Proposed Laws Violate Iranian Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Two proposed laws in Iran, the Comprehensive Population and Family Excellence Plan (Bill 315), and the Bill to Increase Birthrate and Prevent the Fall in Fertility Rate (Bill 446), could, if approved, restrict Iranian women’s sexual and reproductive rights. The Bills are part of countrywide approach to increase Iran’s population from 77 million to 200 million, at the expense of introducing discriminatory measures to women that may likely encourage early marriage, childbearing, lower divorce rates, and potentially forcing women to remain in abusive relationships.

Comprehensive Population and Family Excellence Plan (Bill 315)

Bill 315 was proposed on 18 June 2013 and is due to be discussed in parliament next month. If the Bill is passed it will limit women’s employment and educational prospects by offering benefits to women who leave the workplace to focus on motherhood and home duties. The Bill offers married couples numerous welfare services including gifts, loans, healthcare and child benefits. Such benefits serve to prevent women entering the profession of their choice, right to equality in the workplace, and right to freely determine the number and age difference between any of their children. Both public and private employers will be encouraged to give preference to men and women with children when recruiting for certain occupations.

Bill 315 also contains several provisions that act as a barrier to divorce, including encouraging judges to find against divorce by offering parties benefits to achieve a marital compromise. Under Iran’s civil code women need to prove “unbearable hardship” to get a divorce, while men can divorce without reason. Men also have the right to have at least two wives in polygamous marriages and as many wives as they desire in “temporary” marriages.

Bill to Increase Birthrate and Prevent the Fall in Fertility Rate (Bill 446)

The Bill was proposed on 20 April 2014 and on 11 May 2014 passed a first reading in Parliament with the support of 106 of the 207 members of parliament. It seeks to prohibit voluntary sterilization, which is one of the most commonly used procedures of contraception in Iran, and stop access to information about contraception. Such laws if passed may have the effect of increased numbers of unwanted pregnancies, resulting in an increase in illegal and unsafe terminations. Ease of access to condoms, which were formerly distributed through urban clinics and rural health houses, will also cease under this Bill.

Iranian authorities, including President Hasan Rouhani, have stated that men and women are treated equally, yet this is not the reality. Women in Iran face sexual violence and discrimination, and are deprived of equal rights in relation to marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, travel, and choice of clothing.

The proposed laws are set to perpetuate this inequality faced by Iranian women. Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, has stated that "the proposed laws will entrench discriminatory practices and set the rights of women and girls in Iran back by decades". If Bills 446 and 315 are passed, Iran will not only violate its international human rights obligations, but women will confront a future of ill-health, inequality, discrimination, limited reproductive choices.

Georgie Richardson is the Student Editor at the Australian Journal of Human Rights. Contact the journal at ajhr@unsw.edu.au

 

Photo credit: Mohammed Somji