Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU Staff

INU - On Wednesday, it was reported upon an incident that occurred earlier in December when an Iranian weightlifting champion refused to shake the hand of a female medal presenter at an international competition. Physical contact between persons of the opposite gender who are not related is illegal in Iran, and many prominent Iranians have been prosecuted or targeted in state media for violating these restrictions while traveling in foreign countries.

In 2014, an Iranian actress was threatened with public flogging and forced to apologize after she kissed the president of the Cannes Film Festival on the cheek, in line with customary greetings in some areas of Europe. The following year, the artist Atena Farghadani was charged with “illegitimate relations falling short of adultery” because she had allegedly shaken hands with her male lawyer while she was already facing charges of “insulting Iranian officials” as a result of her having drawn a political cartoon criticizing the government’s attitudes toward women.

Those attitudes were given renewed attention in recent days as political officials and religious clerics once again pushed back against public pressure on one of the most prominent symbols of Iran’s institutionalized sexism: the ban on female attendance at male sporting events. The aforementioned IW report notes that an Iranian ayatollah defended the ban by saying that exposure to images of men wrestling or playing soccer would make women “randy.” Another report detailed previous remarks by Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi and how they had played a leading role in derailing the latest efforts to review and possibly overturn the stadium ban.

Shirazi is one of the highest religious authorities in Shiite Islam and also one of the most conservative, having previously issued fatwas declaring his moral opposition to such modern conveniences as high-speed internet. Early this month, he also urged resistance to international pressure for the lifting of the stadium ban. Soon thereafter, on December 8, the Socio-Cultural Council of Women and Family announced that it would defer to Shirazi’s authority by removing from its agenda a planned review of the ban.

IranWire indicates that this decision is hardly surprising, given the past history of the regime in general and the SCCWF in particular. Earlier in 2017, for instance, the council announced its opposition to an international initiative targeting the problem of child brides. SCCWF Chair Zahra Ayatollahi endorsed the rights of families to pair young girls with older men, saying, “We must not prevent 13-year-old girls from marrying.”

The Islamic Republic is known for rejecting international standards on various aspects of human rights, including the rights of children. Iran is one of the last countries on Earth to persist in the practice of carrying out death sentences for juvenile offenders, and it does so several times a year, in violation of human rights conventions to which Iran is a signatory. The lack of legal protections for Iranian children are even worse when those children are girls, who are considered legally responsible at the age of nine.

The disparate treatment of boys and girls was highlighted by the Center for Human Rights in Iran on Wednesday when it reported upon the court case involving a fire that broke out in a public school in 2012. The school was judged responsible for the incident, which killed two young girls. But a lawyer for the victims told CHRI that the restitution for those girls’ families had been cut in half because of their gender. Compensation is paid through Iranian courts on the basis of the principle of diyah, or “blood money.” But the law specifically defines women’s lives as being worth half that of men. Similarly, female testimony in court cases is formally considered to be half as credible as that of a man.

“All women in Iran face this discrimination,” the lawyer said, calling for a change in the law. However, he also pointed out that provisions already exist in the Iranian constitution which call for gender equality and equal treatment of men and women under the law. Yet Iranian law is notorious for internal contradictions on matters such as these, and regime authorities routinely ignore supposed legal requirements in service of their own ideologically motivated whims.

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