More than an ornament: Iran’s ‘female statesmen’ and elections

Feb 19, 2016

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

By Farnoosh Amirshahi

Traditionalist clerics often invoke a masculine term to discourage women from running for political office in Iran. While the question of gender isn’t addressed in Iran’s electoral laws, candidates wishing to participate in the Iranian political scene must be considered “Rajol-e-siasi,” or statesmen. If the political arena is legally defined as the purview of statesmen, women have no business entering it, conservatives argue.

This paradox helps explain the status of female politicians in a system where only 49 women have served in parliament since 1979, accounting for only 3% of all parliamentary seats. To maintain any presence at all, female lawmakers must reconcile conservative Islamic values with the social advancement of their gender.

Even if they possess an immaculate political and theological pedigree, female politicians struggle to advance their agendas without altering traditional women’s roles as defined by male Islamic jurists. When addressing basic issues such as workforce participation, successful female lawmakers like conservative MP Soheila Jelodarzadeh take care to only support part-time employment, prioritizing women’s roles as mothers and homemaker.

Outspoken female parliamentarians from across Iran’s political spectrum have been ostracized, even jailed, for their overly progressive views. Others have maintained a merely ornamental presence in politics, voting along factional lines and against their own interests as women.

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