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Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 11:53 GMT
Iranian women seek equality
woman with flyer
Flyer for Jewish candidate Hilda Rabih-Zadeh
Three years ago, women voted in their millions for reformist President Mohammad Khatami. He in turn is now encouraging them to play a bigger role in politics.

A record 513 women stood in the 18 February polls. They made up about 7% of candidates nationwide, and nearly 15% in the capital Tehran.

''Until now, women's rights and sensitivities were derided in Iran and it is our role and our obligation to restore these rights," says one candidate, Vahideh Talaqani.

Cultural problems are the main reasons for the discrimination which is carried out in the name of Islam

Elaheh Koulaei, woman candidate
She is one of several women members of the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Front who are campaigning for equal pay and the abolition of forced marriages.

The restrictions imposed on women in Iran are less severe than in some of the Gulf Arab states, which bar women even from driving.

But the Islamic law in force since the 1979 revolution places women under male supervision and requires them to follow a strict dress code.

Over the past 20 years, the Iranian clergy have stressed the traditional family role of women and the majority of conservative clerics still believe men are superior to women.
Iranian women
Women play a key role in the reform movement
This is evident in a number of religious and civil laws, which many women candidates are seeking to change.

For example, the value of a woman's life in Iran is half that of a man's in terms of blood money, and her testimony in court is also worth half that of a man.

A woman is rarely granted custody of children unless they are very young. And, if her husband dies, his father gains authority over the couple's assets.

'Bad treatment'

But President Khatami has said that, according to Islam, there is no difference between men and women.

And last year a senior cleric, Ayatollah Yosef Sanei, made headlines when he declared there should be nothing to stop a woman becoming president or even supreme religious leader - a post generally believed to be ordained by God.

Ayatollah Sanei said women's ''bad treatment'' since the Islamic Revolution contradicted the teachings of Islam.

Since I was young I never liked the way women were treated

Ayatollah Yosef Sanei
And he said it was wrong not to allow women to become judges or to accept them as full witnesses in courts.

There were women judges before the revolution, but they were removed in 1979. In recent years they have been brought back, but so far only in an advisory capacity.

However, many commentators say women have made significant gains since the revolution, compared with life under the shahs.

Iranian women are generally well educated and more women now attend university than men.

They are gradually moving into male work spheres, such as the police force, and they have entered the government.
Five candidates
Women candidates are promising to fight for equality
One of Iran's vice-presidents, Masoumeh Ebtekar, is a woman, and women held 14 of the 270 parliamentary seats before the general election.

Women candidates also did well in last year's local polls - the first since the revolution - winning the highest number of votes in 109 cities.

As in 1979, when they were in the vanguard of the street protests that toppled the Shah, Iran's women are once again playing a dominant role in the movement for change.

See also:

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26 Sep 99 | Middle East
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