Fact Sheet


Status of Women in Iran


Women in the Constitution: Article 21 of the constitution of Iran states: "The government must ensure the rights of women in all respects, in conformity with Islamic criteria." On the basis of Islamic principles, women's rights are severely restricted. Islamic canon law regulating personal, social and legal life is clearly contrary to women's autonomy.


Employment: Although the constitution of Iran guarantees that "everyone has the right to choose any occupation he wishes" on the grounds that "it is not contrary to Islam," a married woman can hold a job as long as it is agreed to by her husband through written permission. A husband may prevent his wife from working if he deems that her choice of employment is contrary to the family's interests or dignity. Many methods have been used by the authorities to advance the belief that the best environment for women is the home, including: early retirement packages in the public service (the largest employer in Iran); legal action dismissing female judges and prohibiting other women from becoming judges, since women are believed to be swayed by emotion rather than logic; and closing of day care centres when the Islamic regime came to power. Positions which require travel abroad are restricted as women need the official permission of their husbands to leave Iran.


Education: The segregation of female students from male teachers has had repercussions on schools, including overcrowded classes, a noticeable decline in the level of instruction and closure of several educational institutions because of a lack of female teachers. Married women are not allowed to attend public secondary schools. In 1992, the UN reported that 89% of rural Iranian women are illiterate. A UN report released in 1993 indicated that 91 of 169 fields of study were closed to women. In universities, seats for women and men are separated and women usually sit in the rear. Single women are not entitled to receive foreign study scholarships.


Legal Standing: Pursuant to article 85 of the constitution, the Islamic penal code was implemented in December 1981. According to article 300, blood money or diyeh, a sum paid to the next of kin as compensation for the murder of a relative, is twice as much in the case of a murdered man as in the case of a woman. The number of witnesses required to prove a crime is higher if the witnesses are female. For example, article 237 of the penal code states that first degree murder must be proven by testimony of two just men and evidence for second-degree murder or manslaughter requires the testimony of two just men, or one just man and two just women, or of one just man and the accuser.


Dress Code: In 1980, the dress code, "hejab", became mandatory in all public places for all women, regardless of citizenship or religion. Women must cover their hair and body except for face and hands and they may not use cosmetics. Those in contravention of the dress code are subject to punishment, which may range from a verbal reprimand to a fine to 74 strokes of the lash to a prison term of one month to a year. Women are regularly harassed and arrested or detained under legal pretexts for wearing make-up or being improperly veiled. Arrests and harassment have been carried out by the morality police (Komitehs, Revolutionary Guards and Baseej) who verify that women's dress meets Islamic standards. Government offices, hospitals, cinemas and other public places have been asked to prevent women not fully complying with the dress code from entering their premises.


Segregation (Sexual Apartheid): Women are segregated from men on buses, where women must sit in the rear. Government office buildings have separate entrances for men and women. Women are not allowed to engage in public sports activities where they may be seen by men. Curtains separate men and women in the sea or they can swim only during certain hours designated for women only. During the first six years of the Islamic Republic, no woman appeared in any film made in Iran. Films in which women have no role are much more easily approved by the government. Any form of friendship or association between the sexes outside the marriage contract is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, forced marriage and stoning to death.


Temporary Marriage: In accordance with article 1075 of the civil code, a temporary marriage may be undertaken for a specified period from one hour to a maximum of 99 years. A temporary marriage is a contract for sexual services for a predetermined sum to be paid to the woman. Men are allowed to have an unlimited number of temporary wives. While the husband may terminate the marriage at any time, the woman may not do so under any condition. At no time is he required to make support payments.


Marriage: The legal age for girls to marry was reduced from 18 to 13 after 1979, and was later further reduced to 9. A virgin female of any age must obtain the permission of her father or paternal grandfather to marry. According to article 1060 of the civil code, a Muslim female is forbidden to marry a non-Muslim. There is no such limitation on a Muslim man. Men are allowed to have up to four permanent wives. Although Islamic law requires that a husband treat all his wives in an "equally fair" manner, the civil code has designated the husband himself as the sole judge of whether he can be equally fair to two or more wives. In return for her submission to the "head" of the family, the wife is entitled to receive financial support. Article 1108 of the civil code specifies that: "If the wife refuses to fulfil her nuptial obligations without justifiable cause she shall not be entitled to financial support."


Divorce and Child Custody: Article 1133 of the civil code stipulates that a man can divorce as he pleases while a woman must prove that the marriage is in violation of one of twelve enumerated grounds. Article 1130 states that the wife may sue for divorce if the continuation of the marriage causes undue hardship. Determination of such instances has been left to the judgment of the court. According to article 1169, in the event of divorce, the father has legal custody of boys after the age of two and girls after the age of seven. The mother loses this minimal right of custody over her children as soon as she remarries. Survivors of domestic violence have no recourse in the courts. No social support is provided to a woman who leaves her husband. Even the possibility of leaving the country is precluded since the husband's permission is required.


Inheritance: Under article 907 of the civil code, upon the death of the parent, "each son's share of the inheritance will be twice that of the daughter's." The widow of a man who has left children or grandchildren behind is entitled to only one-eighth of her husband's inheritance; if he has left no children, she is entitled to one-quarter (the rest is deemed property of the state). If the man had more than one wife, the one-eighth is shared among the wives. If the woman dies, the rights of her surviving husband are double those she would get if he died. While the husband's share of the inheritance covers all the wife's property, the wife's share of the estate, according to article 946, will only be from movable property, buildings and trees. With regard to the parents' inheritance from their daughter, if the deceased has no surviving children, the mother's share is one-sixth and the father's five-sixths of the estate.


Adultery: Under "hodud", punishment prescribed under religious law, the penal code accords the death penalty, stoning or flogging to the adulterer or adulteress depending on whether she or he is married or unmarried. Article 102 states: "The stoning of an adulterer or adulteress shall be carried out while each is placed in a hole and covered in soil, he up to his waist and she up to a line above her breasts." The law stipulates the size of stone, which must be used in stoning to ensure maximum suffering of the accused.


Sexuality: Article 127 of the penal code accords a punishment of 100 lashes for lesbianism. Under article 131, if the act is repeated a fourth time after receiving this punishment three times, the death penalty will be applied. Citizenship: Citizenship is granted on the basis of one's paternal status. Article 976 of the civil code specifies that those born in and outside Iran and whose fathers are Iranian will be considered Iranian citizens. If a man becomes a naturalized Iranian citizen, his minor children will also become Iranian; for a naturalized Iranian woman, her children will not be considered Iranians. Article 976 grants Iranian nationality to any woman of foreign nationality who marries an Iranian man. However, if an Iranian woman marries a man of foreign nationality, her husband will not be accorded Iranian citizenship and she may be compelled to acquire her husband's nationality, thereby losing her Iranian citizenship.


Treatment of Women Prisoners: Amnesty International has documented a number of cases where women associated with political opposition parties have been "subjected to lengthy pre-trial detention without judicial supervision during which they faced torture or other forms of coercion, then convicted at summary trials." Amnesty International reports that because in Islam virgins are believed to go to heaven, they are raped before they are executed.