Iranian Women’s Political Participation
Nabz Nameh - May 2017
On May 19, Iranians will go to polls across Iran to vote for candidates in local elections, which will take place on the same day as the presidential elections. While much focus and importance has been placed on the presidential election and candidates, local elections offer an opportunity for citizens to vote for representatives who have local interests in mind and a more direct impact on their communities. A total of 287,425 people registered to run by the end of the registration period in March. Of the 287,425 people that did register to run, 17,885 are women. In spite of the fact that the percentage of registered women candidates is still only 6.3 percent of the total, this is an increase from the 5.4 percent for the 2013 election cycle.
Evidence suggests that there is an increase in policy making that emphasizes quality of life and reflects the priorities of families, women and ethnic and racial minorities as more women are elected to office. When women are empowered as political leaders, countries experience higher standards of living; positive developments can be seen in education, infrastructure and health, and concrete steps are taken to help make government more responsive to the immediate needs of citizens.
Under former President Mohammad Khatami’s government, women held 13 of 290 seats in Iran’s Majles, the largest number of women in parliament since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. During this period, steps were taken for the greater integration of women in leadership and decision-making positions within government. The first women joined cabinet since the establishment of the Islamic Republic: Masoumeh Ektebar was appointed as vice president and Zahra Shojaei was appointed as an advisor to the president and head of the newly established Center for Women’s Participation. This coincided with support by the Khatami administration for the growth and expansion of civil society and freedom of expression and improvements in legislation in support of women’s rights. Under hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government, the number of women in government positions fell, concurrent with restrictions on freedom of expression and civil society increased. In addition, legislation was passed that restricted the rights of women, such as the Family Protection Law that favored the rights of men in polygamous and temporary marriages, and regulations further diminishing the rights of women in divorce proceedings were implemented.
Measures have been taken again to support women’s political participation under President Hassan Rouhani’s administration. Marzieh Afkham was appointed as Iran’s first Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Elham Aminzadeh was appointed as vice president of legal affairs and former vice president Masoumeh Ektebar was appointed as the head of Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization. Following Iran’s parliamentary elections in February 2016, a total of 17 of 290 seats were secured by women, the highest number of women in the Iranian parliament since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. This increase in the number of seats for women represents a broader victory for supporters of women’s greater political representation, including those from within the Rouhani administration.
Apart from the national level, Iranian women have also been active locally, directly addressing issues impacting their communities and working to find solutions to improve the quality of life for citizens in their district. Homeyra Rigi, the current governor of the city of Qasr-e Qand in Sistan and Baluchestan and who is known to wear traditional clothing from the region, was central to peace and reconciliation between two tribal clans in the province. She has stated that although women in her province have limited opportunities, her presence as a local representative has given them hope and self-confidence. Fatemeh Eskandari, a member of the Karaj city council campaigned on the slogan, “Happy citizens, a city full of hope;” she advocated to halve the price of tickets for women to sporting events in an effort to encourage their public participation and supported the establishment of art and vocational courses for women in her district. Mina Eskandari, a council member in the city of Mohajeran in Iran’s Hamadan province and the first woman to serve as a city council member there, has supported the repair of roads leading to the city and the establishment of a medical clinic. More stories about Iranian women in local office and their impact on their communities can be found here.
While globally women tend to be less represented than their male counterparts in politics on a local level, it is most often at the local level where elected officials are able to have direct interaction with their constituents and to understand and address issues that impact them. The number of women registering to run as candidates in the May19 local elections is encouraging; and while there is undoubtedly much more needed to safeguard the growth of women’s political participation in Iran, this level of desire to run for office, along with the record number of women with seats in Iran’s Majles represents a greater shift towards ensuring that women have a voice in Iran’s future at both the national and local levels.