(Excerpt) … Elahe Sharifpour-Hicks, of the New York-based monitoring group Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations Commission for Human Rights says: “Change in all areas has been difficult and the underlying problem is broadly similar. It is not only in the area of women’s equality where we can see a lack of progress. The same can be said of religious freedom and of progress towards a more representative government.” Ms. Sharifpour-Hicks says Iranians will know that change is occurring when women are given equal rights in areas such as child custody, inheritance, and the transmission of citizenship to their children.
Elahe Sharifpour-Hicks – USA & Iran
During a Hearing in the United Kingdom Parliament, the Examination of Witnesses (Excerpts, Questions 85 – 99), she made the following statements:
- I would add to Steve’s comments that they closed more than 90 newspapers in the last two years. They are using a criminal law—an instrument of a crime for the hands of criminals—and using that law to close newspapers. Recently the remaining reformists that did not get sent to jail have opened web sites and they have their own web sites now. In the last few months the judiciary is thinking of a way of closing web sites and jailing those who are running them. In the past newspapers worked as a political party and a reform agenda was put in those newspapers and that is why they have become a target. The Iranian leader said there should be no amendment to the press law. President Khatami, to his credit, at the beginning promised freedom of expression but unfortunately even though it was prepared by the cabinet, by the President, it has not been introduced to the Parliament to amend the press law.
- In Iranian law, penal code, civil code, discrimination against religious minorities is legalised. There are three recognised religions: Jewish, Christians and Zoroastrians. They are recognised and have MPs in parliament. But they have problems. Issues such as access to higher education, access to a job cause problems. The largest religious minority with 300,000 are the Baha’is. They have right now four Baha’is who were committed to death row but now are sentenced to life imprisonment purely because they are Baha’i. They do not have access to higher education. If a student graduates from high school and says he or she is Baha’i they cannot go to university because they are Baha’i. They do not have a job. They do not have the right to worship publicly.
- Last year a Jewish MP addressed the Parliament and complained about the issues they are facing like employment and better life, access to better life inside the country. They have a Sunni MP in the Parliament who complained about problems. The most backward place in the country is the Sunni, the system in Baluchistan and the education and other issues they are facing. They do not have any mosques in Tehran, the capital. Sunni are Muslim. The majority of Iranians are Shi’ai and the official religion in the country is Shi’ai. The Sunni had the same problems addressed by their MP in the Parliament.
- Doors are closed to international human rights organisations. My colleague cannot go to Iran. A colleague from other human rights organisations cannot have access to Iran. I go as a human rights representative because I have an Iranian passport and I take lots of risks when going there. We would like the Iranian government to open doors to human rights agents and organisation. There is not an independent human rights organisation in the country; the government would not tolerate it. I had the opportunity to raise a question directly with President Khatami asking why he did not set up any human rights office within his office because all his agenda was about human rights. President Khatami told me that no-one in Iran takes human rights seriously. That was his answer. I responded that human rights is all about the president’s agenda and policies. No-one in Iran takes human rights seriously. There is a need to encourage the government to help international and local human rights groups and open the door to them.
- Every law, penal code and civil code regarding women have not been changed. They have not been tackled and still remain the same. We have women in parliament; we have a woman as deputy president in charge of the environment, but the ordinary Iranian women face the same problems since the beginning of the revolution. Twenty-four years. Yes, there is amendment to the law that women can seek divorce, but there is still a problem. Divorce is allowed with many conditions. It is the law that they cannot ask for divorce in terms of issues that are very difficult to prove for a woman. The custody of the children; women do not have that. Very recently, before this parliament introduced a bill to increase the age of marriage from nine to fifteen and it was rejected by the Council of Guardians. Then the law went back again and they increased it to thirteen. Those are the kind of changes referred to. Children in Iran can vote. The age of vote is 16. But the age of marriage for a woman is thirteen. A woman cannot be a judge. They can only be a judge in the lower court. A woman cannot be a president, simply because they are a woman. We do have women in parliament and they are raising issues like laws of retribution. A woman is qualified as half of a man but they are fighting that. The Iranian government and the parliament is seeking and asking to join the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and it was rejected by the Council of Guardians. Women have problems with a lot of issues with the law in the country, the civil and the penal code.
- Fortunately women can vote. They had this right and the revolution could not take this law. Women were very, very active. During the eight year war with Iraq the Iranian movement sacrificed many, many things. Iranian women can drive, they can vote and they can go to parliament. But basic things for a woman like custody are issues. There are children’s rights as well. Recently the Council of Guardians vetoed a law banning domestic violence against children. Father has a right to do whatever they can to kill a child because it is like a property. The law cannot do anything. The mother cannot even file a lawsuit against the father. These days they have many, many cases about domestic violence against children; the father is entitled to do that because this is based on Islamic principle.
She says concerning Shirin Ebadi’s Peace Nobel Price: “That platform was created for Iranian women to raise and tackle Iranian problems”.
Women and Social Change in Iran;
Association for the Study of Persianate Societies;