Examining the Intersection of Women’s Rights Violations and International Law: A Case Study of Iran

The recent escalating tension in West Asia between Israel and Iran has sparked international eyeballs. However, amidst these discussions, the escalating women’s rights violations happening within Iran have not been discussed. In this article, the authors talk about the responsibility of the international community under international law to safeguard women’s rights in Iran and globally. Simply stated, The Islamic Republic can be understood as an example of a hybrid authoritarian regime comprised of nonelective and elective institutions, whereby the former in conjunction with powerful security and military institutions, regularly seek to dominate and shape the outcomes of the latter. In this context, the role of the Guardian Council symbolises the ‘repressive state apparatus’ where the full weight of the law and coercive power of the state proscribes and persecutes.

Historically, Iranian women have been silenced and shuttered, figuratively and literally, behind veils. Speaking up about their moral concerns has had fatal consequences for some and financial, social, and practical ramifications for others. The notion of cultural differences and minority group rights is used to justify violence against women, sexual slavery, murder, and rape amongst other human rights violations. To regulate the conduct of women, there exist guidance patrols (commonly referred to as the ’morality police“) to ensure compliance with certain dress code norms. It was the post-revolution 1979 hijab ruling and the 1983 Veiling Act required women to wear hijab in public spaces or risk fines, detention, and corporal punishment. Thus, a dual life is forced upon women by the state’s dress code. 

The most prominent example of such violations that have occurred in recent years, was on September 16 2022, the day Mahsa Jina Amini died in the custody of the “morality police” in Tehran. Consequently, Iranian cities were the scene of daily anti government protests by young women. The United Nations Human Rights had created a high-level committee for investigation. The committee has submitted its preliminary report and suggested that Iran has violated the principle of international by using force against the peaceful protests in Tehran. Iran’s “repression of peaceful protests” and “institutional discrimination against women and girls” has led to human rights violations, some of which amount to “crimes against humanity,” according to a United Nations report.

This incident can force us to think the implementation and approach of international law from the point of third world approach of international law. This approach helps us to look international law from the different angle. It questions the framing of international law and disadvantaged countries. Moreover it also posses question on exiting international law about what disadvantage people has benefit from international law. The women in Iran obviously can put to disadvantaged category of international law. Third world  approach addresses the question of all the disadvantaged people living in developed country or underdeveloped country. Though initially it is more about non-western countries and their role in international law-making, but in recent times, it speaks for all poor and marginalized people in any country poor or rich. It includes LGBT communities, child, women, and indigenous people and raises concern about all disadvantaged people on earth. The principle question that we can ask is, what role Iranian women have in making international law for Iran or how they engage with the international law. The second question also can be asked, what benefit they can get from international law. In the lawmaking of Iran, women has very little role to play, moreover, in the case of international law, the role is more minimal or negative.

To conclude, this article aims to show over the course of several decades the violation of women’s human rights has constituted a part of a larger political and social system that requires highlighting the ongoing emancipatory struggles for democratic rights and liberation in today’s Iran which calls for increased attention to these issues on the international stage.

[Photo by Taymaz Valley, via Wikimedia Commons]

Abhinav Mehrotra is an Assistant Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University. His research interests include International law, Human rights law, UN studies, Refugee law, Child rights, and Transitional Justice.
Dr. Biswanath Gupta is an Associate Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University. His research interests include International Law, Air and Space Law. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.

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