Faezeh Hashemi: Discriminatory Laws Against Women Must Change

Fereshteh Ghazi
Fereshteh Ghazi

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The inability of Niloofar Ardalan, an awarded woman athlete, to travel to watch Iran’s soccer team in the currently-going-on Asian soccer games (known as the AFC Asian Cup) has once again brought forth the discriminatory laws against women in Iran. Married women in Iran are required to provide the written consent of their husband when boing abroad.

Niloofar Ardalan announced two days ago that her husband has stopped her from going to the soccer games because he refrained from providing his written consent for her to renew her passport. Rooz spoke with women’s rights activist and former member of parliament Faezeh Hashemi (Rafsanjani) about this and other women’s issues.

Faezeh also founded the Islamic Federation of Women’s Sports in Iran 21 years ago, which was banned by the government in 2010. Her efforts and those of others during Hassan Rouhani’s presidency to have the ban lifted have so far not been successful. She told Rooz that she hopes that the new parliament which will be formed following elections in February will be more favorable in this cause and will pass legislature to amend the discriminatory laws against women, laws that she said not only allow men to unilaterally decide for women but which are also anti-women and un-Islamic, and must be changed.

A day after she was denied permission to leave, Ms. Ardalan told Tasnim news agency (belonging to the Revolutionary Guards) that she was a Muslim woman and that the issue of being denied permission to be at the games was “purely a personal and family issue and not related to other issues.” She had earlier written on her Instagram site that she would follow her denial through the Association of Women’s Rights. “I am not going on a vacation. My goal is to raise the flag of my country. After all, when I came second they threw rotten tomatoes at me in the stadium. Just as men can find ways to avoid going to the draft, women too must be found ways. What is the difference between us? I am a woman and a mother and will not forego my rights,” she wrote.

Some media outlets in Iran had cited the reason for her husband’s denial of the consent to be so she could join her son on the first day of school. Ms. Ardalan herself mentioned this in her interview with Gol newspaper and said, “September 9th is the celebration of my son’s entry into his first grade in school and I can be next to him then. The soccer team will fly out the next day. The next two school days are off and then the soccer team returns after that, so the issue is only about going to school on that day.”

Her husband Mehdi Tootoonchi is a sports reporter and a commentator in Iran’s state-run national radio and television network who when contacted confirmed that he opposed his wife’s trip because of their son’s school day. He said their son needed his mother to be with him on that first day of school. He said this was a family issue and that he did not want to be interviewed about it. He categorized the issue as “bad luck” because the trip coincided with the first day of their son’s school. While he did respond to Rooz’s questions about his wife’s rights being violated through this action but said that these should not be published as an interview.


Faezeh Hashemi Laments

Speaking to Faezeh Hashemi, a women’s rights activist and a former member of parliament, she said, “One is disappointed when one hears that women are denied their basic rights because of a different interpretation of Islam. It is not right for men to have this unilateral right over their wife. Men are one issue but the fact that laws of the country allow and support such discriminatory relations is simply unfortunate. These discriminatory practices have been talked about and objected by women activists, reformist women and even principled (i.e., ideologue) women. All of us have united on many occasion against these laws, especially during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency. This is not new but an action has now again taken place which highlights the discrimination.”

Iranian laws require that a passport be issued to Iranian women only with the written consent of their husband. Even after such consent is provided, the laws give a man the ability to prevent his wife from travelling by asking the passport office to ban her from leaving the country. Faezeh Hashemi calls this oppression against women. “Creation made man and women equals. One must examine where did this notion that men have more rights come from. Does Islam not have to reflect the values of the current times? How can a woman be recognized to be part of the wealth of a nation and to provide to the country while at the same time be under the unilateral decision of a man? This is oppression and a violation of a woman’s rights. Unfortunately these are the interpretations that they have and they have imposed these on the country, something that is not good for Islam either,” she said.

Ms. Hashemi rejected the school day pretext adding that the issue could have been solved differently by preparing a video of the mother for the child. “Her husband could have filled in for his absent wife. Our problem is that laws give men such powers, and men use them. The issue of the child could be an excuse in this case because her husband did not want her to leave the country.” When asked about similar incidents in the past, Ms. Hashemi said she did not recall one regarding the national sports team of the country but so long as such laws exist nothing can be done in that respect. Other efforts such as lobbying and discussions could perhaps chance the conditions. Regarding Ms. Ardalan too conversations were held with him but the law is still in his favor.”

Ms. Hashemi continued, “When I was in parliament, we passed a law that allowed conscripts who were members of the national sports teams to be allowed to leave the country for sporting events. A similar solution could be presented for women, especially for cases involving national interest and national honor, so that men could not unilaterally make decisions over women. Still, the core of the issue are the wrong laws that must be mended at their root level.”