Watered Down Domestic Violence Bill in Approval Stage Eight Years After Drafting in Iran
Hardliners Claim Bill Threatens Foundations of Iranian Families
A heavily revised Bill for the Protection of Women Against Violence has been sent to the Iranian city of Qom for review by Shia scholars, according to Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar, who made the announcement on October 12, 2018.
Domestic violence is not mentioned by name in Iranian law; women can only attempt to address it by navigating through the country’s Sharia (Islamic) legal system.
A female Iranian attorney told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that the bill is the first of its kind and introduces an issue into Iranian law that was previously omitted, but it fails to meet UN standards for protecting women from violence in the home.
“The barriers for access to justice for women in Iran are so intense,” said the attorney, who requested anonymity for security purposes. “For example, married Iranian women are legally obligated to live where their husbands want them to live. In situations involving domestic violence, they can only leave their homes if they can prove that their life or reputation is in danger.”
“But proving that your life is in danger when your assailant is your husband and his words carry greater legal weight than your own is very difficult,” said the attorney, who added that vulnerable Iranian women often don’t speak out against violence in the home not only because of the lack of legal protections but also because of societal expectations that they keep family matters private.
“Clerics and hardline judicial officials have claimed this bill could endanger the foundations of Iranian families if women are allowed to make complaints about their husband over domestic violence, which they consider a small issue,” she said.
According to a May 2017 study by a prominent, Iran-based charity that examined “Violence Against Women in Peripheral [disprivileged] Families,” 32 percent of Iranian women in urban areas and 63 percent in rural areas have experienced some form of domestic violence. These numbers could be much higher given that victims of domestic violence are pressured to keep their experiences secret.
The UN recommends that legislation defining domestic violence should include physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence. But the bill has been strongly opposed by political hardliners and religious conservatives, who want to prevent domestic violence from being addressed through Iran’s legal system.
“This bill was sent to the judiciary by the government and unfortunately it calls for imprisonment for dozens of situations,” said Hojatoleslam Hadi Sadeghi, the deputy judiciary chief for cultural affairs, at a judicial conference in Tehran on June 27, 2018.
“If a woman sends her husband to prison, then the man will no longer be her husband and she will have to suffer the pain of divorce,” he added.
The judiciary’s assistant for legal affairs, Zabihollah Khodaian, had earlier complained in August 2017 that the bill puts men in prison for “mistakes.”
“We should not be putting everyone in jail for making mistakes, including husbands and wives who get into fights,” he added.
On the other hand, some female Iranian officials have emphasized the urgency of passing the bill.
In a September 2018 interview with Etemad newspaper, the reformist leader of the women’s faction in Iran’s Parliament, Farideh Oladghobad, urged the judiciary to present its final views on the bill so that lawmakers could begin the legislative process.
“The Bill for the Protection of Women Against Violence should be submitted to Parliament as soon as possible in order to defend women’s human dignity in accordance with Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution,” Oladghobad said.
She added: “As mothers, women need peace and security in the family to be able to raise their children well. The family should be free from verbal and non-verbal violence. In addition, we are witnessing violence against women in public. We believe that women need security in order to conduct social affairs.”
Long Drafting Process, Many Articles Removed
The bill, which has been a decade in the making, had half its articles removed before reaching the final approval stage.
Various drafts of the bill were conceived during the second term of the government of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013). In August 2010, Iranian media outlets reported that the Parliament and Interior Ministry were working separately on drafting bills against domestic violence.
In 2011, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for women to be protected from domestic violence, creating an opening for the Center for Women and Family Affairs in the president’s office to draft another bill.
By November 2012, the final draft of the bill had been revised six times and was not submitted to Parliament until 2015, after further revisions by the government of President Hassan Rouhani (2013-2021).
On September 14, 2017, Ashraf Geramizadegan, the director of the Center for Legal Research at the Office of the Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, said the bill had been sent to the judiciary for review, which is required before Parliament begins deliberating bills.
Most recently, in October 2018, the draft—with half of the original articles removed—was sent to Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani for his approval.
Larijani appears to be seeking the consent of Qom’s religious leaders before giving the bill his approval before sending it to Parliament for deliberations.