The girl child

photo provided by Children First Now

Note: On this page, we critique and condemn the role that political Islam (1) has played in desecrating the lives of Iranian girls and women. We advocate absolute freedom of thought; we are not against personal beliefs, faiths, or ideologies, and everyone should be entitled to their beliefs. Our intent here is not to question the personal beliefs of Muslims, but to indict the Islamic state of Iran for its anti-human practices that are most visibly perpetrated against girls and women.

On this page, we describe the situation of the girl child in Iran. First we provide a statistical snapshot with a review of Iran’s progress towards Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3, which is to promote gender equality and empower women. All statistics on the MDGs are drawn from Iran’s 2004 MDG Report unless otherwise noted. We then look more closely at the situation of the girl child in Iran, both in terms of how her life is circumscribed by the rules and laws imposed by the Islamic state, and in terms of ways that girls and their families resist the harmful effects of gender apartheid in Iran. Elsewhere we explore the effects of gender apartheid on the experiences, perceptions, and relationships of Iranian boys and young men.

Millennium Development Goals: Promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women in Iran
The target for the third goal is to eliminate gender disparity in all levels of education no later than 2015. Additionally, there should be progress made towards women’s share in non-agricultural employment and women’s representation in government. Although only the goal of gender equality in education reflects the current situation of girl children, the employment and government statistics are also important for girls because they serve as indicators of the kind of future today’s young girls have to look forward to if conditions for women in Iran remain unchanged.

Eliminating gender disparity in education: Ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education
The ratio of female students enrolled in primary, secondary and tertiary education has risen from 79 percent in 1990 to 93 percent in 2002. While the improvement in gender equality in education has primarily been a result of an increasing number of female students continuing beyond primary education and more female entrants to higher education, it also reflects an increasing drop-out rate of male students, particularly at the secondary and tertiary levels. Women now outnumber men in enrollment in higher education, and the ratio of literate women to men among 15-24 year olds was 97, indicating near-equality in literacy.

Share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector
The share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector remained essentially unchanged between 1990 and 2002 (11 and 12 percent, respectively). Despite high and climbing levels of education among women, there nevertheless remain obstacles to their full participation in economic life in Iran. Among other things, lack of participation in the wage-earning labor force leaves women dependent on the earnings of a spouse. This can significantly reduce a woman’s ability to leave a relationship in the case of domestic violence, which is prevalent in Iran. Restricting women’s participation in the labor force also has serious negative repercussions for national economies:

[A] report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Countries found that restricting job opportunities for women is costing the region between US$ 42 and US$ 46 billion a year. Research by the World Bank demonstrates that similar restrictions have also imposed huge costs throughout the Middle East, where decades of substantial investment have dramatically reduced the gender gap in education and health but the gender gap in economic opportunity remains the widest in the world, with only about one third of women participating in the workforce.
The Global Gender Gap Report 2009, published by the World Economic Forum.

click for larger figure


Proportion of seats held by women in national parliament
The percentage of seats held by women during four terms of the national Parliament has never exceeded 5 percent. Iran’s Majlis (Parliament) is not representative of its population, and the political needs of those not represented go unmet.

click for larger figure


Life for the girl child in the Islamic Republic: the Islamic regime’s ugliest side

Girls’ lived experiences in Iran
Girls and young women in Iran are made to feel that their behavior and dress are under constant scrutiny. The penal codes for transgressions are severe, and the punishment of one girl or woman is sufficient to terrorize others into compliance with the state-imposed religion. Below are some not-uncommon examples of what life can hold for a girl or young woman living in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Pouring acid
If you are a citizen of the Islamic Republic of Iran you regrettably find nothing new about the following story:

“I was married at the age of 12, and I had my first child when I was 13. My husband was unemployed and we fought all the time. We never applied for a divorce because I was afraid of losing my child. Finally one night, he poured a bucket of acid over my body and I was completely burned. When I rushed to the sink to flush my face and body, I realized that he had shut off the main water supply. I was taken to the hospital. My operation was held up pending advance money for the surgery, and permission from my husband to operate on my face. My mother sold all of her valuables and provided the money. My husband said he would only permit my operation if I consented to not seeing my children for the rest of my life. Finally, with hospital’s pressure on the family court they allowed me to receive the operation on my face and body.”
WFAFI, 2005

Pouring acid on girl’s face has in the past 30 years been one of many bestial methods of punishment of girls and women who have dared to challenge the Islamic state. These punishments have been carried out mostly by Hezbollahi and Basij thugs, but even husbands on many occasions have committed this atrocity as an act of revenge. The real tragedy is that this heartbreaking story is not an isolated incident.

Early marriage
A little child at a time when she by the law of nature is supposed to be only playing and learning, laughing and exploring, is forced to “WED.” Forced by her own parents, perhaps ignorant, illiterate, miserable and alienated from everything human, from something as natural as natural as loving, caring and protecting the child (as it is observed when addiction is involved). This is one big human tragedy.


“Research on suicide in Iran points to a different sexual pattern than that which prevails in the world. Contrary to Western countries where single old men form the majority who commit suicide, in Iran the majority rests with young married women. Difference of gender, difference of geographical locations and lapse of time have influenced the method of suicide. At a time that the majority of men hang themselves, 83 percent of women who committed suicide in 1993 set themselves ablaze.”
Somayeh Askari, Farhang-e Tose’e, Monthly Magazine, Feb. 1998.

Our sisters set themselves ablaze! Perhaps they deliberately chose this horrendous way to manifest the hell they lived in!

Societal consequences
Another tragedy is the degradation of our civil society, suppressed to such degree by violently-enforced Shari’a law that we do not cry our hearts out in the face of such bestial inhumanities, in the face of the insanity of handing over a little child to a paedophile and calling it marriage.

The role of Shari’a law in repression of girls and women in Iran
These are not a single isolated tragedies that could happen anywhere in the world and be blamed on psychologically unstable parent/s or children themselves. This happens systematically in the Islamic Republic of Iran, with a complete set of sharply-honed religio-political instruments: the constitutional, educational and legal systems that propagate and enforce anti-female ideology. This system is designed especially to enforce and maintain sexual apartheid, and to bring belittlement, humiliation, helplessness and a sense of inferiority to Iranian women.

Shari’a law in Iran makes women’s life a living hell. To enforce this way of life on girls, women, and the entire family system in Iran, indoctrination needs to start early. The sooner the woman accepts and submits to the brutal world of religious male chauvinism the better; after all in their pervert belief a girl child is mature enough at the age of nine thus punishable for what they define as “crime”! Thus there is not time to lose in converting the girl child from a child to a devastated resemblance of a human being, a shadow of a woman, a domestic servant, without any autonomy, subdued, suppressed to a subhuman status.

“A child is swathed in cloth from head to toe every day. Everything but her face and hands are covered for fear that a man might find her attractive. At school she learns that she is worth less than a boy. She is not allowed to dance or swim or feel the sun on her skin or the wind in her hair. This is clearly unacceptable, yet it is accepted when it is done in the name of religion.”
~Maryam Namazie

What Namazie describes here is the first lesson the girl child learns in her path towards the ideal women of Islam. Here starts the institutionalizing of the brutal reality of life for a woman under state-imposed Islamic rule, yet this is only a slap on the hand compared to what awaits her, when the girl child reaches the age of puberty.

Indoctrinating the girl child to maintain a sexual apartheid is a multilateral, psychological, cultural, and legal policy. Islamic regime’s constitution shamelessly legalizes sexual apartheid:

Article 102 of Iran’s Constitution indicates: “Women who appear on streets and in public without the prescribed ‘Islamic Hejab’ will be condemned to 74 strokes of the lash.”

Article 209 of Iran’s Constitution states that woman’s life is valued only half as much as a man’s life. A convicted man who has intentionally slain a woman is subject to execution only after the payment of “Deyeh” by the family of the victim. “Deyeh” is defined as a sum of money that the victim’s family has to pay to the assailant’s family for the physical damages, dismemberment, or death of the assailant.

Article 300 of the Penal code states that the “Deyeh” of a Muslim woman is half of the “Deyeh” of a Muslim man. By law the life of a woman has half the value of a man in Islamic criminal law in Iran.

Inheritance rights: In 1998, Iran’s Parliament overwhelmingly rejected the bill on same inheritance rights for man and women. They said the proposal was contrary to Islamic law, which stipulates that a woman’s share may only be one half that of a man’s.

Health care: Iran’s Parliament adopted a law, in April of 1998, to fully segregate the health care system for women and girls. This law has seriously compromised women’s health because there are not enough trained female physicians and health care professionals to meet the needs of all the women and girls in Iran. The same law also points to another new law of prohibiting the discussion of women’s issues or rights outside the interpretation of Shari’a (Islamic law). Women’s rights can only be discussed by religious male figures in Iran.

Domestic violence: Family courts do not provide women any protection from abusive husbands.

– woman are inferior to and equal to only half of a man
– women belong to men
– men have the right to punish their wives if they do not obey them
– women are the potential source of corruption in society so the hijab should be imposed on them
– the veil is a woman’s legitimate physical boundary to protect men and the community from any possible moral and social danger
– the main duty of women is considered to be taking care of the home and children.

Teaching about the effective suppression of women and male dominance as something natural, necessary and desirable is an essential theme in school education. Women are considered only as mothers and housekeepers. In school, children learn the traditional male-female gender roles. The segregation of women and sexual apartheid are seen as a desirable state for women in society.
-Azam Kamguian, Stifled Steps: Islam and Education

The resilience and resistance of women in Iran

Summary and recommendations
Among many take-away points from this page, a key observation that can be made is that policymakers cannot rely on good performance in attaining some of the indicators for the third MDG and expect that there is real gender equity on the ground. Where it behooves the State to have a literate population of women, girls are allowed to read and go to school (unless they are Afghan refugees). But women are nevertheless largely absent from the job market, and nearly entirely absent from national Parliament. Worse, they are subjected to daily reminders that they are less than their male counterparts, while still being subjected to more restrictions and more state-enforced violence.

(1) Political Islam is a movement that replaces the old nationalist movement in so-called Islamic-populated societies. Its aim is to create its own way of society which it governs by Islamic rules and regulations. Political Islam is considered to be a worldwide movement, and its head is in Iran as the first Islamic state.

Link to One Million Signatures campaign

International Standards:

Article 2.1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that:
States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

The third goal of the Millennium Development Goals is to promote gender equality and empower women:
The target for the third goal is to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015. Key indicators for this goal are as follows:

3.1 Ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education
3.2 Share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector
3.3 Proportion of seats held by women in national parliament


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