Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU Staff

INU - The Iranian parliament, or Majlis, approved President Rouhani’s new cabinet on August 20, 2017. In a step back from his promise to improve civil liberties, including women’s rights, Rouhani’s cabinet is all-male. Although he had claimed that his administration “does not accept gender discrimination and injustice” and promised to appoint at least one woman to his Cabinet, in the end, it was announced that his staff was not able to come up with a list of qualified women.

CNN reported, “Iran's newly re-elected President has not included any women in his proposed list of 17 ministers, according to Iranian state media, reneging on an election pledge to his largely reformist base… The exclusion of women from the proposed list was widely expected, though appointing a female minister was a central promise made by Rouhani during the election campaign.”

“The Reformists expected Rouhani to appoint at least one woman as a minister — an expectation that has not been realized,” according to Al-Monitor.

Reuters wrote, “Iranian president Hassan Rouhani appointed two women vice-presidents on Wednesday, but made no changes to an all-male list of cabinet ministers criticized by reformists for its lack of female representation.”

Government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht responded to the criticism, saying, “Women will still play a significant role. It's an injustice to women to think that they should only be used to fill ministerial roles."

Nobakht referred to the appointment of three women — two deputies and one advisor to Rouhani — roles which were wrongly translated by the Western press as meaning “Vice-President” and are not what would be defined as “still play(ing) a significant role”. A Vice-President is usually meant to be the assistant to the President, act in his absence, or replace him under certain circumstances. These women appointees have little power, even to fulfill their own duties.

For instance, Shahindokht Molaverdi, who, during Rouhani’s first term, served as head of the presidential directorate for women and family affairs, stated repeatedly that she did not have the executive power to advance her directorate’s own projects. Her attempts to take measures in favor of women’s affairs all met with such pressure she was forced to back down. In an interview on August 24, 2015, she revealed that “since we do not have an executive status, we have not yet found any desirable, effective relationship with other systems and provinces, and have faced serious obstacles from the beginning.”

When Molaverdi was eventually removed from her post, she was replaced by Massoumeh Ebtekar, who was removed from her position as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, to be replaced by a man. The state-run Rouydad website, August 10, 2017 pointed out that neither Ebtekar or Molaverdi had been promoted in status as compared to their previous posts.

Laaya Jonaidi, was also appointed to a non-ministerial post, as the presidential deputy for legal affairs. To be eligible to work in a government position, she was forced to wear the head-to-toe black robe called a Chador.

Many who counted on Rouhani’s election promises feel betrayed. Parvaneh Salahshouri, who heads the women’s faction in parliament, criticized Rouhani. The state-run ISNA news agency, August 9, 2017 quoted her as saying, “It is incredible and shocking that the president has ignored half of the Iranian society.” She added, “Creating equal opportunities for women and elimination of gender discrimination was among the promises made by the president (during his election campaign). Unfortunately, not only women were not granted equal opportunities, but they were granted no opportunity!”

As well, before an open session at the parliament on August 9, 2017, Salahshouri reiterated, “Iran is among the few countries in the world whose women do not enjoy any senior position as political decision-makers… Today, more than half of (the country’s) university graduates are women. Women are present in various economic, political, social and cultural realms. However, when it gets to appointing women as ministers, the excuse is their lack of high-level experience. And this vicious cycle goes on and on,” and continued, “Gender gap is one of the criteria for evaluating the development of any country and Iran ranked 139th in 2016 among 144 countries.”

However, had Rouhani appointed several women to his Cabinet, it still would not have provided a solution women’s problems in Iran. What is necessary is the removal of several obstacles that are built into Iran’s male-dominated political system. The presence of a few women in the cabinet is an insufficient display, and will not eliminate discrimination against women or close the gender gap on economic and social fronts. Under the fundamentalist regime ruling Iran, both in law and in practice, women are discriminated against in may ways. Women in Iran face unequal rights in marriage and divorce, discriminatory inheritance laws, lower levels of legal compensation, their testimony in court amounts to that of half of a man, and they need to gain permission from their father, husband or brother in order to leave the country.

Women are marginalized in the economy. Their economic participation amounts to a maximum of 13%.They work mainly in unofficial service sectors, for wages that are far below the minimum wage, and without any insurance.

Rouhani’s failure to appoint a single woman minister to his Cabinet means that the regime in Tehran continues its suppression of women, and that the gender discrimination will remain the status quo.

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