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Iran’s Discriminatory Laws against Women: The Early Days

December 6, 2018
Ehsan Mehrabi
9 min read
A placard advertises service to secure scholarships from foreign universities. Iran’s law on studying abroad was changed to make the husband master of their wives’ plans — for study, travel or work
A placard advertises service to secure scholarships from foreign universities. Iran’s law on studying abroad was changed to make the husband master of their wives’ plans — for study, travel or work
In the Islamic Civil Code, grounds for divorce discriminate against women
In the Islamic Civil Code, grounds for divorce discriminate against women
"Anti-women laws must be abolished”
"Anti-women laws must be abolished”

Most discriminatory laws against Iranian women were passed in the early years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The new Islamic Republic authorities sought to replace laws they had inherited from the monarchy with new legislation that would reflect the entire body of “Islamic principles.”

The first three Islamic parliaments, from 1980 to 1992, made wholesale changes in the country’s civil laws and passed new laws, including an Islamic Penal Code that in many cases specifically targeted women, aiming to adjust their lives and their lifestyles to correspond with the new government requirements and the worldview of the extremist clergy. Part of the “Islamization” of the society was entrusted to the members of the parliament, but when the process of legislation proved to be time-consuming, the Islamic Revolution Council took over, or the directives of Ayatollah Khomeini, as the founder of the Islamic Republic, became the rule.

This is the first in a series of IranWire reports about the laws passed by the Islamic Republic’s parliament regarding women and, also, the role played by woman representatives in the parliament. For this purpose, we have divided parliaments into three periods. The first, second and third parliaments that followed the revolution passed the highest number of anti-women laws. The fourth, fifth and sixth parliaments, from 1992 to 1996, and the tenth, elected in 2016, tried to improve some discriminatory laws against women — but the same parliaments also passed some discriminatory and repressive laws as well. The seventh, eighth and ninth parliaments, from 2005 to 2016, returned to the extremist post-revolutionary positions.

The first, second and third parliament passed, respectively, 18, 23, and 22 laws concerning women, family and children. This was in addition to parts of other major legislation, such as the Islamic Penal Code, that are specifically about women. Below we review the most important laws passed by the first three Islamic Republic parliaments under the headings of punishments, social freedoms, family, education and employment.



On December 15, 1982, the parliament passed the interim Islamic Republic Penal Code. Articles 63 through 107 of the code were dedicated to the “Definition of Adultery and Its Punishments.” The same year, legislators passed the law for stoning adulterers. 

Article 6 ruled that the blood money for killing a Muslim woman is half that of a Muslim man. And Article 7 essentially put forward the same stance regarding retribution for injuries. Article 189 specifies “100 dinars” as recompense for injuring a man’s hands or feet by “a spear or things similar to it,” but if the victim is a woman, the judge decides how much must be paid.

Social Freedoms

The parliament passed the Mandatory Hijab Law in 1983. But earlier, on March 6, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini had announced that “Islamic ministries must not become places for sin. Women must not go naked to Islamic ministries but must wear hijab. It is all right to go to work but they must do it [wearing] Islamic hijab.”

The 1982 Islamic Penal Code made no mention of hijab, but a provision of Article 102 of the law passed in 1983 rules that “Women who appear in public without Islamic hijab will be sentenced to up to 74 lashes.”

Some of the general laws about “dress rules” that the three first parliaments passed also mostly apply to women. In 1986, the second parliament passed the “law regarding prosecution of vendors who sell clothes that [if worn] in public is against sharia or harms public chastity.” Article 4 of this law states: “Persons who wear clothes and makeup that violates sharia or promotes corruption or violates public chastity will be arrested and will be tried immediately and, depending on the case, will be sentenced to one of the punishments listed in Article 2.” The punishments in Article 2 are warning and guidance, admonishment, 10 to 20 lashes and/or fines.

On August 28, 1991, the third parliament passed the controversial “passport law.” According to this new law, which replaced an earlier law passed in March 1973 under the shah, all persons under 18 and all persons who are wards of their guardians can only leave Iran with written permission from their guardian. Under the Islamic Republic laws, married Iranian women are wards of their husbands.


Women and Family

On December 21, 1982, the parliament changed certain articles in the Civil Code [PDF], including the ban on marriage before puberty, the need for a guardian’s consent for a girl to marry, the official age of puberty, guardianship, a wife’s financial hardship and grounds for divorce.

But in “grounds for divorce,” husband and wife are not equal. According to Article 1123 of the Civil Code, a man can “cancel” the marriage for the following “defects” in his wife: “Protrusion of the womb,” “leprosy,” “connection of the vaginal and anal passages,” “being crippled,” and “being blind in both eyes.” The wife can only get a divorce if the husband is “mad” or “impotent,” as Article 1125 states. The wife cannot ask for a divorce if the husband is crippled, totally blind or has leprosy.

Article 1041 bans marriage before puberty but provides an escape clause through a provision that states: “Marriage before puberty is allowed by the permission of the guardian and on the condition of taking into consideration the ward’s interests.”

The effort to make the father’s permission mandatory for a girl to marry continued from the first to the third parliament. On November 12, 1991, the parliament made changes to related articles in the Civil Code, including Article 1043, which rules: “The marriage of a girl who has not married previously is dependent on the permission of her father or her paternal grandfather even if she has reached the full age of maturity.”



Laws on education were also changed to keep married women close to their families but to distance men from fields such as gynecology and obstetrics. On August 24, 1982, the first parliament passed a law on medical school graduates who want to continue their medical studies in a specialized field.

According to the so-called “Out-of-Center Service Law,” medical doctors, dentists, pharmacologists and other professionals in the fields related to medicine must, upon graduation, serve for five years in towns and areas that have no universities in these fields. With the new law, women graduates, unlike men, were allowed to study gynecology and obstetrics before performing this mandatory service.

And in October 16, 1985, with the passage of the law to establish the Ministry of Health and Medical Education, the ministry was ordered to aim for the “self-sufficiency” of women in gynecology, obstetrics and clinical medicine.

The “Law for Dispatching Students Abroad,” passed by the second parliament on April 25, 1985, increased the dependency of women on men. According to this law, women with Bachelor’s or higher degrees can only go abroad to study if they are married and are accompanied by their husbands.



In the early post-revolutionary years, laws on the employment of married women were changed in a way that weakened their positions in the workplace. Religious extremists were so impatient for such laws that they did not even wait for the parliament to pass them and had the Revolutionary Council do the job. One was a law, passed on February 9, 1980, that exempted all married female doctors, dentists and pharmacologist from “out-of-center” service, which was required for acquiring a permanent license to practice.

Before the revolution, women were also drafted for military service. On May 25, 1981, the first parliament exempted women from military service and reduced the duration of “out-of-center” service for women in medical fields to three months. Then, on April 13, 1982, a note was added that declared that, as soon as they are married, “female subjects” qualified for this law.

On April 19, 1988, the third parliament amended the Law on the Service of Doctors and Paramedics by requiring married women to provide the university with written consent from their husbands before they could register for specialized medical fields. And on June 2, 1988, the parliament approved legislation that allowed certain categories of women in the medical profession to fulfil their required period of service at any location in the country. They included married women, wives and children of war martyrs, prisoners of war or soldiers missing in action and mothers who were guardians of their children.

The worldview behind these laws is that the man is the breadwinner of the family and the professional lives of married women must be adjusted accordingly. This worldview was reflected in many laws related to women’s employment and working conditions. On November 15, 1981, the first parliament passed a law that exempted female doctors and paramedics from serving a month in locations decided by the Ministry of Health. And on December 1, 1983, the same parliament passed another law, allowing government agencies and state-owned entities to change the status of their full-time female employees to part-time if the employees themselves requested it.

On December 28, 1983, the “Budget Law” of 1971 was amended as follows: “Assistance to families when both husband and wife are government employees goes only to the husband and their children.” In 1987 a law was passed that made non-commissioned female officers in the army into non-military employees.

On October 16, 1991, the third parliament passed the Law on Revolutionary Guards Employment that allowed the Guards to hire women as employees when the job “requires it.” The law specified that, as much as possible, female employees should work in locations that accommodates the “employment situation” of their husbands. Also, on January 1, 1992, the third parliament amended the law on the retirement of government employees so that women retire after 20 years of service instead of 30 years. The period for retirement remained intact for men.


Related Coverage:

Female Singers and an Underground Concert in Tehran, November 19, 2018

Do Women Need Permission from Men to go Mountain Hiking?, November 18, 2018

Dancing is Not a Crime, July 10, 2018

Is Khamenei Afraid to Contradict Grand Ayatollahs?, December 13, 2017

Ayatollah Gives Thumbs Down to Women in Stadiums, December 12, 2017

Only Married Women Allowed to Play Music, November 30, 2017

The Stage Is no Place for Iranian Women, December 21, 2016

, May 27, 2016

, April 3, 2016

Women and Travel Bans: Can the Laws be Reformed?, November 3, 2015

, September 23, 2015

Going out? Ask your Husband First, September 15, 2015

, June 15, 2015

Judicial Official Defends Polygamy, February 5, 2015

, February 2, 2015

Female Musician Banned from Performing, January 16, 2015

Iran’s Gender Double Standards, October 20, 2014

, October 15, 2014



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