"A woman should have children and take care of the housework."
This was apparently the response of the leadership board of the 11th Iranian parliament to female MPs who protested against the total absence of women among its ranks, and in other specialized parliamentary committees.
Somayeh Mahmoudi, MP for Shahreza and Dehaghan, has said that not only is this the view of the leaders of parliament, but that women have been blocked from sitting exams for specialized committees’ secretarial roles.
The parliament has 13 specialized committees, whose secretaries are not necessarily MPs but elected from the ranks of lay employees of parliament. The 11th parliament established a selection exam for the secretaries and – in theory – the opportunity for all staff to have the right to run for the position.
But after the secretarial appointments this year, Somayeh Mahmoudi, the representative for Shahreza, announced that female candidates had been removed from the exam.
"The board of directors had made a decision to make changes in the position of the committee secretaries,” she said. “All employees of parliament were invited to take part in the test designed to elect the secretaries. A number of active employees registered for the exam, of whom 40 were women. On the day of the test, they were barred from entering.
"As women, we have complained about this method and heard from the board members that ‘Because women have children, they cannot work as secretaries’.”
Mahmoudi argued that such statements are against the policies of family formation, consolidation and excellence, as it makes a woman feel that having a child will alienate her from society. As a result, the foundations of the family will be weakened.
The Reaction of Parliament’s Leaders
Mohammad Hossein Farhangi, spokesman for the leadership board, was the first member of the panel to respond to Mahmoudi’s allegation. He called it untrue.
"Currently, one of the women MPs is active as a spokesperson for the committee, and there is no such thinking in this parliament," he said, claiming that there was no consensus on the absence of women MPs from these spaces. "If no other woman is sitting on the committee, it is because she did not run for the leadership elections or was not elected by other members."
"In this period, unlike in previous terms, we had three times as many applicants for membership in the Article 90 Committee [the group tasked with overseeing complaints about the workings of the Islamic parliament] as we did in the board of directors," said Ruhollah Motefaker-zadeh, who is also among the leaders.
“We had to vote to elect the members of the committee. Eventually, based on the decision of the board, eight people were elected, and we voted in favor of the only female candidate who wanted to join.”
Masoud Pezeshkian, the MP for Tabriz, claimed: "The leadership sincerely supports the formation of a women and families division. Therefore, parliament's view of women is one of dignity, there is no gendered view of women in parliament, and we emphasize gender equality."
No response was received from any party to Mahmoudi’s claim that female parliamentary employees had been barred from the secretarial examination. Before the recent rule change, this position was reserved only for men.
Figures Reveal the Indisputable Truth; Women are Spectators in Parliament
Out of 279 current members of the 11th Majles, 17 are women. Although some of these female MPs, including Somayeh Mahmoudi, Effat Shariati, Zohreh Elahian and Hajar Chenarani, have served for multiple terms, none have ever been appointed to the leadership group, which remains an exclusively masculine arena.
This is also the case to some extent on the specialized committees. None of these groups have a female chair or vice-chair. Of the 60 Iranian delegates who have roles in the specialized committees, only four women hold official titles among them: Zahra Sheikhi, for instance, was elected speaker of the Health Committee.
In the administrative department of the Iranian parliament, no women has been ever been selected by speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf to sit among the appointed directors. Qalibaf has appointed at least 10 parliamentary executives to the leadership since taking office, with zero women in the managerial positions of the legislative branch.
Forming a Women's Faction
Female MPs have yet to take a unified position on the continuing masculinist policies of the 11th parliament. But there is likely to be some movement following the formation of a board for the new women’s division, which took place on Tuesday, July 7. According to the election results, Fatemeh Ghasempour, the newly-elected MP for Tehran, will chair this group and Fatemeh Rahmani and Sara Fallahi have respectively been elected as the vice-chair and spokesperson.