A new bill protecting women against domestic violence has been drafted and approved by Iran’s cabinet as of January 3rd. The bill, named the Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence Bill, has been in progress for over a decade and is largely attributable to the work of women’s rights advocates. It has now been sent to Iran’s Guardian Council, a judicial and religious body which has the power to overrule any legislation passed by parliament.
The bill defines violence as “any behaviour inflicted on women due to sexuality, vulnerable position or type of relationship, and inflicts harm to their body, psyche, personality and dignity, or restricts or deprives them of legal rights and freedoms.” It is multifaceted, seeking not only to criminalize domestic violence but also to implement measures to support victims. Such measures include commissioning state broadcasters to create content which promotes the prevention of domestic violence and support of victims, educating the public on how to identify signs of domestic violence, providing mental health care for victims and covering their medical expenses.
The legislature reflects a frustratingly slow response from the Iranian government to calls for the protection of women against domestic violence. Women’s Rights Advocate Ghazaal Ameni told Anadolu Agency “It has been the demand of women in Iran for more than a decade, and we are very hopeful that this time it will clear all the hurdles. Women need to feel safe both inside and outside the home.” The bill was first drafted under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) and was only passed by parliament three weeks ago. In 2018, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said: “The Iranian authorities can take three months to arrest, sentence and execute an individual, but after seven years they still cannot pass legislation to protect women’s lives.”
The significance of the new bill is apparent in light of recent cultural shifts in attitudes toward domestic violence in Iran. The beheading of 17-year-old Romani Ashrafti in 2020 by her father sparked public outrage. Romani Ashrafti had eloped with her boyfriend before being sent home by the police, despite telling them that she feared for her life. The act was thought to be an ‘honour killing,’ whereby a family member kills a relative believed to have brought dishonour on the family. Iran’s Islamic penal code imposes lighter punishments for fathers found guilty of murdering their daughters (10 years incarceration) than the usual death sentence for homicide. Following Ashrafti’s murder, Iran’s had its own #MeToo movement, beginning with a group of journalists creating a video detailing their experiences of domestic and sexual violence in August 2020.
Many advocates argue that the new bill fails to adequately protect women against certain forms of domestic violence, such as marital rape and child marriage. The CHRI note that Iran’s current laws ‘not only lack the necessary protections against violence toward women, but in some cases, exacerbate the vulnerabilities of women to domestic abuse.’ For example, if a woman is raped by her husband, she requires witnesses to convict him. Twice as many female witnesses are required as male witnesses, reflecting the deeply misogynistic nature of Iranian law. While the new bill was being drafted on December 4th, the Human Rights Watch called for marital rape to be criminalized in the new bill. However, activist Somaeih Shapooris argues that the final draft defines marital rape and domestic violence ambiguously.
Although the new bill, if passed, will be a significant step for Iran, it will still be insufficient to reform its laws in alignment with its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Meanwhile, A 2018 survey demonstrated that approximately 66% of Iranian women reported experiencing domestic violence, a statistic which likely inaccurately represents the reality due to stigma. Full protection of the rights of Iranian women will thus require not only more stringent legislature but also a cultural shift to further the inroads made by recent movements such as #MeToo.
Greater public awareness of the signs of domestic violence and collective condemnation of such violence is needed to effectively implement change. Furthermore, passing the new bill is likely to be only the beginning of the battle against domestic violence due to the misogyny inherent in much of existing Iranian law. Several articles in Iran’s civil code speak to this difficulty; Article 1105 states, “If the wife refuses to fulfil the duties of a wife without a legitimate excuse, she will not be entitled to the cost of maintenance,” and Article 1108 proclaims “In relations between husband and wife, the position of the head of the family is the exclusive right of the husband.” These articles speak to the ways in which Iranian law is deeply rooted in patriarchal understandings of the family, and need to be seriously critiqued in order to implement effective change, and to begin to prevent domestic violence.
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