Women Empowerment in Iran Essay

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In order to understand the position of women in Iran as far as their roles, rights and empowerment is concerned, it is significant to understand the wider picture of the prevailing condition in the Middle East and the contrast that there is in the West. These two represent different polarities in the context of culture, perspective on women, roles assigned, rights granted and the positions that women hold in these two societies. There is a still not an in depth understanding of the lives of women in the Middle East and the roles that they are meant to play. In majority of the societies therein, women are hardly seen carrying out any meaningful role, let alone being heard. They are assigned a background role in this Muslim world and the persistent stereotypes and judgments about the social practices form a single dimensional depiction of women that rarely reflects the real depth and variety. Some of the common depictions often refer to the freedom of dressing or lack of it, the burdensome role of wife and of mothers within the household and to other subtle issues like right to drive. However, this is just a figment of the reality in the society where people live different experiences occasioned by issues such as the social class, the prevailing customs, family traditions, geographical location and the cross cultural influences among other factors.

It is significant hence to note that when discussing sensitive issues like gender in the Middle East, there is need to take into account the context within which that issue is based. Some of the contexts often considered are the value of family network, the progression of rights over a period of time, the variation in family or personal status laws across the country or the region, the role of the Islamic law (Sharia) in the issue at hand. The role of indigenous religions and religious practices in directing the cultural norms must be considered among other factors that must be put into context. Basing on this contextual basis, the discussion herein will not look at the gender in isolation, but will constantly compare and contrast the Middle East and Iran in particular with the West and even other countries of the Middle East (TeachMideast, 2018).

The present day Iran is unique in many ways as much as it has similarities with other nations of the Middle East. On mentioning of the name Iran, thoughts that are often triggered in the minds of many are their constant interference with the affairs of their neighbors and the nuclear operations going on therein. It seems Iran is at odds with many nations of the world, including some of the Middle East countries. It is important to mention that the country is governed by a strict theocratic constitution and over the years, starting from the 1979 revolution, women have been in the forefront in confronting and questioning the heavy restrictions imposed.

The role of Iranian women ion education has been of great interest since being an Islamic Republic women are legally prohibited from pursuing education in certain fields. Though of late there has been the trend of attempting to provide education to women, the segregation still does not give a fail and equal chances of access and utility of educational institutions. This is worrying particularly talking into account that in Iran, the women’s college education was delayed significantly until the last decades of the 20th Century yet in other Western nations like in England, the first women joined university in 1893. Similarly, in the US universities like Chicago, Cornell and Berkeley started to admit female students in the 1890s. This time gap puts the Iranian women at a much lower status educationally. It is worth noting however, that since the 1979 revolution, the rate of women enrolment in tertiary education has gradually increased. The UNESCO puts the enrollment figures of women in Iran at 51% in 2005 which is an impressive rate as compared to 72% in Canada and 70% in the UK in 2007. It is evident however that, despite having made significant strides in equalitarian educational system, as compared to other countries, the rights to equal education among Iranian women has not yet been achieved.
Studies on the women’s contemporary position in the universities still indicate that women do not make up a substantial workforce in Iranian Universities. The female academic positions rates are relatively low and second aspect is that gender based discrimination is still a defining factor in the election of eligible candidates for open academic positions (Rahbari L., 2016:Pp1005). There has hence been common postulation that female education can lead to late marriage by changing the priorities and hence roles of the women in two specific ways. That enrolment into the academic institutions consumes time and academic pursuit is not compatible with the marital life, and secondly the acquisition of education significantly increases the chances and urge for engagement in alternatives presented therein to the roles that are marriage related. This increased enrollments into the Iranian universities has not gone well with all members of the Iranian community and social political debates have emerged on the role of higher education for Iranian women. The Iranian parliament has actually started questioning whether quotas should be placed on the number of women joining Iranian public colleges and Universities (Zahedifar E., 2012).

It is interesting to look at women and religion in Iran as well. From the onset, it is important to know that Iran has an Islamic political system as was prescribed in 1979 under the leadership of Imam Khomeini. It is the only existing political system in the entire world where politics and religion are intimately intertwined. The supreme leader, Ayatolah Khamenei is considered the highest religious as well as the political leader in as much as there is a presidential system in Iran. Apparently, the situation of women has been worse under the customary law that in the Islamic law, the Islamic law still has gaps that renders the Iranian women at a clear disadvantage. For instance the traditional Islamic laws allowed child marriage and a girl child could be forced into marriage by a qualified male relation. It is also worth noting that women were allowed only to marry one man at a time, yet a man is allowed by the Islamic law to marry four women at a time and have unlimited number of concubines. The Islamic laws also gave women a raw deal in times of divorce as the law requires him to provide support for the divorced wife for only three menstrual cycles after the pronouncement of the divorce. This provision subjects women to strenuous conditions and poverty. Harsh as they may seem, the Islamic laws regarding the treatment of women in an out of marriage in Iran have been jealously guarded. However, in other Middle East countries reforms and legal interpretations have been made to help reduce the inequalities between men and women. These changes have been achieved mostly in nations and governments that do not depend on the goodwill of the clergy to run smoothly or to implement a political decision. However, greatly, the reforms have faced strong opposition from the Islamic clerics and other conservative religious forces who accused the political class of violating the divine law. In Iran, though there were gains that had been achieved in the 1970 and 1980s as far as women place in the society and rights, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism has reversed the changes that had been achieved, the women have now been relegated the traditional roles in the home and they are subjects to harsh criminal penalties if they disobey the dress codes, all in the name of religion (UNHCR, 2018).

At the economic front, the Iranian women are seen to be discriminated against at the workplace as seen above. This deprivation of equal working rights and employment chances means women still suffer economically and have no equal leverage when it comes to the financial stability. They are left to majorly rely on their husbands for upkeep in most cases. Civil rights champions have always wanted to change this and have put pressure on the government to have employers avail equal access and equitable pay for women just like men. It is said that the Iranian women participation in the labor force is one of the lowest in the world. At.....

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Alikarami L., (2016). Women and Iranian economy – Where is the place of women in Iran’s economy? Retrieved May 11, 2018 from http://www.ihrr.org/ihrr_article/economy-en_women-and-iranian-economy-where-is-the-place-of-women-in-irans-economy/

Rahbari L., (2016). Women in Higher Education and Academia in Iran. Retrieved May 11, 2018 from http://www.hrpub.org/download/20161030/SA7-19607524.pdf

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Sinha T., (2017). Breaking Down Social Barriers to Women’s Empowerment in Iran. Retrieved May 11, 2018 from https://borgenproject.org/womens-empowerment-in-iran/

TeachMideast, (2018). Introduction to Women and Gender Roles in Middle East. Retrieved May 11, 2018 from http://teachmideast.org/articles/introduction-women-gender-roles-middle-east/

UNHCR, (2018). Iran: Information on women, religious freedom, and ethnic minorities. Retrieved May 11, 2018 from http://www.refworld.org/docid/414fda374.html

Vakilian K., (2011). Reproductive Health in Iran: International Conference on Population and Development Goals. Retrieved May 12, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3191677/

Zahedifar E., (2012). Women in Higher Education in Iran Student perceptions of career prosperity in the Labor market. Retrieved May 11, 2018 from https://www.duo.uio.no/bitstream/handle/10852/35482/Effatxthesisxx.pdf

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