Iran Must Pass Legislation to Protect Women Against Violence

Bill Languishing for Years, While Women Are Abused with Impunity

November 23, 2018—The Iranian authorities must bring legislation protecting women from domestic violence that has been languishing for years to parliament and ratify it so that Iranian women can have the protections against domestic violence required under international law, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said today.

In a statement on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, CHRI noted that women in Iran are being subjected to serious and sometimes fatal domestic violence at alarming rates without any effective means of protection, while the government takes no effective action despite its obligations under international law to do so.

Specifically, CHRI calls upon the Iranian authorities to:

  • Prioritize parliamentary ratification of the Bill for the Protection of Women Against Violence.
  • Engage Iranian civil society in a review of domestic violence and an assessment of women’s needs, allowing individuals and groups working on the issue of meaningful policy input.
  • Allocate more resources for the independent study of domestic violence so that the dearth of information and data on the subject is addressed.
  • Ensure the issues marginalized women face in domestic violence, such as women from ethnic and religious minorities, refugee and migrant women, women with disabilities and widows, are addressed.

“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,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI executive director.

Lack of Protection for Women Facing Domestic Violence in Iran

Iran’s 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, Iran’s Civil Code forbids a woman from leaving the matrimonial home without the husband’s permission unless she is able and willing to go to court to prove she is endangered.

This leaves Iranian women deeply vulnerable to violence, including marital rape, especially given the requirement of witnesses, the fact that a female witness’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, and the stipulation that if a woman leaves the marital home, she is not subject to maintenance.

Numerous articles in the country’s Civil Code effectively undermine protections for women against domestic violence. Article 1105 of Iran’s Civil Code states, “In relations between husband and wife, the position of the head of the family is the exclusive right of the husband.” Article 1108 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 1114 states, “The wife must stay in the dwelling that the husband allots for her unless such a right is reserved to the wife.”

Moreover, fundamental perceptions of domestic violence in Iran heighten women’s vulnerabilities. “Many female victims of violence, even those who have eventually died as a result of domestic violence, have been ignored by the police because domestic violence is not considered a crime,” said a women’s rights advocate in an interview with the website Meydan. “The police have treated these cases as public battery and urged the women to go back home and face their abuser.”

The lack of standard mechanisms to prevent contact between abusers and victims after domestic violence has occurred has led to tragic incidents in Iran. One of the latest was the murder of a young woman by her brother in a hospital in Ahvaz, in southwest Iran, in October 2018. The victim had been hospitalized for being stabbed by the brother but he was not prevented from having access to her because there are no laws for issuing restraining orders.

Bill Has Languished for Years

The Bill for the Protection of Women Against Violence, originally begun seven years ago under then-president Ahmadinejad, was drafted and sent to the judiciary by the Rouhani administration in early 2017 for review, as is routine for any legislation that is primarily legal or judicial in nature. The judiciary significantly diluted the bill, removing 40 of the original 91 articles, and sent it to Iran’s judiciary head, Sadeq Larijani, for approval.

Yet in October 2018 it was announced that Larijani had sent the legislation to Qom for review by Shia religious leaders there—which is not required under any Iranian law—with no clear timetable for review or approval. Moreover, the clerical review in Qom is taking place despite the fact that the Islamic Republic’s Guardian Council is already required to review all legislation for compliance with Islamic law.

“The clerics in Qom are sitting on this legislation while women are being murdered,” said Ghaemi. “The indifference the government is showing toward the well-being of half the population is cruel and unlawful.”

“Iranian officials need to stop stalling and bring the legislation out of Qom and into the hands of parliament as is normal procedure, and the bill should proceed toward ratification,” Ghaemi added.

Violence Against Women Widespread and Under-Reported in Iran

Statistics on the extent of violence against women in Iran vary but consistently indicate the severity and extent of the problem. One national study carried out in 2004 indicated two out of three women have experienced violence at least once during marriage. A May 2017 study by a prominent Iran-based charity found 32 percent of Iranian women in urban areas and 63 percent in rural areas have experienced some form of domestic violence. Other Iranian academic studies have indicated the rate may be much higher. In addition, significant under-reporting is highly likely given that victims of domestic violence are pressured to keep silent about their experiences.

Lack of Protections for Women Violates International Law

Iran is one of six countries in the world which has not yet ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Nevertheless, Iran’s commitments under other international conventions require the government to take clear steps to prevent violence against women.

The delay in ratifying laws to prevent violence against women and punish abusers is a violation of Iran’s international obligations (which require governments to adopt such measures) under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Violence against women is considered a form of discrimination and in violation of Articles 3 and 26 of the ICCPR and Article 3 of the ICESCR, as well as Article 3 of the CRPD.

Also, violent behavior can be in violation of other ICCPR articles, including the right to life mentioned in Article 6, the prohibition of torture, cruelty and inhuman and degrading conduct that leads to physical and mental harm as noted in Article 7, as well as the denial of personal freedom and security in Article 9 and the violation of privacy in Article 17.

In addition, violence against women can be in violation of the ICESCR’s Article 12 regarding sexual and reproductive rights, and freedom of employment in Article 6 and the right to education in Article 13.

Women with Disabilities Especially Vulnerable to Domestic Abuse

Articles 6 and 16 of the CRPD call on governments to acknowledge the existence of multiple discriminations against women with disabilities and take the necessary steps to protect them against violence and abuse.

None of the Rouhani administration officials, including the president’s advisers on women and family affairs as well as those in the judiciary and the legislature, have made any comment on the need for particular protections for the most vulnerable groups of women, such as those with disabilities.

In the UN Secretary General’s 2017 report on the Situation of Women and Girls with Disabilities, it stated, “Women and girls with disabilities experience gender-based violence at disproportionately higher rates and in unique forms owing to discrimination and stigma based on both gender and disability.  For instance, women and girls with disabilities experience domestic violence at twice the rate of other women and they also experience forms of violence specifically because of their disability, including isolation, violence in institutions and the withholding of medication and mobility, vision and hearing aids.”

Women with disabilities also face other issues that increase their vulnerability to domestic abuse—as well as their difficulties in addressing it if it has occurred. For example, the justice system is highly inaccessible to persons with disabilities, there is a serious lack of relevant training among law enforcement and judicial officials and the system is ill-equipped to address communication barriers for persons with disabilities, and persons with disabilities are often dependent on caregivers that could also be their abusers.

“As the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is marked on November 25, we urge the international community to put pressure on the Iranian government to implement required protections for the women of Iran, including specific safeguards for those most vulnerable to abuse such as women with disabilities,” said Ghaemi.