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Rouhani Official Accused of Unethical Work Scheme for Young Women

May 16, 2017
Aida Ghajar
5 min read
Shahindokht Molaverdi, Rouhani’s Vice President for Women’s Affairs
Shahindokht Molaverdi, Rouhani’s Vice President for Women’s Affairs
Fatemeh Alia, former member of parliament, who now works for Ebrahim Raeesi’s presidential campaign
Fatemeh Alia, former member of parliament, who now works for Ebrahim Raeesi’s presidential campaign

A conservative politician has accused the vice president for women’s affairs of sending young divorced women to Turkey for work.  

On May 10, Fatemeh Alia, who is backing Ebrahim Raeesi’s bid to become president, claimed that Vice President for Women’s Affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi had provided information to the United Nations about divorced women aged between 20 and 25 that could be sent to work in the Turkish city of Antalya. The accusations emerged just nine days before the presidential election. 

Molaverdi, who was appointed by President Hassan Rouhani to oversee women’s affairs, dismissed the claim as a “barefaced lie” and threatened to take legal action against Alia. “This gibberish comes from a deranged and confused mind and it exposes the people to psychological insecurity,” she said in retaliation. 

Alia has a long record of drafting and backing controversial legislation that rights activists describe as anti-women. 

She currently heads the Women’s Committee at Ebrahim Raeesi’s campaign headquarters. In a recent news conference, Alia insisted that, once elected, Raeesi will be committed to enforcing laws. More than likely, the laws she is referring to include those she has championed, including a law that allows men to marry more than one woman without informing his wife and one that makes it more difficult for women to work. 

Immediately following Alia's claim, Iranians went on to social networks to respond to and debate the matter, which many of them described as bizarre. Some prayed for Alia’s quick recovery and others dismissed the claims as part of a “principlist fantasy” about President Rouhani’s administration. Others compared the two female politicians, stating that the difference between them was no longer a matter of  “bad and worse” but one of “good versus evil” or “civilized thought versus knee-jerk reaction” or even “humanity versus barbarism.” Several journalists asked why a legal case had not been brought against Alia so that she might be stopped from talking about women’s issues.

During her time as a member of parliament representing Tehran, Fatemeh Alia consistently spoke out and acted against women’s rights. When women protested against being banned from watching World Cup volleyball games in Tehran, Alia admonished them, saying, “a woman’s job is to take care of her husband and to educate her children, not to watch volleyball.”

 

"Put the Green Movement Leaders on Trial"

In 2016, Alia, a member of the Islamic Revolution Endurance Front, the country’s most extreme conservative political coalition, failed to get enough votes to serve as a representative in the 10th Iranian Parliament. But, prior to this, she was elected and served in Iran’s 7th, 8th and 9th parliaments (2004 to 2016) at a time when the conservative principlists held the majority of seats. She was a supporter of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who offered her the portfolio of the education ministry, although she refused the job. Before going into politics, she was the acting director for women’s affairs at the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).

During the campaign for the 2009 presidential election, Alia praised the performance of Ahmadinejad during his TV debate with the reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. She described Ahmadinejad as “courageous” and praised him for not being “hesitant in front of the people, for the glory of the people” and “for serving the people.” Ahmadinejad, she said, symbolized the “cry of the people” during the debate. 

Alia has repeatedly called on the Iranian judiciary to put the leaders of the Green Movement on trial. Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard have all been under house arrest for five years. “If this continues any further, and the regime shows more kindness to the heads of the sedition, then people will think that they have not committed any crime and that is why they are not put on trial. This would benefit them.” The regime, and particularly conservative politicians and media, use the term “sedition” to refer to the Green Movement and those who took part in the protests that followed the official results of the 2009 presidential election.

Fatemeh Alia was also a member of “The Anxious,” a group that opposed the nuclear agreement with the US and other world leaders, when it was set up in 2014. 

 

Champion of Hijab, Reduced Working Hours for Women, and Polygamy

She also played a role in drawing up the so-called “Family Protection” bill, speaking about its benefits on a regular basis and promoting its passage in parliament. Despite opposition and criticism from political and women’s rights activists with the support of the Iranian Judiciary, Ahmadinejad’s government submitted it to parliament and it became law in the summer of 2007. One of the most controversial provisions of this law is polygamy for men. Under the law, men do not need the permission of their existing wife to marry a new wife and do not even need to inform them about it. The only thing men need to prove in court is that they can afford a new wife.

Alia and a group of parliamentarians also introduced a bill on Safeguarding the Sanctity of Hijab and Chastity during the 9th parliament (2012-2016). The legislation set out that police would deploy trained female agents to identify women not wearing hijab or wearing hijab inappropriately in public spaces. Those who violated the law would initially receive a warning and be sent to remedial courses, but women who continued to flaunt the hijab laws would be fined for each infraction, from around $60 to $300 depending on the severity of their crime.

In the same parliamentary session, Alia also backed a controversial bill that would reduce working hours for women. Critics said it was a measure designed to keep women at home. Alia responded to by accusing her critics of hypocrisy, who, she said, were trampling women’s rights under the banner of protecting them. In defending the law, she said it allowed flexibility and would “make women more active and joyful in their jobs.”

She also supported the “Population and the Elevation of Family” bill, which promoted the idea of larger families — again, it was a piece of legislation that critics said would have a negative impact on women, making it even more difficult for them to hold down jobs.

In the 2016 parliamentary elections, Fatemeh Alia failed to be re-elected. But, as her work as head of Ebrahim Raeesi’s Women’s Committee and her recent comments demonstrate, she is still very active in politics, and she still has an impact in Iran’s political arena.

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