Excerpts from the book, Women's Rights
in the Laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran
by Shirin Ebadi
Published in Iran in 2002
Chapter 5 - Cultural Policies Towards Women
The Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution convened
a meeting on 11 August 1992, in which some of the cultural
policies of the country were drafted. These policies represent
the cultural priorities of decision-makers within the government
and reveal how the established order views and directs Iran's
cultural development and orientation.
Cultural Policies and Iranian Women
Priority is given to the betterment of women's status
throughout the country, given their supreme dignity and
the Muslim woman's fundamental role in strengthening the
foundations of the family, as well as strengthening social,
scientific, and artistic projects.A closer look at the place of women as viewed by cultural
policymakers will reveal their emphasis on family values;
a woman's independence, her social situation, and the discriminations
leveled against her are never at issue. Policymakers view
women as wives and mothers, who need cultural reinforcement
and guidance to better fulfill their domestic roles.
As one example, we can take the programming policy of one
of the country's most important cultural apparatuses. The
Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), which controls
the nation's radio and television, reaches almost every household
- even in the remotest parts of the country - and serves as
the most popular form of entertainment and cultural media
nationwide. It represents the perspective that the regime
propagates towards women and their social position. Article
45 of the law setting IRIB's programming policy (1992), sees
the organization's objective as, "The expression and
elaboration of the dignified place of woman in Islam, the
recognition of her true worth for a return to her Islamic
roots, preparation for the elimination and replacement of
false values with superior morality within the family, and
assistance in the strengthening of family relations
It seems that IRIB's call for the dignity of woman and her
return to Islamic roots centers around her position as mother
and wife and her duty to the family. Once again, there is
no objective to facilitate the elimination of discrimination
against women in society.
The Cultural and Social Council of Women
To set cultural and social policy concerning women, the
Cultural and Social Council of Women was established under
the auspices of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution.
Article 1 of the Council's bylaws (1988) outlines the responsibilities
1. Draft and propose necessary policy to prepare for the
development of women's character, expedite the reclamation
of human value and worth, secure women's rights based on
the authentic principles of Islam, and draft proper models.
2. Draft and propose necessary policy to recognize the positive
cultures of ethnic groups and counter their attrition; identify
the roots and counter the corrupting manifestations of foreign
cultural values and moral deviations, cleanse the relics
of backwardness that exist in society in the name of religion
and the effects of injustice and discrimination during the
taquti regime (the regime of false authority) against women.
3. Draft necessary policy, plan and coordinate programs
that further strengthen the sacred foundations of the family
by providing for easier matrimonies, safeguarding the sanctity
of the family, and solidifying family relationships based
on rights and Islamic morals; conduct expert evaluations,
and offer suggestions to various executive bodies pertaining
to said issues.
4. Draft necessary policy, plan and coordinate programs
that offer activities for women and girls in their free
time (through athletic, educational, entertainment, and
artistic channels, and the use of public media and tools),
conduct expert evaluations, and provide programming suggestions
to various executive bodies.
5. Establish programs to improve public knowledge and literacy
and consider suitable policies and methods for the education
and higher education of women.
6. Evaluate women's participation in political, social,
economic, cultural, and artistic activities and design steps
to eliminate problems and barriers in the way of expanding
7. Evaluate and draft appropriate programs to support and
solve the difficulties of women without male household heads,
and assess women's employment situation.
8. Coordinate the activities of centers and organizations
for the cultural and social affairs of women, and upon necessity,
offer suggestions and plans to the Supreme Council of Cultural
9. Make suggestions to qualified centers to conduct studies
about important cultural and social affairs of women; support
Muslim theoreticians, thinkers, and scientists who propound
Islamic viewpoints concerning the family and society and
assist with the coordination of research programs.
10. Conduct a sustained study and evaluation of women's
cultural and social situation and draft annual reports.
11. Plan for the development of cultural relations with
women's revolutionary groups and movements from other -
especially Islamic - countries.
12. Offer expert opinion or decisions on matters referred
by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution.
13. Suggest rules and criterions for women's activities
in cultural centers and methods of supervision.
A representative from the Cultural and Social Council of
Women will serve on the Board of Supervision and Evaluation.
The Cultural and Social Council of Women may form workgroups
to fulfill its duties.
Items 1, 7, 10, and 12 of the duties of the Council will be
presented to the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution
for review and approval.
Even though the above bylaws emphasize the need to "strengthen
the sacred foundations of the family" and "safeguard
its sanctity," other matters concerning women have also
been given importance, including the eradication of regressive
beliefs and superstitions, provision of leisure activities,
and expansion of women's participation in political and social
Members of the Cultural and Social Council of Women constitute:
1. A member of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution
or its representative
2. One expert on "Islamic sciences and knowledge"
and another expert on "scientific and cultural issues," both chosen by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution
3. A representative of the President
4. Two women Majles (Parliament) representatives introduced
by the Head of the Majles
5. A representative of the Judiciary introduced by the Judiciary
6. One woman from a seminary in Qom introduced by the Al-Zahra
Society, and another woman, introduced by the Islamic Propaganda
7. A female expert on women's cultural and social issues,
introduced by each of the ministries of Culture and Islamic
Guidance, Higher Education, Science and Technology, Education,
Labor and Social Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Interior, and
Health, Treatment and Medical Education
8. A representative from IRIB
9. A representative from the Physical Education Organization
10. A representative from the Islamic Azad University
11. A representative from the Basij Resistance Militia
If the agenda of a Cultural and Social Council of Women meeting
concerns one of the ministries or executive bodies, the representative
of that body can participate with voting rights.
The Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution must approve all
members of the Cultural and Social Council of Women, and the
head of the Supreme Council appoints members to their post
for three years. The members elect the head of the Women's
Cultural and Social Council for a ten-year period.
Chapter 6 - Women and Labor Rights
The best way to measure economic policy is to examine
labor laws and the extent of legal protection granted to the
laborer and working class. Regardless of race, sex, and religion,
human worth manifests itself in labor and the benefits society
gains from it. It is obvious that in systems where capital
holds the highest value, the legal protection of employees
is minimal. Or in systems that more or less subscribe to sexual
or racial apartheid, a particular class of people benefit
most from the legal system.
In this chapter, official and codified laws will be mainly
discussed, and not their practical application and implications.
Also, the intention is not to provide a thorough analysis
of legal rights, but rather legal issues as they relate to
women. Given the fact that occupational laws and government
regulations differ according to job sector, we will discuss
Section I - Female Workers under the Labor Law
What we mean by "female workers" in this section
are those individuals that are covered under the Labor Law
and who work in private or state-owned factories and workshops.
According to Article 38 of the Labor Law (1990), women and
men earn equal pay for equal work. By including this article,
the legislature was stressing the value of women's work and
rejecting discrimination based on falsities such as women's
emotional instability, her mental incapacity, and suchlike.
Women are legally prohibited from working in heavy occupations
that require physical exertion or are physically dangerous.
Article 75 of the Labor Law states, "Performing dangerous,
strenuous, or harmful work, and also handling heavy loads
beyond a certain weight, without the use of mechanical devices
is prohibited for women
This prohibition must be viewed as an attempt to protect women
and maintain occupational efficiency, and not as a form of
discrimination against women in the workplace. Women are physically
weaker, and many times we have witnessed material needs forcing
women to perform work that is not proportionate to their strength.
As such, Article 75 protects economically vulnerable women
from exploitation by employers who may require them to perform
- The maximum load legally permitted for women to handle
is set at approximately 20 kg. Carrying loads for women
during pregnancy and the first ten weeks after childbirth
- By strenuous and harmful labor, the law intends to include
work that lacks physical, chemical, mechanical, or biological
safety standards. Under such conditions, the danger levels
are much higher than the natural capacities of the worker
(mental or physical), and may result in occupational illnesses
and side effects.
- The list of strenuous and harmful occupations is proposed
by the High Council of Labor and approved by the Minister
of Labor and Social Affairs.
Supporting Working Mothers
According to Article 77 of the Labor Law, employers are obliged
to accommodate pregnant workers, without wage cuts, by providing
them with less strenuous work, as determined by a medical
practitioner of the Social Security Organization.
Maternity leave for female workers is a total of 90 days,
at least 45 days of which have to be taken after childbirth.
For multiple births, 14 days are added to the leave. After
her maternity leave has ended, the female worker returns to
her previous position and her period of absence, upon the
approval of the Social Security Organization, will be factored
into her future entitlement benefits.
After the revolution when the birth rates reached a perilous
level, the Family Planning and Population Act was enacted
(1993), which reduced the maternity benefits of female workers
after their third child. Women who were pregnant with their
fourth child were no longer entitled to maternity leave and
time away from work was deducted from their paid vacation
time. In workshops that employ nursing female workers, the
employer is obliged to give the mother half an hour to breast-feed
her child every three hours throughout the work day. Mothers
are entitled to this paid time during the first two years
of their child's life. According to Article 69 of the Social
Security Law (1975), if the insured mother or the wife of
an insured man is afflicted with an illness that prevents
her from nursing her child, or if the mother dies after childbirth,
the necessary milk will be provided for the first 18 months
of the child's life.
According to Article 67 of the Social Security Law, a female
worker who has worked at least two months and has paid 60
days of insurance dues within the past year, can benefit from
the following assistance:
A. Maternity assistance - If she is unemployed, the insured
can benefit from this financial assistance, the amount of
which is two-thirds of her last earnings for a twelve-week
period before or after childbirth
B. Pre-natal and natal care - These include tests, treatment,
medication, and hospitalization in maternity wards, Social
Security Organization hospitals, or their affiliates.
The pregnant woman is obliged to undergo medical examinations
at three and seven months of her pregnancy and to obtain examination
certificates from a doctor or midwife, to be included in her
- In places where the organization has the necessary facilities,
whether in-house or outsourced, the pregnant woman is required
to use those facilities for childbirth; otherwise the organization
will not underwrite the expenses. In areas where the organization
has no facilities, a fixed amount is paid to the pregnant
woman according to the going rate.
- In the event that the pregnant woman undergoes abortion,
the costs will be covered according to her insurance agreement.
- In workshops with female workers, the employer is obliged
to provide childcare facilities proportionate to the number
of children and their age group.
According to the Administrative Procedures for Nursery
and Childcare Centers that was drafted and approved (1991)
by the Welfare Organization of the Ministry of Labor and Social
Affairs, childcare centers must be established as close to
the mothers' workplace as possible, and preferably in the
same building. Different workshops situated in the same geographic
location can establish shared daycare centers after obtaining
permission from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
Article 1 of the Procedures defines childcare centers as, "Institutions concerned with the education, care, and
welfare of children, structured at three levels consisting
of nursery (45 days to 2 years of age), preschool (2-5 years
of age), and kindergarten (5 years until grade school), that
care for children whose mothers are employed in workshops
or factories." Should they have childcare problems, the
children of male workers can also be accepted to these centers
with the coordination of the manager of the workshop or factory.
- Establishing all three levels is obligatory if the need
exists, and in workshops that employ women workers for their
second shifts, childcare centers must also be provided.
- Each mother can send two children to the center; the care
for any more children must be covered by the mother.
- Pursuant to Article 14 of the procedures, all of the centers'
costs are to be covered by the employer, whether they are
fixed or realizable expenses.
- The director of a childcare center must be a citizen of
the Islamic Republic, have no criminal record, and be at
least 25 years of age (in equal circumstances, married persons
have priority). The director must hold at least a high school
diploma and have five years of work experience in childcare
and child education.
In workshops where the majority of mothers belong to a religious
minority, workshop or factory managers are obliged to select
a childcare director from among the said minority.
Because of their double duties at home and in the workplace,
the Labor Law has provided women with certain benefits such
as maternity leave and access to childcare. While these benefits
are essential to women, in practice, they hamper women's presence
on the job market. The Labor Law levies all of the women workers'
expenses on the employer, and in a capitalist world, where
employers aim to maximize their profit margin, one of their
first actions is the refusal to hire women so as to reduce
costs. As such, a law that intends to support women becomes,
in practice, an impediment to their employment. Often, women
in need of income are forced to take jobs on the black market
or in the informal job sector.
To avoid this shortcoming of the law, some benefits could
be granted to employers who hire women (tax breaks or governmental
subsidies). In this way, perhaps part of the expenses incurred
on the employer can be offset.
Section II - Women in Government Employment Under the National
The National Employment Law views women employees of ministries
and government bodies as equal to men, and in some cases,
provides them with additional benefits. The roots of this
discrimination can be found in the working woman's double
load, for in addition to her professional responsibilities,
she must also fulfill her domestic and family duties. As such,
her situation necessitates additional support so that she
can perform her dual responsibilities. Again, the legal support
of women may in practice have unintended consequences as they
are not necessarily popular with managers and administrators
who have different ideas about work management. An example
is the Part-time Employment Plan, which was enacted with the
intention of giving women time to tend to their household
duties. However, since this law is seen as an impediment to
the flow and efficiency of work, many managers are reluctant
to hire women and prefer male employees. Since this book deals
strictly with Iranian women's legal rights, labor laws that
aim to protect female workers in government offices and companies
will be discussed.
Women's Part-time Employment
According to the 1983 ratified law concerning women's part-time
employment, ministries, state-owned companies, and state organizations
and institutions that are subject to the National Employment
Law, can grant women employees part-time status upon their
request and their superiors' approval. This benefit is limited
to employees who are full staff members.
- The law designates part-time employment as being one half
the customary work week of ministries and institutions.
- The guidelines for part-time employment are decided by
the highest officials in each government body.
- Part-time employment can, under no circumstance, be less
than half the regular working hours.
Pursuant to Article 3 of The Implementation of Women's Part-time
Employment Act (1985), employees who are given part-time status
will receive half of their base salary - as determined by
their job classification -, wage supplements, and certain
employment benefits. Environmental compensations, benefits
related to geographical locations, and indigent benefits will
be paid in full. The salary and benefits of part-time employees
do not fall under the minimum wage regulations for government
- The minimum length of part-time employment is one year.
- If employment falls under the Classification of Schoolteachers
Plan, the expiry date of part-time employment coincides
with the end of the school year.
- In the event that the part-time employee requests change
of status before the expiry of her part-time employment,
she can resume full-time status should the government body
deem it necessary. Otherwise, part-time employment cannot
be less than one year.
- Probative as well as contracted and temporary employees
cannot benefit from part-time employment.
- Part-time female employees are entitled to retirement
income and pension benefits. In calculating the amount of
retirement and pension funds, the woman's years as a full-time
employee are counted, and her years in part-time employment
are counted as half. If, for example, she worked as a full-time
employee for 15 years and 6 years in part-time, 18 years
worth of employment would be calculated into her retirement
and pension fund. Retirement fund or insurance payments
of part-time employees are deducted in proportion to their
earned wages and benefits and deposited in their retirement
- In calculating the part-time female worker's retirement
fund, a maximum of three years of her part-time employment
will be counted as full-time according to her job classification,
base salary, wage supplements, and additional benefits,
provided that she has paid her retirement and insurance
- Part-time employees' paid vacation time is the same as
full-time workers, and only their salaries and employment
benefits are half of full-time employees.
- The amount of medical and maternity leave of part-time
women workers is equivalent to that of full-time employees,
during which time their wages and benefits are calculated
according to part-time employment guidelines.
- The hiring of new employees to replace part-time employees,
in any form, is prohibited.
- Part-time employees can, under no circumstance, be employed
by other ministries, state or private companies, or other
state and government bodies; otherwise they will be discharged
from their place of employment and their wages and benefits
will be eliminated from the time of their new employment.
- Part-time workers are prohibited from earning any overtime
income or benefits.
Supporting Mothers During Nursing Period
In 1995, the Majles (Parliament) ratified a law entitled, "Promoting Breast-feeding and Supporting Mothers During
the Nursing Period." According to this law, the import
of any form of dried milk or supplementary nutrition for infants
is allowed only with the government's permission, and in limited
cases. Additionally, the distribution of dried milk is made
through the pharmacies.
This law extended the maternity leave for nursing mothers
to four months, both in private and public employment. Included
is a three-child limit, and a requirement of certification
by a pediatrician or physician from a public health and treatment
center, along with the child's birth certificate.
Nursing mothers who have resumed work are entitled to daily
one-hour leaves until the child's 20th month. Mothers can
divide the hour, should they find it necessary, to a maximum
of three parts. Ministries and government bodies are responsible
for providing appropriate areas for mothers to breast-feed
The job security of nursing mothers whose maternity leave
has expired must be guaranteed, and they may not be transferred
to a different job position during their nursing period.
The enforcement procedures of this law allows the Minister
of Health to establish "committees to promote breast-feeding
and the protection of mothers during the nursing period" in each province. The committees' most important duty is to
supervise the distribution of dried milk and supplementary
nutrition to mothers who are unable to breast-feed their infants.
The said committee must also design programs that encourage
mothers to breast-feed their children.
Regulations Related to the Place of Employment of Spouse
According to the Civil Code, a married woman is obliged to
live in the residence that her husband designates. This stipulation
creates problems for women who work in separate locations
from their husbands. To assist such families, the law has
provisioned regulations that are unfortunately insufficient
in addressing the problem. Among these we can point to the
law, "Granting unpaid leave to official employees whose
husbands are on fixed duty outside the country." Under
this 1987 Act, employees who are subject to the National Employment
Law, employees of state-owned companies, members of the Scientific
Council of Universities, law enforcement and military personnel,
foreign ministry officials, bank employees, municipalities
and all foundations, institutions, government bodies and their
affiliates (whether for- or non-profit) are allowed to take
unpaid leave when their husbands are assigned to positions
outside the country. The maximum allowed period is six years.
Another example is married women's exemption from fulfilling
their mandatory services in the medical and health fields.
All male graduates in the fields of medicine and health care
are required to serve in underprivileged areas of the country
for three years upon graduation. Since women graduates are
automatically exempt from military service, unmarried women
must only fulfill their post-graduation service, while married
women are exempt from both.
It is important to note that these laws do not address the
problems of a wife's domiciliary obligation to her husband.
There are many workingwomen today who are forced to leave
their jobs because their husbands have changed place of duty
or vocation. For example, a woman working for the Foreign
Ministry will have to abandon her job if she marries a government
official who works in another city. According to regulations
which will be discussed in the later chapters, if this woman
fails to join her husband and live in his domicile, she can
be charged with non-compliance (adam-e tamkin) and risk the
loss of some of her marital rights and benefits.
Women in the Military and Law Enforcement
The hiring of women in the country's armed forces is not legally
prohibited, but according to Article 32 of the Islamic Republic
Military Act, women can only serve in medical and health capacities.
The transfer of workingwomen in the military, to the extent
that is possible, must be a function of their husband's military
According to law enforcement regulations, in vocations that
call for the employment of women (like driving license tests,
female body searches, issuing passports to women, combating
moral turpitude in society as it concerns female offenses,
and supervising women's prisons), the force can employ women
with special training. If necessary, women employed in such
positions (and in any other law enforcement position) will
serve as full staff members. Again, the transfer of workingwomen
must be a function of their husband's service.
Using women in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and
Basij Resistance Militia in positions that require their presence
is not prohibited by law.
In a male-dominated culture, economic and social opportunities
are not easily granted to women. In the hiring and selection
process men are the final decision-makers. Some justify men's
higher status by pointing to the nafaqeh (maintenance) obligation
of the husband to his wife and to his bread-winning role.
Such reasoning may seem sound, but it is only part of the
truth. Today in Iran, the majority of women must work alongside
men to provide for the financial livelihood of the family,
and the economy of the house is shared by both. In addition,
skill and knowledge should be the only factors that govern
access to employment, and not social factors. The state apparatus
in Iran should not function as a charity organization that
designates stipends to citizens. Its doors must be open to
all with knowledge and skills.
- In the current state of affairs, women must work harder
than men to prove their abilities, and it is clear that
women must bear extra pressure because of their double load.
- It is culturally acceptable in Iranian society for women
to shoulder the burden of household affairs almost entirely
- It is only natural for workingwomen to be constantly taxed
and exhausted, which, in the long run, will result not only
in their reduced efficiency but early retirement. Unfortunately,
employment laws welcome women's early retirement and generally
grant them retirement five years earlier than their male
There are still benefits which are exclusive to men. Men
can easily avail themselves of non-monetary assistance, family
benefits, pensions for surviving family members, and many
other bonuses while women face difficulty accessing these
benefits. In some instances, women have to prove that their
spouses are incompetent or for some reason, incapable of earning
an income. Men, of course, never have to prove anything and
are naturally entitled to such benefits.
Given the fact that the majority of Iranian university students
are women, it is time to introduce a quota system for the
employment of women in every governmental or non-governmental
institution to end discrimination in the workplace.