Fact Sheet


Briefing on Sex-Based Persecution in Iran


What Is Sex-Based Persecution? Persecution, or oppressive, harmful or abusive treatment, based on one's sex can be broadly categorized into two types:


1. Acts that are female-specific or are targeted toward women because of their sex


A. Sexual Discrimination In Iran, sex-based persecution takes the form of discriminatory national laws. Sexual discrimination in Iran is practiced in virtually all sectors of society-the home, workplace, courts-as it is institutionalized in the constitution and civil and penal codes. Examples include: a. unequal rights to divorce and custody (a women must prove that the marriage is in violation of one of 12 grounds to be able to sue for divorce, and she automatically loses custody of her children when they reach a certain age); b. prohibition from entering certain professional and educational fields; c. segregation on buses, in classrooms, in certain sports activities and building entrances.


B. Imputed Persecution Many Iranian women are threatened, detained, tortured or killed because of their relationships with men who are themselves persecuted. They are targeted because their male relative's political beliefs are attributed to them, or to threaten the male relative or to force her to concede information.


C. Sexual Violence Violence against women is a form of persecution "when it is used by or with the consent or acquiescence of those acting in an official capacity to intimidate or to punish." A government's failure to protect a woman survivor of violence renders it an agent of persecution. In Iran, domestic abuse, including marital rape, is traditionally tolerated as a husband's right. Therefore, survivors of abuse cannot rely on the courts or police for legal redress or protection.


D. Other Examples of Gender-Based Persecution Female genital mutilation, dowry deaths, sexual slavery, infanticide, forced marriage, forced sterilization, forced abortion, and all forms of sexual assault, including rape, as tools of repression and torture, during peacetime and war.


2. Persecution, or oppressive, harmful or abusive treatment, based on one's gender can also be categorized under: Penalties imposed because of a woman's transgression of social norms by refusing to comply with restrictions on the rights and activities of women. The UNHCR guidelines promote recognition of persecution of women in a country "where [the] government cannot or will not protect women who are subject to abuse for disobeying social standards. The government need not itself have been the instigator of the abuse." In this type of persecution, Iranian refugee women have the compounded burden of proving that the treatment they received at the hands of officials or communities constitutes a pattern of violations, and not random, isolated incidents of criminal indictments.


Examples of transgressions in Iran include: * intentionally or inadvertently contravening the dress code (including cosmetics, nail polish, and perfume); * any association with men outside marriage; * marrying a non-Muslim; * travelling alone, inside or outside the country as a single woman, or as a married woman without the permission of the husband; * riding a bicycle in public.


Women and the Definition of Refugee "Gender" is not an enumerated ground in either the UN or U.S. definition of "refugee." According to the UN 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and to the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980, a refugee is "any person who is outside any country of her/his nationality. . . who is unable or unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." Iranian women who have transgressed discriminatory laws or customs, faced imputed persecution, or suffered domestic violence find it difficult to prove persecution based on those five grounds. The ground most often used in gender-based asylum claims is "membership in a particular social group." a. The UNHCR in its guidelines also promotes "acceptance of the principle that women fearing persecution or severe discrimination on the basis of their gender should be considered a member of a social group for the purposes of determining refugee status." b. The Canadian guidelines recognize those women who transgress discriminatory laws or customs as a gender-defined social group, and expands this social group to include survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and sexual discrimination. ". . . [T]he woman will need to show that she has a genuine fear of harm, that her gender is the reason for her feared harm, that the harm is sufficiently serious to amount to persecution, that there is reasonable possibility for the fear of persecution to occur if she returns to her country of origin and she has no reasonable expectation of adequate national protection." c. The U.S. INS guidelines, however, do not expound the grounds specified in the refugee definition, but stipulate that the violence must not be "purely personal." A woman threatened because of her feminist views may also be eligible for asylum due to persecution based on the ground of political opinion. The UNHCR and Canadian Immigration Board recognize women's opposition to oppressive laws and customs imposed on women as political statements. The INS asylum guidelines include no explicit statement in this regard. Nevertheless, the Third Circuit federal court in a 1993 case recognized that an Iranian asylum applicant’s feminist opposition to the Islamic regime was an expression of a political opinion, and therefore she could be persecuted. The court did not grant her asylum, however, because she failed to prove that she would be persecuted if returned to Iran.