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Iran's Parliament Mulls New Restrictions On Women's Travel

Two women try to keep dry in an autumn rainfall in Rasht, Iran.
The national security committee of the Iranian parliament is considering a bill that could place further limits on the already restricted right of Iranian women to travel.

Under current law, all Iranians under 18 years of age -- both male and female -- must receive paternal permission before receiving travel documents.

Women over the age of 18 need the written consent of their father or guardian to obtain a passport. Married women must receive their husband's approval to receive the documents.

According to the new passport bill -- which has to go before the 290-seat, conservative-dominated parliament -- a woman’s passport may be confiscated if her guardian changes his mind and opposes her travels abroad.

Prominent U.S.-based Iranian lawyer Mehrangiz Kar says that the bill is another step in limiting women’s right to travel freely.

“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 tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

"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.”

In November, legislators reportedly voted for language requiring single women up to the age of 40 to get official permission from their father or male guardian in order to obtain a passport in the first place.

That decision led to criticism and protests by women’s rights activists and others.

That provision appears to have changed, according to the spokesman of the parliament’s national security committee, Hossein Naghavi Hosseini. Hosseini said that although all single women over 18 need their guardian’s approval to leave the country, they won’t be prevented from receiving a passport.

But he added that married women -- at any age -- still need their husband’s consent to get a passport.

Hosseini said the new measures were aimed at the protection and well-being of women.

Women’s rights activists disagree. They see the bill and its controversial articles as the latest move against Iranian women, who enjoy fewer rights than men do and face legal discrimination in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance.

Despite this, women have made significant progress in recent years. More than 60 percent of incoming university students are now women.

Women’s rights activist and journalist Asieh Amini says that the Iranian establishment frequently tries to halt women’s progress.

“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.“

Amini believes that many of the government’s discriminatory decisions stem from the prevailing view among many conservatives and hard-liners that a woman’s main role should be as a mother or wife -- a view that sadly, she says, is supported by more than a few Iranians.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

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