Women's Participation in City Councils

By : Maryam Mortazavi-Nasab
Iran Shora, Monthly Magazine, No. 2, Feb. 2001, Page 28 - 29
1989, First Edition

Women Representatives in Iran's City Councils believe that despite a 150% rise in women's membership in the Majlis in the past 20 years, and the fact that they have received the highest number of votes in City Council elections in 109 cities, yet because of a patriarchal attitude that is prevalent among the intellectuals, certain inflexible criteria of executive organizations, views of some officials, as well as ethnic and cultural issues, women are not taken seriously in the arena of social activities, and are confined to lower management positions which require little responsibility.

The road through Lavizan Forest Park in the North East of Tehran, leads us toward a hotel where "The Women Circle" is having a gathering. They are representing women of the country's major cities, who in the future decades will play a vital role in the development of the Iranian communities.

With the ever increasing number of active women involved in the decision making process, issues relating to women who account for half of the nation's population can not be overlooked.

Indeed contribution of women to the society is clearly evident in all that they have so far achieved. They have reached the highest social levels, been promoted to the highest positions, expanded their presence at the universities and centers of higher education, increased their participation in various groups and associations, and been promoted to high level executive and management positions. Women's participation in City and District Councils, is further indication of their comprehensive social presence. For example in 25 out of 28 Provincial Centers, women have been elected to Council positions, in 109 City Council elections 114 women captured the most votes for the number one and two positions, and from the 1st through the 5th Majlis, the number of women representatives has increased by 150%.


"The Women Circle" which had gathered at the Shayan Hotel, was not inclined to comment ahead of any concrete accomplishments. However, what had necessitated their gathering and encouraged them to have a distinct and deeper examination of women's issues, is certainly interesting.

Issues which generally relate to women's social status in the cities and different regions of the country, and also the perspective of local communities towards women.

Nazila Assefi, who received the second highest number of votes in Tabriz Islamic Councils elections, is the first woman ever to be promoted to the position of Deputy Governor. In evaluating women's status she says: "Following the revolution, and specifically after Khordad the Second (May 23, 1997), women's status has enjoyed an upward trend, and the election results in our city, is indicative of people's increasing appreciation of women's position." She adds: "In our city elections, the third highest number of votes were also captured by a woman candidate who resigned from membership of the City Council, in order to participate in the Majlis elections."

Assefi says that although she is the only female member of the 11 member Council, she has not experienced any particular problem. She also says that in the previous year, she had been appointed head of the Planning and Budget Commission, and that this year she is on the Council's board of directors, a member of the Cultural Commission, as well as the Councils treasurer.

Assefi points out: "Our cultural and religious traditions, and our constitution which is our national covenant, clearly defend women's rights, and therefor women who account for half the nation's population, will inevitably reach their rightful place in our community."

"Today in many countries although women perform the same tasks as men, they do not enjoy equal rights," she says, adding: "Fortunately President Khatami holds an extremely positive view of the Iranian women, and his viewpoint has been highly helpful in increasing the number of women who are currently holding management positions, even though most of these positions are low level, which means we have yet to realize our expectations in this regard."

Najmeh Hamid, who has a doctorate degree in Psychology and is a member of Ahvaz City Council, a city whose women are victims of certain ethnic traditions, speaks more harshly and says: "In Ahvaz, ethnic, tribal, and cultural issues that effect women, are driving many women to contact the City Council for help." She adds:" Although women rights issues are widespread, in Ahvaz these issues are more profound."

She points out that although a lot of women in Ahvaz are performing the type of manual work which is normally performed by men, due to traditional, and negative viewpoints towards them, women's right are often ignored to the extent that even justice department judges are guilty of not fairly defending women's rights. Further she says that women working in management and governmental positions are often given positions that are far below their educational backgrounds and abilities. She complains that although in recent years, due to greater emphasis in the implementation of laws, discrimination against women has somewhat lessened, the problem was far from over, and that it still required a great deal of work. She goes on to say that even though the nation's planners are among intellectuals, consciously or subconsciously however they display a patriarchal attitude.

Hamid who is also a member of the Chamran University's scientific board, complains about lack of attention toward women's problems in Ahvaz and says: "For example there are no special programs for women in need of support, and considering that women play an important role in the foundation of the society, lack of attention to their problems would not only deteriorate the family structure, it would also exasperate difficulties relating to the upbringing and education of the children, a situation which has led to a rise in the criminal activities in Ahvaz." She adds: "Supporting women in a serious manner against ethnic and tribal prejudices, can strengthen the family structure, improve the quality of social relations, and finally reduce social degradations."

"City councils do not belong to men or women, rather they belong to the cities, and yet in reality this is not the case," says Nazila Assefi. With regard to council women's role in resolving women's issues, she says: "In my opinion women expect that Council Women should be mainly focused on issues relating to them, however when a women related proposition is put forth at a council meeting, its chances of approval are limited due to the limited number of council women."

Najmeh Hamid explains that the presence of four women on the Ahvaz City Council is indicative of the women's share in the City Council according to the vote of the people of Ahvaz. However, she regrets that the City Council members suffer from very limited powers.

Hamid says: "Unfortunately our powers are much less than what is needed to meet people's expectation," and adds that if the council is considered to be an organization, and a source of hope for the people, and that its invigoration is vital to the strengthening of the regime, it unfortunately does not possess the authority needed to resolve the problems of women in Ahvaz.

She says: "In order to keep people's hope in the council alive, we must have the adequate tools."

She explains: "In Ahvaz, we are regularly contacted by women who ask what has the City Council done, or if it is able to resolve their problems, unfortunately, we have not been able to achieve much in this connection." She adds: "We are currently depending on our prior connections and reputation to make any progress, simply because officials do not provide the council with adequate support, while it must be appreciated that supporting the city council is supporting a regime, which claims to belong to the people and which therefore will be greatly harmed if it were to lose its people's support, due to its failure to respond to their needs."

Fatemeh Gandomi, the only women member of Mashad City Council, views women's situation differently. "I do not believe in categorization based on gender, it seems that whenever we have adopted this approach, it has had an adverse effect on women's rights," she says. "It is the Council's responsibility to encourage women to become more active outside their homes, and to have a greater presence in the community. This will help them advance culturally, while at the same time it will change the culture of the society in a way that weaknesses which exist in connection to women's lack of acceptance, would be eliminated."

Fatemeh Jalali-Pour, a member of Tehran City Council, views women from their social status and says: "Both men and women, have specific responsibilities, based on the role they choose, and we are not proposing that women should be put in charge of all positions, indeed when we discuss the gender issue, there are obvious differences between men and women which cannot be changed, however when we discus roles, we must appreciate that roles do change, and what is important to us is that whether a man or a woman is give a particular role to perform, that role is handled efficiently."

Some of the programs and projects initiated by City Councils are specifically for the benefit of women.

Najmeh Hamid discussing Council's sparse projects for women of Ahvaz, says: "Some time ago a park named Hijab was built in Ahvaz but remained abandoned. We are planning to renovate this park and use it to create employment for women, but sadly we have run into budget issues."

She adds: "At the same time we have overweeningly passed a law to promote employment among women who are their family's bread winners. The law's main aim was to create employment by engaging such women in baking local style bread in an effort to enable them to make a living, however although this law was submitted to the Flour and Bread Council, as well as the Governor's Office, it has not received adequate support."

Hamid further points out that certain inflexible criteria of executive branches, and some officials' negative attitude towards women, lead us to believe that they simply are not willing to provide women with the support that they deserve. For the same reason, the Councils which in some ways are in contact with women and their issues, are not taken seriously by the officials.

Nazila Assefi, who aside from being a council member, is also Deputy Governor, and the head of the Women Association of House of Labor, and the Secretary of Women's Commission of city of Tabriz, is in a better position to act on behalf of women, though not through the Council.

She says: "Since my other responsibilities are related to women's issues, in the Council I spent less time on women's grievances. We have not achieved anything that would be specifically beneficial to women at the Council, and are not generally focussed on specific segments since whenever we solve a city related problem, every one would benefit from the outcome. Still we are working on a project titled Women's Park, which is aimed at promoting employment among women, and which we hope would be ratified by the Council."

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