Khatami's Performance in Supporting Women's Rights

Fekr-e Rooz, Weekly Magazine
No. 10, May. 25th, 2003, Page 7-8
By : Shabnam Rahmati

Iranian female jurist Shirin Ebadi believes that President Khatami's record in supporting women's rights is not very successful but she says the President himself is not responsible for this weak performance. The reason, she says, is because the many crisis the Khatami administration has been facing so far allowed his government just to survive and unable to do much. On Iran's failure to join the convention for eradication of discrimination against women, she said if the government of President Khatami were not in charge Iran would have joined this convention without any controversy. She also praised Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Yazdi's decision to find an alternative for stoning as an Islamic punishment.

Q: As the first question, what are the legal outcomes of May 23rd elections for women?
A: 23rd of May reminds us of President Khatami's election. In fact we have to see whether Mr. Khatami has acted in the benefit of women or against it. I have to note that Khatami's eye-catching victory was not possible without the well-spread support of women. In one of Saeed Hajjarian interviews he noted that victory was unexpected. In fact it was the full-scale support of women from Khatami, which led to his victory. Women who were upset because of their legal and social stature, thought that with the election of Khatami their status would change. Women cast their ballots and tried hard for the victory of President Khatami. They were upset of their belittled stature compared to men. The women who cast their ballots for President Khatami were upset because they lagged behind their brothers and husbands. They were hurt that their husbands could marry four women and could divorce them without a justified excuse. With the election of Khatami, they hoped to change the situation toward the fulfillment of the interests of women. However after his election, Khatami has faced numerous crises, stirred by his opponents. Naturally, one cannot pursue ordinary issues in crisis, because solving crisis has priority over everyday affairs. Therefore the energy of Khatami was frittered away for neutralization of crises, which were stirred. Maybe if another president was elected, he could not have overcome all of these artificial crises. However since paying attention to women's issues of concern has always been ranked as the last issue of concern in the patriarchy Iranian culture, the crisis-stirring groups and the ones who subsided the crises, did not attend the issue of crises of women. The crises were political in nature, and needed political solutions. Women were forgotten again. It seems that women are so much neglected in the current culture in Iran that they do not even deserve animosity. In fact, history repeats itself. Mr. Khatami did not forward a bill that would develop the stature of women. The only bill that could have had a minute role in improvement of women's status was the bill for joining the convention for eradication of discrimination against women. Overall, they said that anything against the Islamic rules couldn't be executed. Unfortunately despite numerous opportunities that the government had, it did not work on these issues. Even the method of presentation of the bill was not correct and legal. The principles of the convention can be considered against Islam under any pretext.

Therefore I don't see the performance of Mr. Khatami in advocating of women's rights as fruitful and laudable. Meanwhile I do not see him as the perpetrator, neither

. Q: You talked about the government's resolve for improvement of the stature of women. However I do not remember any slogans related to development of women's status prior to 23rd of May 1997? A: Democracy and listening to people's demands were attractive points that were noted in Khatami's speeches. Even if these slogans were fulfilled, the stature of women would have been improved. Women reside in this country and their comments should be listened to.

Q: If you like to guide the macro discussion into examples, I want to know which rules have been specifically endorsed in the 6th Majlis for the benefit of women.
A: The most important act of 6th Majlis was elevation of the legal age of marriage. The age of marriage for women was 9 and for men was 15. Even the father and grandfather were allowed to arrange the marriage of their daughter who had not reached the age of puberty, and there was no need for the girl's permission. In other words, a father could arrange the marriage of his two-year-old daughter to a 40-year-old man and she should go to the man's house whenever she reached the age of puberty. If she would protest against this arranged marriage, law would not affect this protest. On the other hand, the 40-year-old man could take the 2-year-old girl to his house immediately after marrying her, and force her to reside in the house. Her father could also get her dowry. This act as one of the worrying laws was the subject of protest by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution. In his trip to Hormozgan province, the Leader noted that these sorts of marriages are not right. However it is interesting that the 5th Majlis did not duly consider this comment and did not obey the Leader's orders. One of the best actions taken by the 6th Majlis was eradication of this act. It forbids marriages under the age of 15 for girls and 18 for men. Unfortunately when this ratification was not approved by the Guardian Council, the file was referred to the Expediency Council for resolution of disputes. Eventually, in June 2002 it was ratified that engagement of girls prior to 13 and boys prior to 15 is dependent on the permission of parents, with due consideration of the competent court. In this manner we see that the Majlis ratified law was modified. The Guardian Council determined the age of marriage for women as 13 and 15 for boys. Prior to these ages, it called on the girl's father to get permission from the competent court. This was not the ratification of the Islamic Consultative Assembly. In my opinion this law was amended in the 6th Majlis.
Q: Many of our domestic rules need to be balanced and reviewed in order to be in line with the international laws. If you are interested let's talk about these laws and their amendments after the 23rd of May elections?
A: Yes. The issues related to the civil rights of women should be reviewed. Subjects such as Family and the equality of couples' rights, legal relations of mother and child, punitive laws like blood money which is reiterated by some of the senior clergy, and issues resulting from unemployment should be precisely reviewed. Unfortunately none of these issues of concern have been re-studied.
Q: Ms. Ebadi in your opinion is the bill for joining the convention for eradication of discrimination against women an outcome of the 23rd of May elections, or has it been a social necessity which would have been reached through any government?
A: This convention is not the outcome of 23rd of May elections. It is a historical and social necessity. Iranian women had enough of legal discrimination and wanted to change their stature. I even anticipate that if the government of President Khatami were not in charge we would have joined this convention without any controversy. The resistance that was observed against joining this convention was mainly politically motivated. Meanwhile we joined the International Convention for Children's Rights. The rules violating the Islamic laws were also not allowed in this convention. But there was no resistance. However in the Convention for Children's Rights many of the women's rights are obeyed. This convention says that children should be involved in the decisions related to them. Why do we forget the benefits of the child when his parents separate? In a pre-determined ruling we say that the fostering of the girl is the duty of mother until the age of seven and until the age of two for boys. And after that the father has to foster the child. In fact if the contents of children rights' convention would have been implemented, maybe 70% of the contents of the Convention for Eradication of Discrimination Against Women would also be obeyed. However why is it that when we joined the Convention for Children's Rights there were no objections, but when we wanted to join the Convention for Eradication of Discrimination Against Women, we witnessed so many objections. Thereafter, the Majlis Speaker was forced to put aside this convention in order to clam down the controversy. This resistance was mainly due to the political viewpoint.

Q: Is there a guarantee that the contents of the Convention would be implemented if we join the Convention for Eradication of Discrimination against Women?
A: Whenever a government joins a convention, it is obliged to execute its contents. Obviously if the government would not fulfill its commitments, it will be questioned. If the government of Iran was accused of breaching human rights it was because It had joined the human rights conventions but was not implementing it. Therefore joining this convention is good because the country that joins is monitored closely by the United Nations Organization. The related country is asked to respect its international obligations and to execute the convention. One of the necessities for executing the contents of the convention is the review of the existing laws and their amendment based on the principles of the convention.

Q: As the last question, what is your opinion about stoning and its cancellation in Iran?
A: According to the Act of Islamic Punishment ratified in 1991, the punishment of adultery is stoning. This punishment is violating the international human rights laws. Therefore the government of Iran is always under scrutiny to replace stoning with another punishment. Some of the senior scholars believe that stoning is not specifically the punishment of adultery, but the justice is fulfilled by stoning. So what is important is the fulfillment of justice. The implementation of justice is done in a different manner in different times and eras. In the pre-Islamic era, the punishment of women who were accused of adultery was stoning in Saudi Arabia. This subject has been mentioned in Tora too. There is no evidence of stoning in the contents of Holy Qoran. It has been part of the tradition in that era. The convicts were not imprisoned and there was no sign of electric chairs. The convicts were stoned in those days. So with the pressures exerted on Iran, is it still to the benefit of the Islamic system to implement stoning? This was the topic of discussion in the related circles for months until the Head of Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroodi recommended the judges to replace this punishment with another punitive measure in a circular, which is very laudable. However in legal terms his circular is criticized, because a circular can not violate the law. The Head of Judiciary can not issue a circular which violates the law. Therefore if Ayatollah Shahroodi believes that replacing punishments should be implemented instead of stoning, it would be better to present his views in the form of a bill to Majlis, so that the law would be amended. Otherwise we can not prevent the execution of law with issuance of a circular. And the courts would not be permitted to take advantage of a replaced punishment.

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