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HRW Says Iranian Women Underrepresented In Workplace, Face Discrimination

According to HRW, Iran's percentage of women workers is below 20 percent. (file photo)

With more than one in three university-educated Iranian women unemployed, an international rights group says females face widespread discrimination and other obstacles in the workplace as Iran continues to lag in gender-equality reports.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in its May 25 report, It's A Men's Club, that Tehran needs serious legal and social reforms to reverse the negative trend for women -- who only make up 17 percent of Iran's workforce -- and enable them to take part in the country's burgeoning economic opportunities.

The report notes that Iran's percentage of women workers is below the Middle East and North African region's average of 20 percent -- the lowest of any region in the world.

The HRW report says that, although the Iranian economy received a boost in July 2015 when Tehran signed a nuclear agreement with six world powers that ended many international sanctions and freed up billions of dollars in revenue for the government, it hasn't translated into progress for Iranian women despite a pledge by President Hassan Rohani that "all Iranians" would benefit from the deal.

Societal Pressure

Although there is strong societal pressure in Iran on women to adopt perceived "ideal roles" to marry and care for children, the report says many discriminatory laws are still in force -- particularly as regards family law -- that hinder gender equality in society and the workplace.

It says many of the repressive laws for women still remain from Iran's 1936 Civil Code while others were introduced shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which overturned gender-quality legislation approved just a few years earlier under the shah.

Women had benefited from the shah's so-called White Revolution of 1962, which, among other things, restricted polygamy. It was also during the shah's reign that Iranian women first gained the right to vote, in 1967.

But the report states that Iranian authorities have, since the Islamic Revolution, severely cracked down on women's rights activists and even jailed them for activities promoting gender equality.

One Million Signatures

That includes the 2006-08 persecution of members of the One Million Signatures campaign that sought to bring attention to discriminatory gender laws in Iran.

The HRW report says the prosecution of members of the One Million Signatures movement shows that social and economic equality for Iranian women is tied to the more general struggle by opposition groups in Iran for greater "political and civic rights."

More specifically, domestic laws hinder women's equal access to jobs and also restrict the type of professions women can enter while denying them the same benefits that men receive.

The Iranian law that decrees the husband the head of the household is also seen as an impediment for women, as a wife's participation in certain professions can be legally controlled by her husband, with his written consent often a requirement from a would-be employer.

Population Drive

An emphasis in Iran since 2011 on increasing the population and legislation promoting large families and restricting family-planning options have placed an even greater burden on Iranian women.

Iran, for its part, claims that it protects women against discrimination in society and points to its naming of Masoumeh Ebtekar as one of the country's vice presidents in 1997 as a pioneering development for women in the Middle East.

But only three of President Rohani's 29 cabinet ministers are female, and Iranian officials have never allowed a woman to run for president. As of November 2016, only 6 percent of Iran's parliament members were women; the global average is about 23 percent.

In the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap report for 2015, Iran was ranked 141 out of 145 countries in gender equality.

HRW used government statistics and officials' statements along with interviews with dozens of men and women who have lived and worked in cities across Iran in compiling its report. The group also consulted with some foreign companies either doing business in Iran or that intend to begin operations in the country.

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