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Iranian women’s struggle against misogynist state policies and systemic violence

by The Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women

THE International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women commemorates three Mirabal sisters, who were tortured and killed by the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, on November 25 1960. 

This year as we mark the date, the Covid-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of nearly one million people worldwide, as neoliberal policies continue to undermine the infrastructures that support public health and access to free healthcare at the time of need for the sake of their profits. 

In Iran, coronavirus has had a devastating impact on the ordinary people, especially the poor and women. 

Women workers, heads of households, such as informal stallholders, cleaners, childminders, nursery teachers, hairdressers, hotel cleaners and workers in the dental and health fields, have borne the brunt of the layoffs and have been forced into the ranks of the unemployed, often having no access to unemployment benefit or the like. 

Since the pandemic, 145,000 women have lost their jobs, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA). 

The rise in poverty and unemployment are factors in exacerbating violence against women. 

There is little official data on domestic violence, unwanted pregnancies and the drop in women’s employment, all of which are connected to the impact of coronavirus and families being forced to stay at home. 

Data published in the official sources and papers give an insight into the scale of the problem. 

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the state news agency, reported on March 31, Behzad Vakil Nia, the director-general of counselling and psychological affairs of the Welfare Organisation, stating that there was a threefold increase in the number of calls to the free helpline responding to couples’ disputes. 

In October the ILNA quoted the coroner of the province of Kohgilooyeh & Boyer-Ahmad having recorded 362 cases of violence against women in a domestic environment in six months since March, showing an increase of 7.42 per cent. 

The paper, Hamshahri, revealed in November that students from poorer families have to rent mobile phones or tablets at prices they can hardly afford in order to be able to access their education online. 

After the suicides of six pupils in the city due to poverty, Asre Jonoob news network reported the head of education in the city of Ramhormoz stating: “Of around 27,000 pupils in the city, at least 4,000 pupils were deprived of their education due to not owning a mobile phone.” 

The head of the Welfare Organisation in the city of Mashhad declared that in the four months since the spread of coronavirus, 1,932 children have been reported to have been abused — a 7.7 per cent increase from before. 

The cases of domestic abuse against women had increased 15-fold, abuse of the elderly five-fold, and the abuse of the disabled increased by a factor of 16. 

During the same period there were 5,240 cases of acute family conflict reported — 25 times the figure in previous years. 

The number of street children and those who are in the care of unfit guardians or no guardians has increased in the same period.  

In the Islamic Republic where oppression is the norm of state rule and where violence against women has the backing of the law and religious jurisprudence which demands a woman’s obedience to her husband, violence is acknowledged only when in its most naked form, such as murder. 

Even then, not only do the medieval laws and the patriarchal relations which suggest that women are the property of men not deter men from committing crimes against women, they even encourage them. 

The horrific murder of the young Romina Ashrafi, who was murdered by her father, is a case in point.

According to IRNA, 20 per cent of the total murders that take place in Iran, and 50 per cent of the domestic killings, are “honour” killings, and annually between 375 and 450 such killings are registered in the country. 

Thousands of women are subjected to domestic violence ranging from rape and sexual abuse by relatives to abuse in the workplace and the wider society, which go unreported. 

Following the “Me too” campaign the taboo of speaking out has been broken and more reports have reached the media. 

Iran is one of only four countries in the world that has not signed the Convention against Discrimination Against Women. 

Women know well that their fight for their rights and an end to violence is one that must be joined by all the working people of the country in a struggle for the removal of the rule of religious jurisprudence and replacing it with a democratic and popular regime, with a new constitutional law based on respect for equal rights for all people, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, race and belief system.

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