager two percent of the total. In 1993, the "Islamic legislative assembly" rejected a move to allow unmarried female students to go abroad for further studies. Married women had to get permission from their husbands.

Participation in the Economy

Economic growth in many of the developing regions has provided new opportunities for women in economic participation, production and income. In contrast, once in power in 1979, the mullahs' brought about an assortment of social and legal restrictions for women. Women faced various impediments to their social and political activities, at work and school, in the arts and sports. They were variously eliminated from the society at great speed, and were even stripped of their most fundamental marital rights.

In March 1979, only one month after the inception of his rule, Khomeini dismissed all women judges, investigating judges and prosecutors and first ordered the wearing of the veil. In May, he banned co-education. In June, married women were prohibited from attending high school, and the government started to shut down existing nurseries at the work place. With the passage of time, the measures to strip women off all of their social rights became law and were systematically enforced.

Article 1117 of the Civil Code states, "The husband can prohibit his wife from occupations or technical jobs which are incompatible with the family interests or the dignity of himself or his wife." Accordingly, many Iranian women wishing to lead a socially or politically active life or even to pursue a career of interest to them are banned from doing so.

Women cannot sit on the bench and are absolutely excluded from judicial appointments. Further, they are deprived of jobs in such fields as the power, gas, oil, petrochemical, electrical and communications industries.

According to the Platform of Action for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, "women's participation in economic life significantly increased during the past decade as women became the workers of choice in many industries and became predominant in small and medium-scale enterprises." In Iran, the trend was completely the reverse. Ettela'at, reported on May 26, 1993, "While the number of women in highly technical professions has increased 40%, overall the Iranian women's labor force shrinks by two percent every year. This trend will completely put women out of the social arena in the future."

According to a report by B.B.C. radio on April 6, 1993: "A decade after the revolution, the population of females had risen by 10 million, but the number of jobs for women decreased from 1.2 million in 1977 to 975,000 in 1987. "In the past, 11% of women were employed; by 1987, this figure had fallen to six percent..." The compulsory dress code initially resulted in the firing of 100,000 women. In 1977, some 20% of industrial and mine workers were women. By 1985, this had slipped to seven percent.

In an interview with Kayhan on March 18, 1987, the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Hiring revealed that seven months after the enactment of article 74 of the Employment Law, more than 11,000 government employees had been purged; the overwhelming majority were women.

In comparison, according to statistics prepared by the Statistical Office of the United Nations Secretariat from the International Labor Office, the rates of women's economic activity rose overall from 1970 to 1990. The figure for the geographical region where Iran is located was more than 20% for the year 1990. The decrease in Iranian women's participation in the labor force also reflects a qualitative change, meaning that a large number of those women were expelled from higher positions. In 1990, the level of Iranian women's participation in the labor market ranked 108th in the International Labor Organization's study of 110 countries.

Unequal Before the Law

Universal respect of the indivisible and unalienable human rights of women of all ages is the basis on which all efforts for the advancement of women are built. A comparison of the Khomeini regime's laws on women with internationally accepted principles for equality of the sexes, vividly demonstrates the bitter reality that as long as the mullahs remain in power, discrimination against women in Iran will persist.

All existing laws in Iran which deal with the rights of women arise from the stereotyped presumption that men are endowed with a right to dominate women. "A man can divorce his wife whenever he so wishes," states Article 1133 of the Civil Code. Based on this article, a husband is not required to present any reasons or grounds for divorce. On the other hand, mullah Morteza Moghtadai, the Prosecutor General, said, "Women were not given the right to instigate divorce because they are prone to emotional and irrational decision-making."

Article 105 of the Civil Code stipulates: "In the relationship between husband and wife, heading the family is characteristic of the husband." The Islamic Council of Guardians decreed that "a woman does not have the right to leave her home without her husband's permission, not even to attend her father's funeral procession. A woman is completely at the service of her husband."

There is even inequality in punishment for a similar crime. According to the law of Qisas or Talion, if a woman murders a man, his family has the right to demand half of his "blood money," (a sum paid to the next of kin as compensation for the murder of a relative) even though the murderess is executed in "retribution." By contrast, if a man murders a woman, her next of kin must, before retribution, pay one half the murderer's blood-money to his next of kin before an execution can take place.

Inheritance laws are also unequal. According to article 913, a widower inherits one half of the estate of his wife as a widow inherits only one fourth of the estate of her husband provided that the deceased leaves no children or grand children as heirs, in which case the widow inherits one eighth while the widower inherits one fourth of the estate. This inequality is further extended in article 946 which provides: "The husband takes inheritance from the totality of the estate of the wife; but the wife only from the following effects: a) from the movable property, of whatever kind; b) from buildings and trees," but never the land.

If the deceased leaves sons and daughters, each son inherits and "takes twice as much as each daughter (article 907 of the Civil Code)." In all cases, the mother of the deceased takes a lesser share of the estate than his or her father.

Unequal Opportunity to Advance

Judging by the continuing gap between women's de Jure and de facto equality, as well as their absence from power and political decision-making as indicative of any society's attitudinal and structural discrimination against women, one can easily ascertain the plight of Iranian women in society. Women literally play no role and have no say in policy and decision-making processes under the mullahs' rule.

There have been no women in the cabinet since the 1979 revolution. No woman had been even a deputy minister in the Khomeini regime. In the regime's Parliament, only nine of the 270 members are women, a mere 3.3 percent.

According to article 115 of the regime's constitution, "The President must be elected from among male religious and political dignitaries." Ressalat, December 15, 1986, quoted Mullah Mohammad Yazdi, the head of the Judiciary as saying: "No matter at what stage of knowledge, virtue, perfection and prudence a woman is, she does not have the right to rule... Even if a righteous accredited woman posses all qualifications, she cannot assume leadership position nor can she judge, because she is a woman."

Even a call for a parliamentary women's committee in September 1993 was strongly rejected. During the debate, a male deputy said: "Women must accept that men rule over them and the world, too, should know that man is dominant... If a women's committee is to be set up, we should also form a men's committee. If this motion is carried, we will be hearing murmurs tomorrow about a minister for women's affairs."

Rising Suicide among Women

Overwhelmed by despair, caught in a vicious cycle of social humiliation and coercion, family insecurity, constant fear for their children's lives as well as their own, and no legal and social safeguards to preserve and defend their rights, many Iranian women have found death the only escape. This has given rise to an unprecedented trend of suicides, in particular self- immolation, in Iran.

Overall, for the years 1980 to 1990, suicide increased 17-fold in Iran. As reported by Ettela'at on December 20, 1989, in a symposium on psychological and psychiatric research in Tehran, a study on 100 cases of suicide revealed that 69% involved women. According to a January 1, 1994, report in Jahan-e Islam, during the pervious year, at least 3,600 people committed suicide in one year across Khorassan Province (northeastern Iran). 2,530 of them were women. Most had tragically burned themselves to death.

The head of the intoxication ward in Mashad's Imam Reza Hospital said: "49% of those committing suicide were 10 to 30 years old. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed were married, 45% single and two percent divorced." He believed that self-immolation, the most tragic type of suicide, is on the rise.

"An official in charge of an intensive care unit for burn cases at Mashad's Qa'em Hospital said, '59 persons who had set themselves ablaze in suicide attempts were transferred to this hospital. Ninety-eight percent of them were women, and 99% of whom died.'"

Kayhan reported on November 22, 1993: "In a matter of less than two years, 880 people have committed suicide in Khuzistan province (southwestern Iran)." Ettela'at reported on January 20, 1994, that "According to the governor of Ilam Province (population 456,000), 137 people committed suicide in nine months; 101 (or 74%) were women."

A confidential report to the regime's parliament quotes the nurses' supervisor in a northern Tehran hospital, the capital's only burn unit, as saying: "In a 24-hour period we use 800 sheets for women who set themselves afire and we have to sterilize the same sheets again for the new cases." More than 95% of the victims brought to this hospital are from the poor southern districts.

An expert on psychology and accidents in Mottahari hospital in Tehran on October 5, 1992, said: "Eight out of every 10 patients who are brought to the hospital are women who have set themselves on fire."

This tragic phenomenon is not limited to any particular region of the country. According to Salaam, on January 30, 1993: "The problem of suicide, previously plaguing Ilam (western Iran) and its neighboring cities, has recently hit the nation's northern region, in some cities of Mazandaran Province.... In the past months, especially in the past two months, the suicide rate has had an unprecedented rise in Ardabil (northwestern Iran)."

Salaam, April 25, 1992 : "An 85-year-old woman set herself on fire." According to Zan-e Rouz, a women's magazine, on February 26, 1994, "A 14- year-old high school girl set herself on fire and killed herself, to evade marrying a 42-year-old man." In December 1992, a destitute woman who was unable to provide for her infant's needs, burned herself to death in Tehran.

In February 1994, a prominent Iranian female academic, Dr. Homa Darabi, went to one of the busiest squares in Tehran, tore off the compulsory head scarf, poured kerosine over herself and set herself on fire shouting: "Down with tyranny, long live freedom, long live Iran." In so doing, she protested against the persecution of her countrywomen. She died of severe burns in a Tehran hospital. She had been persistently harassed by the security forces for failing to follow the strict dress code, culminating in her dismissal from the university in December 1991.

Jahan-e Islam of January 1, 1994, reported that "according to the International Health Organization, for every 100,000 persons, 20 persons in Japan commit suicide; 5.9 persons in France; 27 persons in Berlin; 10.5 persons in the United States; and 17 persons in Sweden every year." In Iran, in Khorassan Province alone, for every 100,000 persons, 60 persons commit suicide. In Ilam Province, 41 persons commit suicide out of every 100,000 people.

But these are official government figures. In a country like Iran in whose remote towns and villages minimum medical facilities are lacking, the actual number of suicides cannot be registered like those in Japan or the United States. In reality, one has to consider the actual number of suicides in Iran to be much higher than those mentioned in this report.


1. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, interview in Ettela'at, 7 June 1986.
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