State-sponsored violence against women in Iran is on the rise, despite the 24-hour news cycle, the prevalence of social media, and ongoing protests and activism. In fact, the clerical regime perpetuates and systematically promotes physical, mental, economic, and political violence against women and girls.
Enforcement of the Mandatory Hijab
The Iranian Constitution, co-opted by the misogynistic regime, perpetuates a perverse and archaic interpretation of Islam as a means of subjugating women. The most prevalent and immediately apparent form of state-sponsored violence against women in Iran is the compulsory veil (Hijab). It is enforced through 27 repressive agencies including the State Security Force and the “guidance patrols” that severely punish Iranian women who refuse to wear the Hijab or who are deemed to be “improperly” veiled.
2,000 and counting. That’s the number of women arrested per day in 2016, according to Hussain Ashtari, Commander of State Security Forces (SSF) in Iran, for improper veiling.
In a 2018 report, the Iranian Majlis (parliament) acknowledged that 70% of Iranian women do not believe in the compulsory veil and are considered “improperly veiled.” More than 85% of the “improperly veiled” do not approve of government intervention to enforce the veil. Despite the data, 27 government agencies are empowered to enforce the compulsory veil, even using violent enforcement tactics. As witnessed in Iran in October 2014, Hijab enforcement has extended to organized acid attacks and instances of women being stabbed by members of extra-judicial groups. The regime’s failure to prosecute these criminals has only emboldened them, and acid attacks against women have become common.
Sentences are harsh: In one example, three anti-hijab women activists were sentenced to 55 years and 6 months for failing to wear the Hijab. On July 31, 2019, the Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi, and Mojgan Keshavarz – none of whom had legal representation – to 5 years in prison for “association and collusion against national security;” one year for “disseminating propaganda against the state;” and 10 years for “encouraging and preparing the grounds for corruption and prostitution.” Mojgan Keshavarz received an additional 7.5 years for “insulting the sanctities.”
Forced Early or Child Marriages
Girls in Iran may be married at the age of 13; fathers are permitted to marry off their daughters at the age of 9 with a judge’s approval. In 2018, the Majlis rejected a proposed bill to increase the age of marriage for girls to 16, under the pretext that it contained “religious and social deficiencies” and for contradicting “the teachings of Islam.” This form of violence against women in Iran capitalizes on children’s vulnerability and reinforces the fact that, under the misogynistic mullahs’ rule, even female children lack adequate protection.
600,000 and counting. That’s the number of underage girls who enter into marriage every year in Iran. In 2017 alone, there were 234,000 registered marriages of girls under the age of 15. Meanwhile, the Iranian Constitution and laws stipulates that girls as young as 6 years old must cover their hair, and that they are criminally accountable as early as 9 years of age.
Cruel Punishments: Executions, Flogging, and Others
Under the mullahs’ dictatorship, violence against women in Iran means women live under the chokehold of a regime where even the suspicion of female adultery can lead to a death sentence. Susan, a university student, was working on a project with her professor at home. Susan’s husband, who filmed the interaction, complained to legal authorities. A judge, seemingly unconcerned about the husband’s motives or actual facts, sentenced both Susan and her professor to death. The sentences were reduced to 99 lashes after an appeal.
In another instance of flogging, at least 10 female students in a southern Iranian village, were sentenced to eight lashes each. Their “crime”? Their parents were unable to pay the school fees demanded by the principal. In other examples, young women have been sentenced to as many as 99 lashes for participating in protests, birthday parties, or graduation ceremonies.
Mistreatment of Human Rights Defenders and Political Prisoners
Continuing its theme of misogynistic behavior, the mullahs’ regime systematically engages in political violence against women in Iran. Female political prisoners are routinely sentenced to long solitary confinements during which they are interrogated and tortured. With little to no access to legal representation or medical attention, female prisoners deal both with the injustice of torture and exposure to the Coronavirus. Apart from the threat of COVID infection, female prisoners also contend with pre-existing conditions that go untreated.
Iranian security forces are also known to use sexual violence against women. During the January 2020 protests in Iran, Amnesty International received credible reports that at least one woman had been arrested and forced to perform oral sex on her interrogator, who attempted to rape her.
Domestic Violence and Honor Killings
77,059 and counting. That’s the official number declared by the Iranian Chief Coroner and published by the state-owned IRNA news agency in 2018, of women who experienced domestic abuse and sought medical support in one year. However, in a nation where the Mullahs’ regime silences women, the numbers are surely higher. Domestic violence complaints have doubled in one year. Ali Hadizadegan, Director of the Coroner’s Office in Mashhad, reported that the most widely reported victims of domestic violence are 20-35-year-old women and acknowledged that the numbers do not reflect the women who do not come forward.
With the increase of violence against women in Iran, the narratives of abuse have been amplified around the world. Romina Ashrafi, one of many examples, recently made headlines globally when her story was uncovered.
The 14-year-old girl, systematically and violently abused by her father, had repeatedly contacted the authorities for help – but her pleas went unanswered. Young Romina, lacking the proper support, devised what she thought was a good plan to escape the violence: elope with the man she loved. She was arrested and returned to her father’s house despite warning the presiding judge that her father would kill her. On May 21, 2020, Romina Ashrafi’s father beheaded her while she lay sleeping in what was labeled an “honor killing.”
The Iranian Constitution, which considers fathers and paternal grandfathers the “owners” of their children’s blood, inherently condones honor killings. As described in the Women’s NCRI May 2020 report, the regime bears responsibility for honor killings as long as its laws institutionalize extra-judicial executions. Such killings are systemic when the rule of law is superseded by the rule of an archaic, clerical regime that manipulates religion for its power-hungry and ruthless ambitions.
Child Abuse and Incest
5,200 and counting. That’s the number of incest cases filed with the Justice Ministry in 2016, according to the state-run Young Journalists Club, whose report confirms that published numbers do not include cases of rape by other family members; namely, uncles or fathers-in-law. While it is virtually impossible to accurately document the number of child incest and sexual exploitation cases, statistics from a 2003 ISNA report indicate that the average age of girls raped by their fathers is 10-12; the average age of girls raped by their brothers is 15-16.
Women and girls cannot feel safe is their own homes, let alone in Iran’s justice system.
VAW bill doing little to prevent violence against women in Iran
In a theatric measure to silence widespread outcry over such institutionalized misogyny and violence against women in Iran, the Iranian regime’s Judiciary after 8 years of foot-dragging, finally announced on September 17, 2019, that it had approved a VAW bill and passed it on to the government.
Before forwarding the bill to the government, the Judiciary changed the bill’s title to “securing, dignifying, and protecting women from violence”, while completely changing the purpose of the bill and stripping it of any possible effectiveness. A member of the mullahs’ parliament compared the changes to a “toothless lion” which will not solve any of the problems faced by women. “If the bill is passed, the situation for women will be significantly worse,” Parvaneh Salahshori said. “The current bill eliminates the word violence against women and the parts that had addressed women’s security have either been omitted or changed somehow. As a result, the nature of the bill is totally lost. “
The current bill does not initially provide any definitions or frameworks for violence against women that would criminalize and establish a deterrent mechanism and then a punishment. Instead, it has mostly repeated some of the criminal provisions of the Penal Code.
The bill does not contain any executive guarantees, and no credible audit authority. There is also no financial investment to prevent or organize violence and to shelter victims of violence.
After more than one year, however, the Rouhani government has not yet passed the bill to the parliament for final adoption.
In conclusion, one must say that as long as Iranian society is choked by a misogynous regime, women’s rights will not be upheld.
Indeed, violence against women in Iran will continue unabated as long as it is state-sponsored and institutionalized by the law.
Forward-looking governments across the international community and prominent human rights organizations must continue to pressure the Iranian regime and hold its members accountable for their crimes and violence against women in Iran.