Seventh Edition September 2004 - Shahrivar 1383
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Our Protest Against Violations of Women's Rights in the Iranian Constitution
Declaration Number One

After years of protesting against discriminations between women and men in different spheres (such as unequal legal rights), we, women are still deprived of our fundamental rights. Among us, we may locate the roots of the violations of our rights differently: In the laws, in sexist interpretations, in customs and traditions, or in hierarchical and dominant structures in Iran and throughout the world. However, without a doubt, one of the standing obstacles to changing women's current status and a major factor in reaching a dead-end in our efforts are the ruling laws and their foundation, the Constitution.

Principle 20 of the Constitution states: "All citizens of the country, whether men or women, equally enjoy the protection of the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, in conformity with Islamic criteria." It is important to note that in this principle "all citizens, whether men or women," are considered equal not in terms of their "rights" but in terms of the "protection" that the law provides, based on Islamic criteria. Those who are endowed with the power to interpret maintain that they pursue a "balance" of differing rights and not "equal rights" between women and men. And this can be seen throughout the Constitution.

Principle 21 stipulates: " The government must ensure the rights of women in all respects, in conformity with Islamic criteria." The government's duty to protecting women's rights is referred to the interpretation of Islamic criteria, once again. In reality, all of the Constitution's provisions concerning women are conditioned by "conformity to Islamic criteria." The specific interpretation of the Islamic principle concerning women appears in the Constitution's preamble, which primarily situates women in an orthodox and traditional family. Other groups of women are unrecognized in the Constitution. In the preamble, under the section, "Women in the Constitution," it holds: "The family is the fundamental unit of society and the main center for the growth and edification of human being. Compatibility with respect to belief and ideal, which provides the primary basis for man's development and growth, is the main consideration in the establishment of a family. It is the duty of the Islamic government to provide the necessary facilities for the attainment of this goal. This view of the family unit delivers woman from being regarded as an object or instrument in the service of promoting consumerism and exploitation. Not only does woman recover thereby her momentous and precious function of motherhood, rearing of ideologically committed human beings, she also assumes a pioneering social role and becomes the fellow struggler of man in all vital areas of life."

In reality, all the principles of the Constitution are based on this interpretation of "women as mother" and as "raiser of devout humans." As such, when referring to the government's duties, Principle 21 views women strictly as mothers or women without household heads. And the right they reserve under this definition of womanhood (motherhood) is the granting of child custody to deserving women in the absence of the "Sharia-ordained guardian" (men of the family).

The Constitution views women in no role other than mother, and as such, presupposes male leaders at the highest levels of political and social management. To run as a Presidential candidate, the qualification of being a political "rejal" is stipulated, which has been interpreted by higher authorities as being a male person.

Another problem with the existing Constitution as it relates to women (especially from the perspective of those who view violations of women's rights as a problem of sexist interpretations) is that all of its provisions are conditioned by dominant interpretations of Islamic principles. It has been the case that those who hold power are able to offer dominant interpretations and women, who are amongst the weakest social strata, can never offer alternative interpretations of any weight and influence. Needless to say, the depth and breadth of any interpretation is contingent upon the powers, opportunities, and institutions available to various groups in society. It is obvious that groups which hold exclusive military and security power, control culture and information and countless other resources, including the media, can impose their own interpretations on society.

The Constitution has reached a dead-end as it concerns women because the laws are not self-derived but rather, are open to official interpretation and dependent upon power-holders within the political structure and powerful official religious institutions. Women, who are considered the weakest link in society's power chain, cannot affect the necessary changes in the laws because the will of the citizenry (especially third-class citizens like women) is overshadowed by un-elected institutions, which hold interpretative power, as provided in the Constitution.

Even if the interpretation of official laws and individual and group rights were in the hands of elected institutions (as is the case in democratic countries), women, as a group with less access to power, would have great difficulty offering their own interpretations of women's rights to elected officials, let alone to un-elected appointed bodies. The more the relationship between un-elected state institutions and the citizenry is pyramid-structured and vertical, the more women and their rights are sidelined. And the more women will face an uphill battle to change conditions and laws to their favor in comparison to men.

The women's movement in Iran has endeavored to use all available civil avenues and opportunities to gain their rights as citizens and human beings. However, the current historically sensitive period and the potential for reactionary movements and/or political extremism requires the women's movement to face the reality that under the current state of affairs, seeking civil justice from the Constitution and protesting the breach of women's rights of citizenship can be an effective step towards achieving democracy and peace and self-determination of the citizenry.

Although though the women's movement encompasses a wide and diverse spectrum of social, cultural, and political activists, at the current juncture, they suffer a common injury: belittlement of the citizen. The least of which was witnessed with the elimination of women candidates for the presidency. More gravely, the Constitution's belittlement of women as active social participants has blocked their ability to secure their rights. We are forced to seek justice and show our civil opposition at the current sensitive juncture by fulfilling our social and gendered responsibility. Undoubtedly, we need each other's assistance to make our voices clearer and our protests more effective.

With this, activists of the women's movement, comprising a wide spectrum of non-governmental women's organizations, professors, researchers, journalists, legal scholars, artists, and ethnic minority groups, invite all women and men who oppose violations of women's rights in the Constitution, the denial of minority women's rights, and women's legal belittlement, to join a sit-in protest on Sunday, June 12, from 5-6 pm outside the main gate of Tehran University on Enqelab Street.

Group Signatories

Women's Cultural Center
Center of Hastia Andish
Women in Iran website
Iran Women's Watch
Hamava (Homa) Women's Group
The Noandish Center of Women of Iran
The Noandish Society of Iran
Society for the Protection of Unemployed Women
The Pezhvak Group
Hava Research Institute
Association of Young Journalists
Founding Women Members of Workers' Syndicates
Center of Women Defenders of Peace and Human Rights
Association Without Borders
Islamic Association of Al-Zahra University
Protectors of the Kurdestan's Environment Women's Group (The Green Path)
Pioneering Women of Marivan Association
Cultural/ Artistic Association of Marivan Women
Azarmehr Women's Association of Sanandaj
Public Sphere Center of University of Tehran
Student Democratic Association of the University of Tehran
The Linguistic Feminist Core of Women of the College of Social Sciences of Allameh Tabatabaii University
The Nama Student Newsletter of Allameh Tabatabaii University
The Shokaran Student Newsletter of the College of Social Sciences of Allameh Tabatabaii University
The Sahar Student Newsletter of the College of Social Sciences of Allameh Tabatabaii University
The Payman Newsletter of the College of Social Sciences of Allameh Tabatabaii University
The Cultural Society of the College of Social Sciences of the University of Tehran
The Nasl-e Sevvom Student Newsletter
The Society of Women Journalists of Iran (Roza)
The Golgasht-e Zeytun Group of Isfahan
Group of Women Workers of Isfahan

Individual signatories

Simin Behbahani, Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Parvin Ardalan, Mahboubeh Abbas-Gholizadeh, Mansoureh Shojaee, Fatemeh Farhangkhah, Homa Zarafshan, Gohar Shemirani, Marzieh Morteza Langeroudi, Fatemeh Govaraee, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Nayereh Tavakoli, Fariba Davoudi Mohajer, Shahla Lahiji, Mehrangiz Kar, Shahla Entezari, Shadi Sadr, Manijeh Hekmat, Rafat Zein-ed-Din, Nasrin Afzali, Jelveh Javaheri, Sara Loqmani, Nahid Kamousi, Aqdas Charvandeh, Tahmineh Biazar, Parvaneh Milani, Azarang Jabari, Donya Biazar, Mehrahang Jabari, Jila Bashiri, Mona Mohamadzadeh, Nahid Entesari, Khadijeh Moqadam, Sima Afshar, Roya Toloui, Farideh Entesari, Bita Tahbaz, Maryam Omy, Elham Qamsari, Sharareh Abdi, Layla Moori, Negar Bayat, Nahid Mirhaj, Fakhri Shadfar, Massoumeh Loqmani, Firouzeh Mohajer, Farnaz Seify, Shirin Mousavi, Samira Kalhor, Fatemeh Baban, Sanaz Allah Bedashti, Masoumeh Naseri, Parastou Dokouhaki, Nahid Keshavarz, Jila Baniyaqoub, Nahid Tavassoli, Talat Taghinia, Farzaneh Taheri, Simin Marashi, Mahsa Shekarloo, Tina Golzarian, Lida Bolouri.

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