IRAN: New Bill Being Considered in Iran Could Threaten Women's Rights to Travel and Obtain a Passport

Thursday, January 17, 2013
CBC News
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights

Women across Iran could be facing a new restriction on their freedom.

The national security committee of the Iranian parliament is considering a new passport bill, that would severely limit women's right to travel.

It's already very restricted.

Right now, all Iranians under the age of 18 - both male and female - must get permission from their father before they can leave the country.

All single women over 18 need the written consent of their father or guardian to get a passport. Married women have to get their husband's approval.

Under the new passport bill, if a woman's guardian changes his mind and decides not to let her travel, authorities could actually take away her passport.

The bill still has to go before Iran's parliament. But as you'd expect, women's rights activists are already protesting.

Mehrangiz Kar is a well regarded Iranian lawyer based in the U.S. She says this bill is another attempt to oppress women in Iran.

"Before that, when the husband would change his mind, he would send an official letter [about his decision] to authorities [and] the woman would go to the airport and find out that she is banned from traveling because of her husband's opposition," Kar told Radio Free Europe.

"No one would, however, confiscate her passport; she would keep her passport but wouldn't be able to leave the country. Now the [potential] confiscation of women's passports is a new limitation."

An official spokesperson denies that. He said the new bill is designed to protect women.

Overall, women have fewer rights than men in Iran, as many conservatives believe a woman's role is to be a wife or a mother.

As Amnesty International says on its website "Women in Iran face widespread discrimination under the law. They do not enjoy equal rights to men in areas such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance."

Despite that, women are making some progress. For example, more than 60 per cent of students entering university are now women.

Amnesty International says "Iranian women are at the very heart of the human rights movement, and are some of the most courageous and effective human rights campaigners in Iran."

On the American website for Amnesty, it says women in Iran have peacefully fought for a number of basic rights, including "an end to execution by stoning, and for better pay and working conditions for teachers and others."

It goes on to say "they have been met with harsh repression from the Iranian government, as part of a recent pervasive crackdown on a wide range of activists, who have suffered arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, imposition of prison sentences and fines."

Asieh Amini is a women's rights activist and journalist.

She told RFE "Iran's women -- because of their academic, professional, and social achievements -- are becoming every day more independent, and because of that they naturally need more contacts with the outside world," Amini says.

"Unfortunately, instead of facilitating their growth, government laws and decisions move toward limiting their activities. The article [passed in the parliament] is yet another example of such limiting moves."

Amnesty International says it has several goals for women in Iran:

Raise awareness of gender inequality in the regime with a focus on how women Prisoners of Conscience are treated by the law.

Encourage a positive view of Iranian women human rights defenders where they are not thought of as victims, but rather powerful women fighting for change and justice.

Create and facilitate a dialogue among women human rights defenders.