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Fact Checking

Fact Check: The Islamic Republic Really Empowered Iranian Women?

January 20, 2023
Pejman Tavahori
7 min read
Has the Islamic Republic under the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini expanded women’s political and social participation?
Has the Islamic Republic under the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini expanded women’s political and social participation?
"Pinocchio's Lie:” a statement that has already been established or proven to be untrue based on existing research and evidence
"Pinocchio's Lie:” a statement that has already been established or proven to be untrue based on existing research and evidence

In a January 10 interview on Iranian state TV, Kazem Gharibabadi, deputy head of the judiciary for international affairs and secretary of the judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights, claimed, “The policy of the Islamic Republic is to enable women’s social and political participation.”

To back his claim, he cited the following statistics:

  • The literacy rate among Iranian women stands at 99.3 percent;
  • 56 percent of university students and 48 percent of primary and high school students are female;
  • One-third of university faculty members are women (around 25,000);
  • Iran has 23,500 women writers and 1,000 women publishers. 40 percent of all specialized doctors are women;
  • There are 900 women filmmakers in Iran. As many as 3,000 women are members of the board of directors or CEOs of knowledge-based companies;
  • 23,000 women are managing editors of media outlets, and 19,000 women are school principals;
  • The percentage of women holding managerial positions in the government increased from 13.6 percent in 2017 to 25 percent currently;
  • More than 20,000 women hold managerial positions in the executive branch. Women are members of the cabinet, ambassadors, and governors or mayors of cities and districts – in low numbers but still;
  • More than 1,000 women are judges in the judiciary. The share of women in parliament has increased by 1,650 percent since the first parliament of the Islamic Republic was elected in 1980.

These numbers, Gharibabadi claimed, show that the Islamic Republic wants a “powerful presence” of women in the country’s development.

Are the statistics he presented correct? Do they allow us to defend the Islamic Republic’s policies, laws and practices regarding women? Have they been protected or saved from violence, discrimination and inequality since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979?

IranWire tries to answer these questions in this report.

***

Some of the statistics presented by Gharibabadi are not “achievements” by the Islamic Republic per se, but things that are normal in most countries except, of course, Afghanistan under the Taliban. For example, the number of students, doctors, filmmakers, publishers and so on. When women represent half of all those educated in society, it is only natural that educated women would choose to become writers, doctors, journalists, business manager, etc.

For the statistics to prove that the Islamic Republic has played an active role in empowering women in society, we must look at the figures related to women’s participation in parliament and in the upper echelons of the executive and judiciary.

Below, we look at some of these numbers.

Women in the parliament:

The secretary of the High Council for Human Rights claims that, compared to the first parliament of the Islamic Republic, the share of women in the legislature “has increased by 1,650 percent.” Let’s take a look at the true figures: there were four women lawmakers (1.49 percent of all MPs) in the first parliament, and they hold 16 seats (5.9 percent) in the current legislature. The number of MPs has been multiplied by four, but women still represent less than 6 percent of all deputies.

In a study published in summer 2022, an associate research professor of sociology at the Institute of Humanities and Cultural Studies provides figures about the share of women in parliament and writes, “The number of women in the Islamic Consultative Assembly has always been minuscule and, at its best, it has reached to around 6 percent in the two recent parliaments…In this area, Iran ranks 144th among 152 countries in the world.

Fact Check: The Islamic Republic Really Empowered Iranian Women?

It should also be pointed out that, except in the sixth Islamic Consultative Assembly, no woman lawmaker has been a member of the presiding committee or chaired any special committee.

Figures cited by the World Bank show that women’s share in the Iranian parliament is lower than the average in the Middle East and the world:

Fact Check: The Islamic Republic Really Empowered Iranian Women?

Figures provided by the Inter-Parliamentary Union show that women’s average share in parliaments in the Middle East rose from 4.3 percent in 1995 to 16.9 percent last year, while it remained below 6 percent in Iran:

Fact Check: The Islamic Republic Really Empowered Iranian Women?

Also, in 2019, the United Nations reported that Iran ranked 164th among 178 countries in terms of the percentage of women in ministerial positions and 180th among 191 countries when it comes to the percentage of women in parliament. This clearly shows that Iranian women play a marginal role in politics in the Islamic Republic:

Fact Check: The Islamic Republic Really Empowered Iranian Women?

 

Women Judges in the Islamic Republic:

“We have more than 1,000 women judges in the judiciary,” Gharibabadi said, but the fact is that women “judges” are, in reality, advisors to male judges, and they only intervene in cases related to family and children affairs. They do not have the authority to issue their own rulings.

Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution women in Iran could become judges. That changed when the Islamic Republic was established.

A 1982 law clearly states that “judges are chosen from among men.” This legislation was amended two years later to allow women with qualifications listed in the original law to serve as advisors in civil courts for the protection of minors.

In 2013, parliament passed the Family Protection Act, which states, “The family court session is held in the presence of the presiding judge or the alternate judge and the advising woman judge. The advising judge must record her views about the subject of the case in writing…The judge issuing the verdict must refer to the views of the advising judge and must cite his reasons if he rejects her views.”

This means that even in family courts the woman judge has no right to issue a verdict and the male judge only has to take into consideration her opinion. The judiciary was given five years to appoint enough women judges for all family courts.

Therefore, it is completely misleading and untrue to say that Iran has more than 1,000 female judges. Women have been given various positions within the judiciary but none of them are real judges.

According to a report by the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers that was presented to the UN General Assembly in 2021, around 52 percent of judges in Israel, 16.6 percent of judges in Azerbaijan, 66 percent of judges in Mongolia, 51 percent of judges in Kazakhstan, 61 percent of judges in Mauritania and 51 percent of judges in Madagascar are women. “The Special Rapporteur underlines that the elimination of discrimination against women will require systemic changes in social structures, which, in turn, call for strong political will,” the report says - something that hasn’t happened in Iran.

Women in the Media:

In the Islamic Republic, a women can become the publisher or managing editor of a publication, but men remain dominant in this field. Gharibabadi claimed that 2,300 women hold top managerial positions in the press in Iran. However, according to official statistics of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which issues permits to publishers, only 1,850 women (19.31 percent) are top directors of media outlets.

Fact Check: The Islamic Republic Really Empowered Iranian Women?

But even this number does not reflect the true situation. No woman has ever been a top manager in any important national media outlet or high-circulation newspaper. The only national newspaper run by a woman was Zan (“Woman”), which was published by Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of late President Hashemi Rafsanjani. But the newspaper was banned in 1999, and Hashemi is now in prison.

Furthermore, it is not clear how many of the 1,850 women who have registered as managing editors have succeeded in publishing their publications.

“From after the revolution until November 2018, 14,708 publishers received permits, but this does not mean that they are active because some have never published anything and some publishers stopped publishing after a while,” says Niknam Hosseinipour, CEO of Iranian Book and Literature Home. “The number of professional publishers has never reached even 300, and most publishers are not very active.”

Iran’s Ranking in Global Gender Gap:

The secretary of the judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights claimed that “the policy of the Islamic Republic is to enable women’s social and political participation,” but studies published by international institutions tell a different story.

Fact Check: The Islamic Republic Really Empowered Iranian Women?

In its 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, the Global Economic Forum ranked Iran 150th in a list of 156 countries in terms of gender equality. According to this report, the situation in Iran is a little bit better than in Congo, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan, and a little worse than in Saudi Arabia:

Fact Check: The Islamic Republic Really Empowered Iranian Women?

And the report ranks Iran 16th among 19 countries in the Middle East and North Africa:

Fact Check: The Islamic Republic Really Empowered Iranian Women?

In its 2021-2022 report on gender equality, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security ranks Iran 120th among 170 countries.

Fact Check: The Islamic Republic Really Empowered Iranian Women?

This study ranked countries by their performance in education, financial inclusion, employment, cellphone use, parliamentary representation, legal discrimination, gender discrimination, domestic violence, social safety and organized violence. Iran does not rank higher than 125th in any of those categories.

Fact Check: The Islamic Republic Really Empowered Iranian Women?

In the Women’s Workplace Equality Index, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, Iran is among the 10 bottom-ranked countries regarding women’s workforce equality, alongside Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Mauritania, Sudan, Qatar, Syria and Yemen.

Conclusion

Gharibabadi cited a series of numbers to back his claim that “the policy of the Islamic Republic is to enable women’s social and political participation.”

But IranWire’s research shows that neither his claim nor the numbers that he presented are true. The Islamic Republic stands at the bottom or near the bottom of the rankings when it comes to gender equality, women’s political and social participation, the percentage of women in ministerial positions and the percentage of women in parliament.

You can read about our fact-checking methodology here. See more fact-check reports on Iran-Wire.

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