(WOMENSENEWS)-- Iranians are celebrating the election of their new president, Hassan Rohani, on the streets of Tehran and other cities.
Rohani was chosen from eight presidential candidates who were approved by the Guardian Council of the Constitution, a 12 member, Supreme Leader-appointed council that wields considerable power and influence in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In all, 686 people registered to run during the election, of which 30 were women. None of these women, however, were qualified to run.
In a phone interview, Iranian Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer and human rights defender, discussed this situation with Women's eNews.
Ebadi, who in 2003 became the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, was the first female judge in Iran and the first woman to serve as president of the Tehran city court in 1975. After the Islamic revolution in 1979, radical clerics demoted her to a secretarial postion in the branch where she was president because they believed Islam prohibits women from being judges. She and other female judges protested and were assigned to the slightly higher position of "law experts." She eventually requested early retirement as the situation did not seem to be improving. She lives in London now.
Ms. Ebadi, can Iranian women, under current law, become president?
Iran's constituational law says that the president should be from political rejal. This word rejal is very important because it is an Arabic word and it has a dual meaning. It means politically qualified but it also means men (plural of man). Based on the proceedings left from the time that the constituion was being written, they purposefully chose this opaque Arabic word to play with it depending on the situation. Members disagreed about permitting women to run for presidency and this detoured the problem.
It sounds like they didn't want to confront women at the time since they needed their vote in the Islamic referandum as well. When did the confrontation begin?
In 1997, for the first time since the Islamic Revolution, Ms. Azam Taleghani [the head of the Society of Islamic Revolution Women of Iran, editorial director of Payam Hajar Weekly and a former member of the Iranian parliament] registered for the presidency. That was the first time that Guardian Council was directly confronted with a female candidate. The Gurdian Council disqualified her and announced that their interpretation of rejal is men.
But this didn't stop Iranian women from registering for presidency. Why?
The feminist movement in Iran does not accept this interpretation and believes that women, regardless of gender, can hold this position. Every term that women register for the presidency and make the Guardian Council disqualify them, they announce their disagreement with the interpretation loud and clear. It is a way of protest.
Why are women permitted to register at all?
The government executes the registration and they are responsible to permit everyone to register, regardless of the situation or qualification. It is the Guardian Council's job to accredit or disqualify candidates.
So, is there any hope that this will change one day?
Well, based on the constituational law, whenever there is an opaque law, the Guardian Council has to interprete it and the Council members can change their interpration any time that they want. So, if the Guardian Council decides today that women can run for presidency, they can. The other way is to change this particular law in the constituation, which I don't think would happen under the current situation. The best way is to convince the Guardian Council to change their interpretaion.
How is power in Iran divided between men and women?
Women hold junior and senior expert and managerial positions in government offices but in unequal numbers. Women also have been in parliament for 50 years and currently, there are 13 elected female members of parliament. The highest position in the Islamic Republic of Iran was a health minister, Marzieh Dastjerdi, in the second term of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency.
How do you see women's role under president Rohani's term?
During his debates, he only talked about general ideas of women's rights and didn't advocate or promise anything specific. We need to see his cabinet and his moves first. It is too soon to predict.