Under current Iranian law, women must obtain permission from their husbands to travel abroad, unless the couple specifically draws up a contract prior to marriage that grants women this right.
Unlike many other female MPs in Iran, Shahla Mir Galoo-Bayat has voiced support to reform this controversial law. Fresh debate about the issue was ignited in September, when the television sports presenter Mehdi Tootoonchi banned his wife, football and futsal star Nilufar Ardalan, from international travel to compete in in the 2015 AFC Futsal Championship.
The ban on Ardalan traveling commanded widespread media attention and led to divisive debate on social media. Shortly after, IranWire talked to MP Laleh Eftekhari. “This is the law of holy sharia,” Eftekhari said. “The laws of sharia cannot be changed.”
Like most Iranian women, Mir Galoo-Bayat MP, a surgeon and gynecologist who sits on Iranian parliament’s Health and Medical Education Committee, must obtain permission from her husband to get a passport and travel outside the country.
IranWire talked to the member of parliament about the law and what can be done to change it.
You have been quoted as saying the law stipulating that women must get their husband’s permission to travel can be reformed. Is this true?
I was asked a question about it and the essence of what I said is this: Islamic laws are the most advanced laws and therefore, the same Islamic laws can accommodate the issue of women traveling by taking into account present conditions. At the present time, our women have effective presence in various areas. For example, many of them are businesswomen who travel to other countries to conduct business. Many women travel to attend scientific and academic gatherings. In my opinion these laws can be reformed.
But some of your colleagues believe that the relevant regulations are part of sharia law and as such cannot be changed.
I believe that it can change when the times change. High religious and jurisprudence authorities can change the laws by taking into account present conditions. In this case, too, they can come to a decision by taking into account the needs of the time and the presence of women in various fields and accommodate travel by women.
Of course, I believe this question needs more study. Sometimes, when a marriage contract is drawn up, women add in the right to choose where to live or the right to find employment. The right to travel is another right that can be provided for in the marriage contract.
Look, the fact that these provisions can be included in the marriage contract shows that Islamic laws are truly progressive and just and give women the freedom to put forward their demands.
Have you raised this in parliament?
For the moment, nothing has been brought up in parliament. We are in last year of the ninth parliament but perhaps in the future, if women consider it a priority, it will be raised. In any case there are lawful solutions based on sharia that will meet women’s demands. As I said, they can provide for these demands in their marriage contracts, have them signed and later, if necessary, they can act on it.
I believe that the problem with most women is that they are unaware of their rights. This lack of knowledge can create a lot of problems for them. But women can easily solve all these problems beforehand. Then there will be no problem legally, or from the viewpoint of sharia.
But many women who have included this provision in their marriage contracts have not been able to benefit from it in practice. They have been asked for their husband’s permission to get passports.
As I said, more study must be done about these issues and the laws related to women’s rights. The parliament too must work on it more, so that women’s demands can be met legally and in accordance with sharia. What is very important in my view is for women to study their rights. Because sometimes ignorance can end up costing them — even if the problem has nothing to do with the law.
Informing women of their rights through the media is another way to help them. I believe the laws of Islam have left the door open for women to get their legal rights. The only problem is our lack of knowledge. Even in Article 20 of the constitution, we can see that legally there are no differences between men and women. Article 20 says: “All citizens of the country, both men and women, equally enjoy the protection of the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, in conformity with Islamic criteria.” So nothing can help us like studying our rights so we can achieve them according to sharia and justice.
As a member of parliament, do you need your husband’s permission to travel?
It is not like I need to get permission for each journey or mission. A single stamp of permission in my passport is enough for travelling. If the passport expires and I want to renew it, I will have to get permission again. But as long as my passport is valid, I do not need permission every time.