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Beyond the veil: Discrimination against women in Iran

16 September 2019

Despite some progress in certain areas, such as access to education and health care, the human rights environment for women in Iran continues to be characterized by inequality and exclusion. Iran is one of just six UN member states that have not signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, and its national legislation enshrines many barriers to accessing basic rights in areas such as employment, marriage and citizenship. These issues are especially pronounced for minority women, who often face intersectional discrimination on account of their ethnic and religious identity.These restrictions continue to be justified with reference to national values and the state-sanctioned interpretation of Shi’a Islam, with far reaching implications for women in both their public and private lives. The secondary status of women is reflected not only in their limited representation in the country’s politics and judiciary, but also in their own homes, as by law husbands retain primary control over domestic affairs. Across the country, particularly in its more remote and impoverished areas, many women struggle with normalized patterns of coercion, physical violence and marital rape – a crime currently unrecognised in Iranian law.Many ongoing efforts at reform within Iran have been obstructed, with recent protests by women activists against state repression accompanied by an apparent escalation in official surveillance and intimidation. While perpetrators of violence against women, including police, have enjoyed a high level of impunity, demonstrators advocating for an end to the mandatory wearing of the hijab and other issues have faced physical attacks, detention and prosecution, with some high-profile activists handed lengthy sentences in prison.Women in Iran will continue to experience marginalization, violence and repression without a wide-ranging, transformative process of reform within the country. This should address not only the inequitable legal frameworks surrounding issues such as employment, political participation, personal security and other freedoms, but also the broader social hierarchies within communities, families and households that uphold discrimination against women.This report recommends:

  • A comprehensive revision of Iran’s domestic legislation, in line with international standards on gender equality and other human rights.
  • The elimination of criminal provisions which discriminate between men and women or provide exemptions for crimes committed by men, including physical and sexual violence.
  • The immediate release of all prisoners detained solely for peacefully protesting and advocating for women’s human rights.
  • Improved gender balance in the distribution of civil service posts, ministerial portfolios and other high-ranking political positions, as well as increased access to all employment opportunities.
  • Removal of all discriminatory provisions around citizenship to ensure that all Iranian women are able to pass on full nationality rights to their children at birth, regardless of their husband’s country of origin.


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Fact sheet: Discrimination against women in Iran (PDF, English)