Fact Check: Tehran MP claims Rouhani’s government has failed to submit bills supporting women to Majlis. Is her claim based on facts?
On the eve of the 10th round of Majlis elections in Iran, Laleh Eftekhari, a conservative MP from Tehran, has accused President Rouhani’s government of neglecting to support women. In her recent interview with the “Aleph” website, Mrs. Eftekhari claimed that “after more than two years, we have yet to see a government-sponsored draft in Majlis that supports women.”
Mrs. Eftekhari’s criticism is unexpected given her conservative views on the status of women. For example, she opposes women’s presence in sports stadia. She is also one of the signatories to the Plan to Preserve Chastity and Hijab in Majlis, a plan that imposes stronger restrictions on women, such as a draft article that calls for the “punishment and reduction of the salary of women who fail to observe hijab and [thereby] violate the dress code in working environments.” If the Plan is passed in Majlis and into law it will be the first time in the Islamic Republic’s history that police and traffic officers will be permitted to accuse and punish women for “violating the hijab and Islamic dress code.”
The Rouhani Government’s Promises to Women
During his 2013 presidential election campaign, Hassan Rouhani promised to improve the status of women in Iran. For example, he proposed the establishment of a ‘Ministry of Women’. He argued that the government ought to “elevate the status of women in our minds, in society, and ultimately in all arenas. I will establish a Ministry of Women in order to recover the violated rights of women in this country.”
Over the past two years, a number of senior officials in the government have made similar promises. Among these were assurances that the government would draft and pass a number of bills supportive of women and take a series of measures to revive some of their rights.
President Rouhani’s Legislative Record After Two Years
Today, two years after President Rouhani’s government came to power, Shahindokht Molaverdi, who is responsible for Women and Family Affairs as one of Iran’s twelve Vice Presidents, has asserted that there are actually no plans to establish a Ministry of Women. She stressed that “although this was one of the President’s promises, women’s affairs move beyond a specific sector, and restricting them to one Ministry would consequently overlook the responsibilities of other ministries.”
However, when describing the bills that Hassan Rouhani’s government has prepared to present to and seek approval in Majlis, Vice President Molaverdi pointed to 5 draft bills. In her article in Shargh Daily (25/05/2014), she reported that her office is currently working on the following issues: “a new bill for insurance of housewives, a bill for comprehensive support for female-headed households, a bill defending women’s rights, a bill to establish the nationality and citizenship of the children born of Iranian women who are married to foreign men, and finally a bill to eliminate Article 26 of the law on supporting orphan children and teenagers (marriage of the guardian with the stepchild).”
In its budget bill for the current (Persian) fiscal year, the government allocated money for the implementation of the housewives’ insurance bill even though it still awaits cabinet’s approval. Vice President Molaverdi also promised that “the bill will be submitted to Majlis if it is finalized and approved by the cabinet.” Furthermore, she claimed that “during its assessment [of the bill], the Guardian Council indicated that the draft of this bill should be approved and 150 billion Rials should be allocated for the law,” thus paving the way for it to become law if passed in Majlis.
Beyond the Legislative Record
Not all of President Rouhani’s promises in regards to women’s affairs require drafting bills for Majlis. For example, Mr. Rouhani promised to “allocate a proportion of management positions in the government” to women. Women have so far not been promoted to ministerial posts, but Mr. Rouhani’s government has appointed a number of female governors, prefects, and deputy governors. President Rouhani also appointed Marzieh Afkham, first as the spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and later as an Ambassador. As a result, he has partially fulfilled his broader promise to improve the status of Iran’s women.
President Rouhani’s government also made an effort to put a stop to the issue of “women’s teleworking.” In the government’s opening months, Vice President Molaverdi announced that “women’s teleworking is currently suspended since more expert assessments in this field are necessary, and employees have not welcomed it.” Mrs. Molaverdi stressed that “the implementation of women’s teleworking would definitely and fully be cancelled if assessments find that it would not be beneficial [to women].”
Vice President Molaverdi offered three reasons for why bills have not been sent to Majlis. First, she claims that “approving bills is a very long and exhausting process.” Second, she says that the government is “very much dependent on the post-sanctions circumstances because the government is bearing the brunt of tremendous economic pressures, [and] many of the proposals and bills that we have already submitted are not a priority and have been postponed.” Finally, she suggests that the government’s “most important challenge [with respect to women’s affairs] is that there is inadequate trust and confidence in women’s capabilities in the country.” Mrs. Molaverdi stressed that this last problem “has impacted all decisions, policies, and affairs, and we still do not see a national will and determination to make the best of human resources.”
Laleh Eftekhari claims that the government has failed to pass any law to protect women’s rights. In order to examine the facts behind her claim, one should pay specific attention to the term Mrs. Eftekhari used. She argued that after two years of the present government, “we have yet to see a government-sponsored ‘draft’ in support of women.”
However, observers of Majlis – and especially its Members – should be aware that ‘draft’ and ‘bill’ are separate terms with different legal meanings. MPs write and submit “drafts” to Majlis, while “bills” are developed by the government and consequently presented to Majlis.
Based on Mrs. Eftekhari’s comments, despite the fact that she has used incorrect legal terms, we assess her comments as “mostly true.”