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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 March 2006, 09:14 GMT
Women's rights on Iranian agenda
By Roxana Saberi
BBC News, Tehran

Rafat Bayat
Rafat Bayat denies the government wants to limit women's freedom
A hardline member of Iran's parliament is calling for a dialogue with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rafat Bayat has said she wants to talk to Ms Rice as one woman to another.

"The men in parliament tease us and say, 'See what your fellow woman is doing?'," Ms Bayat said.

"In other words, women who come to power become like her," she explained.

"I get upset, but they're telling the truth. I believe Ms Rice can do something that other women can be proud of."

'Other side of the coin'

At a ceremony marking this year's International Women's Day, Ms Bayat called on women around the world to gather to discuss mutual global challenges, such as how to reduce the spread of drugs, war and weapons of mass destruction, instead of interfering in other countries' domestic affairs.

Women in Tehran
Many Iranian women serve in parliament and local government

"I think we women should come and talk about these international challenges because men don't want to agree that peace and security have other definitions," she said.

"Women are on the other side of the coin."

But a Tehran-based analyst said Ms Bayat's suggestion is "nonsense" and that she wants to distract attention from Iran's domestic issues and foreign policy.

Ms Bayat made the comments as the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), met in Vienna to discuss Iran's controversial nuclear programme.

The US ambassador to the IAEA says the agency is sending its latest report on the nuclear programme to the UN Security Council for action.

Iran says the programme is purely peaceful and that it will never give up the right to pursue nuclear technology.

Women's rights

President Bush said on Tuesday that democracies only reach their potential when women are allowed to fully participate in society.

Women protest against restrictions on their rights during the Iranian election
Activists say women still have fewer rights than men in Iran

He singled out Iran, North Korea and Burma as countries that suppress women's rights.

Many women rights' activists in Iran say women here achieved a great deal in recent years.

They have become more active in society and in the workplace, and now comprise around 65% of university entrants.

Women also serve in parliament and local government.

But activists say Iranian women still have fewer rights than men in the Islamic Republic.

They point out that women have not been able to run for president or serve as judges.

Women cannot have full guardianship over their children after divorce, and they get half as much inheritance as men.

Conservative president

Some women's rights advocates say they have not seen the rollback of women's rights they expected since the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president last August.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (centre) at a women's conference
President Ahmadinejad wants to make the family a priority

But, at the same time, they do not foresee radical change for the better under his presidency.

"Mr Ahmadinejad's policies are that women should return to their homes and that their priority should be the family," Mahbube Abbasqolizade, a member of the Iranian Women's Centre NGO, said.

"For example, under his government, the Centre for Women's Participation has been renamed the Centre for Women and Family Affairs."

Some activists also say Iran's minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Mohammed Hossein Saffar Harandi, has called on women working in his ministry to leave by 1800 every evening in order to help them look after their families.

Supporting the family

But Ms Bayat denied the government wants to limit women's freedom and send them back to their homes.

She said the government wants to help mothers who work away from home to take care of their children by giving them better salaries and offering after-school activities to their children.

"The government wants to say, 'We should support the family, and if the woman wants to go work, the family will not face problems'," she said.

"We're not saying the family is important so the woman should not go out and work."

Many Iranian women's rights advocates say women here enjoy more rights than their counterparts in some Arab countries.

But they believe Iranian women will intensify their demands as they become more aware of their abilities.


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Iranian women talk about their lives




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