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New, Watered-Down Draft Law On Violence Against Women In Iran

Head of Iran's Judiciary Ebrahim Raeesi speaking with an aide to President Hassan Rouhani during an event about women's issues. June 1, 2019

After years of delays, the Islamic Republic Judiciary has finalized a weaker bill for the "Protection of Women Against Violence" and returned it to President Hassan Rouhani's administration.

But the bill appears to be much weaker than the first draft proposed by the government. For one thing, the country's judiciary has discarded the articles defining "violence" and its different manifestations, including violence at home.

"A joint task force, composed of the representatives of the judiciary, government, and Majles (parliament) Research Center have reviewed the bill and prepared the final version," the spokesman of the judiciary said during his weekly press briefing on Tuesday, September 16.

Women have limited rights according to Iran's Islamic constitution. All women have legal custodians, which is either their husband, father or another male member of the family and they can hardly complain against the decisions or actions of their custodian.

The Bill for the Protection of Women Against Violence was initially proposed by the hardliner former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in 2011.

Ultimately, it was President Hassan Rouhani's deputy in women's affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, who drafted the first version of the bill in 2017 and delivered it to the judiciary for consideration.

The judiciary significantly diluted the bill, removing forty of the original 91 articles, and sent it to the Islamic Republic's former head of judiciary, Sadeq Amoli Larijani for approval.

Furthermore, in an unprecedented move, it was announced on October 2018 that Larijani sent the proposal to the city of Qom for review by top clerics and the state-recognized Grand Ayatollahs.

The move, which is not required by the country's laws angered many analysts and defenders of human rights.

"The clerics in Qom are sitting on this legislation while women are being murdered," said the Executive Director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, said on November 23, 2018, adding, "The indifference the government is showing toward the well-being of half the population is cruel and unlawful."

In the meantime, many hardline and conservative analysts, for their part, lambasted President Rouhani's proposal and dismissed it as a non-starter.

The chairperson of women's social-cultural council affiliated with the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council Zahra Ayatollahi derided the bill and sarcastically said two years ago, "According to the Deputy President (Molaverdi), nobody's home is their castle anymore, and eyes of the law and judges will watch whatever is happening behind the walls of a house, lest somebody expresses a fact that the lady of the house might interpret as offensive."

The best way to protect women, Ms. Ayatollahi maintained, is leaving the responsibility to men, as Islam demands.

"The bill has set prison sentence for the petty quarrels between the couples," another official said.

Now, after almost a decade, it is up to parliament to review the new version, and either pass or reject it. If passed by the parliament, the bill should be endorsed by the Guardian Council, before becoming a law.