BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Languages
Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 July 2007, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
Women's bill 'unites' Iran and US
By Kambiz Fattahi
BBC News, Washington

For more than 27 years, America and Iran have rarely seen eye-to-eye on anything.

Iranian women hold up banners calling for equal rights - June 2006
Iran's legal system discriminates against women

So, how is it that these archrivals have a similar position, albeit for very different reasons, on a key women's rights convention?

Iran and the US are two of only eight countries that have not joined the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).

Supporters call Cedaw an international "bill of rights" for women.

"This treaty deals with the most basic rights for women and girls, including access to basic medical care, legal redress against violence, and access to education," says Sarah Albert, co-chair of the Working Group for Ratification of Cedaw.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is meeting until 10 August at UN headquarters in New York to review reports on the situation of women in 15 of the 185 countries that are party to the convention.

Under Iran's previous president, Mohammad Khatami, the parliament passed a bill in favour of joining Cedaw.

But it was vetoed by Iran's powerful Guardian Council, an appointed body of six clerics and six jurists. The Council stated that the bill contradicted Islamic principles.

Of course, the US does not have a Guardian Council but its system of checks and balances can lead to long delays in implementing policy.

Incompatible

Former US President Jimmy Carter signed the Convention in 1980, but the Senate has yet to ratify it. In 1994, a group of senators blocked its passage.

Despite a 2002 attempt to revive it, the convention remains stalled in the Senate.

It is like the old colonialism... here you have the UN...saying to countries you have to do things my way. You have to do things in the way of Western nations
Dr Janice Crouse
Beverly Lahaye Institute
America is the only Western industrial democracy that has not ratified Cedaw.

"The opposition to the treaty is small but very vocal. It surrounds the issue of sovereignty. Opponents have argued that the US Constitution would be usurped if we were to ratify it," says Ms Albert.

Iran's opposition to Cedaw has deeper roots.

Mehrangiz Kar, an Iranian human rights lawyer based at Harvard, says that the Iranian legal system is inherently incompatible with Cedaw.

"The Iranian government is based upon Islam, and its constitution states that laws cannot contradict the Sharia. Given that the Sharia does not consider men and women's rights as equal, its joining the Convention would be problematic."

But most Muslim nations have joined the Convention - even Saudi Arabia, whose constitution is the Koran and where women do not enjoy equality with men, has signed and ratified the Convention.

'Utopian wish-list'

In both the US and Iran, female opponents of international agreements like Cedaw have similar arguments.

Dr Janice Crouse of the conservative Beverly LaHaye Institute has called the treaty "a thinly disguised utopian wish-list".

Capitol Hill - file photo
The ratification of CEDAW is not a priority for the Bush administration

"It is like the old colonialism. That has certainly been discredited in history, but here you have the UN taking up the same kinds of principles and saying to countries you have to do things my way. You have to do things in the way of Western nations," Dr Crouse said in an interview posted on Concerned Women for America's website.

Conservatives like Dr Crouse also condemn Cedaw for loosening abortion regulations, although the State Department described the Convention as "abortion neutral."

Some high-ranking women within the Iranian government also reject treaties like Cedaw, which they see as a "failed Western model."

Zohreh Tabibzadeh Nouri, chief of Iran's Centre for Women and Family Affairs, has said that Iran will not ratify Cedaw so long as she is in charge.

Formerly known as the Centre for Women's Affairs, it was renamed under the conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"The changing of the name illustrates the current government's expectation that women's principal role in society should be that of housewives and mothers,"" says Asiyeh Amini, journalist and women's rights activist in Iran.

Influence

It is unlikely that the current governments in Tehran and Washington will ratify Cedaw.

The Bush administration has been reviewing the treaty for a couple of years but it is not high on the treaty ratification priority list to be sent to the Senate.

"At this time this administration is not seeking the ratification of any human rights treaty," says Sarah Albert.

Neither is the Iranian government. In fact, several women's rights activists have received jail sentences and police have broken up their public gatherings in Tehran.

Meanwhile in Washington, women's political influence has never been stronger. A top presidential contender is a woman. The Speaker of the House is a woman, so is the Secretary of State.

There is optimism among supporters that Cedaw could gain public support as candidates seek to attract women voters in the upcoming presidential campaigns.


SEE ALSO
Iranian women struggle for equality
08 Mar 07 |  Middle East
Iran police stop women's protest
08 Mar 07 |  Middle East
Iran talks up temporary marriages
02 Jun 07 |  Middle East
Iran police move into fashion business
02 Jan 07 |  Middle East
Washington diary: Inside Iran
28 Mar 07 |  Americas

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific