Prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, women in Iran had significant personal freedom and protection under the law. One of the first changes the Ayatollah Khomeini made after taking power was to revoke the 1967 Family Protection Law, which governed marriage, divorce and family custody.
Today, women have less than second-class status in Iran. Their husbands may divorce them at will and take as many as four concurrent wives, and divorced women have no custody rights to their own children once the child reaches age 2. Women are denied the right to study what they choose and are forbidden from entering certain professions and from studying abroad unless accompanied by their husbands. Their testimony in court is devalued: Two women must testify to carry the same weight as one man.
The court system is an arm of fundamentalist Islam. Female victims of crime receive less justice than male victims. Punishment for harming or even killing a woman is less harsh than if the victim is a man. What we in the West might consider moral transgressions, such as adultery, incur the severest criminal penalties, including the stoning to death of female adulterers. Even minor transgressions, such as failing to wear the hijab, can result in beatings and imprisonment.
Last week in Paris, however, I joined a group of prominent women gathered to draw attention to the plight of women in Iran and under other Islamic extremist governments. The conference theme, “Women Leading the Fight Against Islamic Fundamentalism,” drew speakers including former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, former president of the German Bundestag Rita Sussmuth, South African activist Nontombi Naomi Tutu, and Mariane Pearl, journalist and widow of reporter Daniel Pearl, whose videotaped execution by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed became a symbol of the barbarity of al-Qaida.
Maryam Rajavi, the conference organizer and president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, described the outrageous misogyny that the mullahs inflict on Iran: an acid attack against a woman and her daughter in the streets of Tehran, forced marriages for girls under 15, and new laws (unopposed by the so-called moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani) that allow men to marry their adopted daughters at age 13.