Progress, Obstacles for Iranian Women

Two new reports reveal the changing attitudes toward family planning and reproductive health in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, as well as the changing conditions for women. Iran has one of the Middle Eastern region’s lowest birthrates at 2.0 births per woman, which is partly due to the acceptance and promotion of family planning by religious officials in the late 1980s, according to the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Iran was one of the first countries to establish a family planning program in the 1960s, but that was dismantled after the 1979 Islamic revolution, according to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB). However, family planning became a priority once again following the Iran-Iraq war, and in 1991 a Department of Population and Family Planning was established, encouraging women to space out their pregnancies, limit family size to two or three children, and to discourage pregnancies for women who are under 18 or over 35, according to IRIN News. Today, around 55 percent of women use modern contraception, PRB reports.

“We have strong support from the parliament and religious leaders these days,” Dr. Safiea Shahriari, head of the family planning program in Iran, told IRIN. She said that even abortion is becoming more acceptable, with religious leaders approving abortion in cases of abnormalities of the fetus. Under the current law, abortion is only legal if the mother’s life is in danger. However, she points to challenges that remain for the family planning program. “There is not as much male participation as we would like,” said Dr. Shahriari, according to IRIN News. In addition, because of the stigma still attached to sex in Iran, teenagers are often misinformed about reproductive health and sex and avoid discussing it with adults, IRIN News reports.

Another newly released report focused on the changing roles for women since the 1979 revolution and current reforms in Iran. According to the report, today 65 percent of the university entrants and 46 percent of teachers are women. “The effects of women’s strong participation in universities, I think, will be seen in the future. With all of these graduates, society will inevitably have to deal with them and their increased demands for employment and having a say in public matters,” said Mahsa Shekarloo, editor of the feminist Iranian women’s magazine Badjens, according to IRIN News. However, married women are still not allowed to attend school with unmarried women, and in rural areas early marriage is common, according to IRIN News.

Women have also gained more rights in divorce cases. While in 1980s women were denied the right to divorce their husbands and obtain custody of their children if divorced, in 1999 the Iranian parliament passed a law allowing custody of minor children to the mother in divorce cases if it was deemed that the best interest of the child would be served. Last year, Iran’s parliament passed a bill granting women the right to seek divorce in court without written permission from their husbands, a major reform that was approved by the hard-line conservative Guardian Council as well. Iran also recently gained its first woman vice president among seven in President Khatami’s cabinet, Dr. Masoumeh Ebtekar, who is in charge of the Environmental Department, according to IRIN News.

However, many aspects of life for women in Iran are still heavily restricted. “Yes, times have changed under the reformist government, but we must remember what it was l


IRIN News 4/24/03, 4/28/03; Population Reference Bureau; Feminist Daily News Wire

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