As Women Make up Only 6% of Parliament, Gender Equality Is Still a Long Way off in Iran

On 21 February 2020, the people of Iran went to the polls to vote for 290 seats in the Islamic Consultative Assembly. The most recent parliamentary elections, held every four years in Iran, resulted in the formation of a parliamentary body with only 17 female parliamentarians, that is nearly 6% of the total number of representatives – the former parliament had the same figure. The 2019 UN Women annual report ranks Iran 180th out of 193 countries in terms of gender equality in parliament; globally, there are only 27 states in which wo¬¬¬men account for less than 10 percent of parliamentarians.

According to the 2011 UN General Assembly resolution, women’s political participation is one of the main factors that measure the situation of women’s rights and gender equality in society. Showing progress towards gender equality in political areas, the UN Women report on global rankings for women in parliament recognizes women in politics, particularly those acting as representatives in parliament, as important demonstrators of the status of women in any given country.

The presence of women in Iran’s parliament has fluctuated over the past 41 years since the Iranian revolution and the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, and the total number of seats taken by women is 95 across ten previous parliaments. The former parliament, having a record 17 female MPs with the reformist majority, was the highest achievement for women throughout all these years. Although far from the ideal gender balance, it was achieved thanks to the dedicated campaigning of feminists, moderates, and reformists. The recent polls, though, took place under the election boycott organized by the majority of reformists and oppositions and with the participation of about 24 million people out of 58 million eligible voters. Despite being the least voter turnout that the government has ever experienced, it nonetheless resulted in the same number of female representatives in parliament; however, the real question is whether these women represent views of the major groups of people and especially different groups of women in Iran.

The actual problem is not only the low number of female MPs in the Islamic Parliament of Iran. Per the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in order to run for parliamentary elections, all candidates have to be qualified beforehand by an appointed entity of the Guardian Council of the Constitution. In the recent election, alongside thousands of registrants’ disqualifications, a significant number of former representatives were barred from seeking re-election, which means that many indivudals of both gender had been deprived of their parliamentary memberships in a nondemocratic way. It must be noted that the proportion of women barred from re-election outweighs that of men.

While there are no legal barriers in place for women to run for parliamentary elections, from more than 16,000 people who registered to stand as candidates, only 12% were not men. Moreover, 50% of female MPs in previous parliaments were elected from the constituency of the capital of Iran, Tehran, and many provinces have never introduced any woman as a lawmaker to the society. Also, religious minorities have not had any female representation in parliament so far. In addition to various socio-cultural barriers that a society with a religious and patriarchal background experiences, legal discriminations exist that contribute to this problem, including gender inequality in terms of the right to work embodied in the Articles 1117 and 1034-120 of the civil code of the Islamic Republic of Iran reflecting the family law that sees a woman chiefly as a mother and wife.

To sum up, both the overall low proportion of women in Iran’s parliament and the unequal distribution of female representatives from different religious, cultural, ethnic, and political backgrounds produces a disregard of rights and demands of the Iranian women.

From our partner RIAC

Shima Esmailian
Shima Esmailian
Master's in Human Rights, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran