Iran approves long-awaited bill to help protect women against domestic violence - but does it go far enough?

Iran’s Vice President for women and family affairs says the bill is dedicated to ‘worthy and patient Iranian women’. Credit: AP
  • By Digital Presenter and Producer Amani Ibrahimi

A long-awaited bill to help better protect women against domestic violence and criminalise those responsible has finally been approved in Iran.

The draft bill which has been named as ‘Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence’ was given the go-ahead by the cabinet on Sunday. 

Massoumeh Ebtekar, who is currently Iran’s Vice President for women and family affairs, announced the news on Twitter. 

She said the bill was the result of ‘hundreds of hours of expertise’ and dedicated it to ‘worthy and patient Iranian women’. 

The legislation is being seen as a victory for women’s rights activists in Iran who have been campaigning for change for years.

Iran is among fewer than 50 countries that do not have specific domestic violence laws compared to more than half the Middle East and North Africa region countries, according to rights group Human Rights Watch.

What does the bill outline?

The bill defines violence as ‘any behaviour inflicted on women due to gender, vulnerable position or type of relationship, and inflicts harm to their mind, body, personality and dignity, or restricts or deprives them of legal rights and freedoms.’

This means that acts such as forced marriage and sexual harassment in public would be classed as a crime.

It states that the judiciary should create offices for victims of violence so that they can be supported as well as using funding to help victims including imprisoned women.

On the other hand, medical and psychological services for women would need to be improved by the ministry of health and to better train staff on how to deal with women who are victims.

The bill outlines acts such as forced marriage and sexual harassment in public as a crime Credit: AP

The bill focuses a lot around the idea of educating people in order to see a difference. 

It suggests that educational courses should be held for judges and other judiciary staff to better understand domestic violence against women. 

In addition, the ministry of education would also hold educational courses for students, teachers and parents to be able to identify vulnerable pupils.

Not only that but there would be a requirement to educate the nation as a whole. 

Programmes that inform viewers on domestic violence and support women who are victims would be put out by the state broadcaster. This is to engrave the idea of prevention of violence against women as family values across the country.

The bill focuses a lot around the idea of educating people on domestic violence against women Credit: AP

Does the bill mention all aspects of domestic violence against women?

Despite numerous points which the bill makes in support of victims, it fails to criminalise various forms of violence against women which are recommended by the United Nations. 

In a report published last month, the Human Rights Watch stated that the draft bill did not have the right definition of domestic violence as it had no mention of marital rape and virginity testing - which the UN defines as forms of violence against women.

Furthermore, the legislation does not criminalise or abolish child marriage. Meaning that girls as young as 13, can still get married legally if they have their fathers permission. Boys as young as 15 can also marry. It is even possible for children younger than 13 to get married if authorised by a judge.  

Alternative sentences could be given to an offender in Iran if they are related to the victim Credit: AP

The legislation fails to amend the definition of rape under the Criminal Code which specifies it as forced sexual intercourse with a woman and a man who she is not married to therefore completely disregarding martial rape. 

Currently the punishment for rape is the death penalty but alternative sentences could be given to the offender if they are related to the victim. 

That could also be applied to other forms of violence as a victim’s husband, father or mother could be given lighter sentences despite the seriousness of their crime. 

This raises the question of how much protection do women in Iran actually have against ‘honour killings’ which are usually committed by family members.

14-year-old Romina Ashrafi was murdered by her father in Iran Credit: Twitter

There was a nationwide outcry in May 2020 after a horrifying case in Tehran saw a 14-year-old girl get beheaded by her own father. 

Romina Ashrafi was allegedly killed for running away with her boyfriend. 

Despite the nature of crime, her father was only given a nine-year sentence which caused outrage in Iran.

Under Iranian law, intentional murder is usually punishable by death but in this case, as he was related to the victim, his sentence was reduced.

Iran reported 8,000 honour killings between 2010 and 2014, according to an academic study by the Iranian Quarterly Journal of Social Development. 

When was the draft bill first made?

The draft bill had been in the works for a very long time and was first initiated during former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s time (2005-2013) although nothing was ever complete.

After President Hassan Rouhani’s election in 2013, his government took on completing the bill. 

Former Vice President for Women’s Affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi took on the draw bill and started the work on it before passing it to her successor Ebtekar. 

In September 2019, the judiciary announced that it had completed the lengthy process of the review. 

The 58-article bill will now have to be reviewed and approved by parliament who will pass it onto the powerful and influential Guardian Council which consists of jurists and religious experts.

Iran is often criticised for its handling of women’s rights Credit: AP

Is Iran trying to improve life for women in its country?

Iran is often criticised for the way it handles women’s rights but it seems it is slowly trying to change that.

In 2017, the country took a small step to protect victims of domestic violence by providing a social emergency hotline. 

Additionally, the government sponsored safe houses to provide shelter for homeless women and those who are victims of domestic violence.

According to Human Rights Watch, by March 2019, there were 24 safe houses across Iran, with places for 1,500 women to stay in for up to a year.

Iranian women cheering at a football stadium in Tehran in 2019 for the first time decades Credit: AP

Only very recently has the country changed its views on women attending sport events. 

Thousands of Iranian women were allowed to watch a football match in October 2019.

The game between Iran and Cambodia, saw more than 3,000 Iranian women attend for the first time in four decades. 

It wasn’t until human rights activists and FIFA increased the pressure on Iran’s sports officials to allow women into games.