But the real issue is the various interpretations of Sharia and, more important, the resistance of the conservative establishment to significant improvements in the status of women.
The One Million Signatures Campaign was launched in Iran in 2006 by women’s rights activists to put an end to discriminatory laws. Given the closed nature of the Iranian state and the major restrictions placed on political and social activism, the campaign’s goal of creating a mass movement was seen as a direct threat from the outset.
The campaign faced huge challenges, including the arrest and imprisonment of its members. In fact, membership in the campaign became an excuse for the arrest of many activists. Newspapers and magazines that promoted equality were banned, and the campaign’s website was blocked by the authorities several times.
The hard-liners in the government mistakenly saw the campaign as a political opponent and worked to control, confront and repress it. Yet the campaign explicitly announced its major aim: to change the laws that discriminate against women in Iran. These do not include constitutional provisions, but just a focus on changing provisions in civil and criminal codes.
Strong opposition shown by Iran’s religious and conservative establishment to change or amend the codes has decreased the likelihood of any substantial positive reforms for Iranian women in the foreseeable future.
That is why, irrespective of whether a moderate president or a government of another persuasion becomes involved in the advancement of women’s rights in Iran, the main objective of the women’s movement should be that of securing the government’s support and making use of this backing in order to lobby more senior centers of power, such as the supreme leader of Iran (who holds ultimate power), to relent on restrictions on women’s rights.
Saudi Arabia appears to have opened up opportunities for women by realizing that the country cannot advance until women’s rights are improved in the kingdom.
But it is clear that in the case of Iran, women are unlikely to be able to effectively continue the advancement of their rights until religious figures change their outlook toward women and the government demonstrates political will to engage in such reforms, too.
(Picture credit: Hamed Saber)