Gender Equality Stymied: Transforming the Male-Dominated Majlis

The conservative Guardian Council has disqualified a large number of candidates for the upcoming (10th) Majlis elections, and all of the female candidates for the fifth term of the Assembly of Experts. Such a widespread set of disqualifications poses a major challenge to a campaign to transform Iran’s male-dominated parliament and promote women’s political participation.

Based on reports, all female candidates for the upcoming Majlis election who were actively involved with the campaign to promote women’s political participation were disqualified by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council.

Soheila Jelodarzadeh is the only major female reformist to have been qualified by the Guardian Council. Mrs. Jelodarzadeh is a former MP in the 6th Majlis. It appears that she will still be able to compete in the 10th Majlis election.

It is clear that in a Majlis with 290 seats, one or two more female candidates may not be able to have much influence or to implement significant changes. It appears that there will not be a substantial change in the affairs of Iranian women in the near future. In the most optimistic scenario, the current 3% share of women MPs could go up to 5% in the new Majlis, but this figure is hugely different from the goal of 30% female candidates to which this women’s rights campaign aspired. What strategy can change the political game so that women can achieve an equal share of power in politics?

As a reaction to the mass disqualification of female candidates, members of the women’s movement are planning to adopt two strategies:

  1. Disqualified female candidates will appeal their candidacy application results at the Guardian Council.   
  2. Female candidates will request that the Guardian Council revise the votes of the supervisory board.

The core activists of the campaign to change the male-dominated Majlis have released a statement saying that they have not determined their next step in case these two options fail to bear fruit.

Political observers and campaign strategists were already certain that most women would not be qualified by the Guardian Council, given their background as feminists and rights activists, and their status as flag-bearers of the campaign to challenge the dominance of men in the parliament. Those who sympathise with this campaign still believe that reformists and moderate women may remain on the political scene, and hope that women’s issues could still be brought up and resolved in the next Majlis.

Reformist political activists were astonished when they witnessed the mass disqualifications by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council, which qualified only 1 out of every 5 candidates who are not hardliners or conservatives.

In the current circumstances the few candidates that remain are the only chance left for the women’s campaign to pursue its objective of transforming the male-dominated Majlis. At this point, the women’s campaign can follow two paths:

Reaching Out to Women-Friendly Candidates

A brief view of the qualified candidates indicates that there are still 4,816 candidates competing for seats in Majlis. Since the vast majority of these candidates are members of the conservative faction there is little hope of finding many candidates willing to support expanding women’s rights. Nonetheless, there are still independent candidates who can make a difference by taking small steps towards promoting women’s political participation, thereby laying the foundation for the eventual success of women’s campaign. For example, Marzieh Vahid Dastjeridi, a conservative MP in the 5th Majlis, spoke out in support of a project on women’s issues when it came before parliament, though Mohammad Reza Faker, a hardline conservative MP, opposed the project and criticized Mrs. Dastjerdi as a collaborator for backing a reformist female MP.

The list of qualified candidates in different provinces suggests that there is a number of women who could be advocates for women’s issues. Organized campaigns and exhaustive planning, backed by widespread popular support, can clear their way to win seats in the next Majlis.

A list of these approved candidates includes Laleh Samadpour, Azam Mohammadinia, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, Ameneh Malmir, Samaneh Asadi, Soheili Mohajeri Khameneh, Mahdieh Namdar, Masoumeh Tarkashvand, Fatemeh Ghiasi, Esmat Toutounchi, Fatemeh Shirin Abadi, Mahin Masnadian, Fatemeh Honarvar, Fatemeh Amiriraz, Marjan Husseinzadeh, Zahra Abdipiranfar, Fahimeh Soltanikia, Eghlimeh Nasiri, and Zahra Niktaab.

Shunning Candidates Who Oppose Equal Rights for Women

Supporting male candidates who, along with their female counterparts, defend women’s rights is one of the tactics of the campaign to change the male-dominated Majlis. Among qualified candidates, it will be difficult to find male candidates who have taken even the smallest steps towards advancing women’s rights. Nonetheless, it may be worth trying to convince some candidates to try to pay attention to women’s issues, to acknowledge those candidates’ demands, and to support their candidacies.  

In contrast, there are men among the qualified candidates who continue to explicitly and publicly express their opposition and antagonism towards women’s rights. As a result, such candidates should be exposed, and a campaign should be launched encouraging voters to shun their campaigns. The most anti-women MPs in the 9th Majlis are from the majority Paydari Front.

Over-emphasizing the mass disqualification of female candidates and overlooking the existing possibilities (just shy of 4,900 candidates were qualified) will disappoint Iranians and discourage them from participating in the elections. It may ultimately even convince people to boycott the vote, a scenario that may lead to the formation of a Majlis that is worse than the current conservative-dominated Majlis. While the outlook can seem bleak for improving women’s political participation in Iran, making the best of current opportunities by adopting a wise approach and a smart strategy may ultimately bear fruit for long-neglected women’s issues.