Women and the Presidency in Iran
Perhaps the subject of a president, member of parliament or a judge being a man or a woman in today’s world not mean much to some people, but when this results in the deprivation of half the population to accessing these opportunities and political participation in the official and executive levels of a country, and sometimes they are looked at as not being capable, most likely the subject, then, will not be so unimportant.
Although women have taken steps for candidacy for presidency of the country since 1997, but over the recent years however, this question comes to mind that what are the legal obstacles in Iran in this regard? Why have all these women, to-date, failed, their eligibility by the Guardian Council? Is half the population really deprived of reaching such a position according to the constitution?
Article 115 of the Iranian constitution states: “The President must be elected from among religious and political personalities possessing the following qualifications: Iranian nationality; administrative capacity and resourcefulness; a good past-record; trustworthiness and piety; convinced belief in the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the official madhhab of the country.”
In March 2009, the speaker of the parliament, Abbasali Kadkhodaee said: “There are no obstacles in the way of women becoming candidates for the presidency of the country, and the Guardian Council has never defined political statesmanship in the constitution.” Of course in Iran any individual can register (within the set deadline) their candidacy for president by only having a birth certificate/ID document and being of the legal age, and there are no obstacles in the way of women registering. But what is important is the review of the eligibility process and the dimensional look at women, their abilities and status.
The speaker of the parliament says: “The Guardian Council has never defined political statesmanship and although it has been raised, but it has solely been raised by publications and law institutions. The Guardian Council has never made any remarks regarding an individual who has registered for candidacy being a man or a women, and any time that a woman’s eligibility has been disapproved it has only been for not having general eligibility.” These remarks were made while near the 9th presidential elections, former spokesman of the Guardian Council, Gholamhossein Elham in defining political statesmanship in the constitution said: “The text of the constitution states that candidates for the presidency must be men and furthermore, must have political statesmanship.”
From this article, not only the presidency of women has no conflicts with Sharia Laws, but according to article 115 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the capacity and potential of this right has been reaffirmed for them too.
According to member of the Guardian Council, Abbasali Kadkhodee: “Since the beginning there were differences of opinion among members of the Guardian Council as to whether only men can become candidates for presidency or can women become candidates too? Because there were differences of opinion ultimately they used the word statesman and said that because statesmanship has both meanings, a decision should be made in the future.”
Therefore the fact that to-date the Guardian Council have not officially presented a definition of article 115 itself can be a point of hope for women’s vote and influence towards the creation of a necessary legal and customary environment for the official recognition of the political statesmanship of women. Although the eligibility rejection of women in this process has always been reasons other than for them solely being women, but it seems however, that due to internal and external reasons, the Guardian Council has refrained from defining article 115 of the constitution.
Others’ definitions of this term have also been varied. Some believe that the term statesman solely includes men, and on principle the subject of governance and presidency is solely for men, and some also believe that statesmanship has nothing to do with gender and is a general term, and the capacity of women’s leadership has been considered in Islam.
Law expert and university lecturer, Dr. Abass Rostami says: “The term ‘religious and political statesmanship’ is the application of statesmanship alongside the political and religious adjective and the view is in such way that the statesmanship is a adverbial to being religious and political. Therefore this condition should be noted in another way so that we exist the simple definition of being man or woman. In other words the definition of statesmanship refers to a capacity and quality that alongside being a manager, to be able to provide the president with particular capabilities for running the matters.
University lecturer, Dr. Mohammad Javad Haghshenas says: “In the draft of the constitution it states that one of the characteristics of a president is the being of a man who must have such characteristics and this title does not get the vote, and shows that the legislator has does not have any interest in supporting this draft which did not get the vote. At the same time the revolutionary atmosphere and the circumstances under which the constitution was voted must be considered, the country’s atmosphere was completely overrun by traditions that still today in society has serious opinions on, whether women can vote or not. But it seems that considering that today we also have women members of parliament and also women deputy or vice presidents, and also ministers, it seems unlikely that the Guardian Council will deem political statesmanship only for men.”
Law expert and university lecturer, Dr. Mohammad Hashemi says: “From the meaning of the word aspects, statesmanship means man. On the opposite of statesman is woman. But from the terminology and social aspects, political statesmanship means political personality, a personality that is noted. After the debates that took place, the draft constitution in the vote for the concept of being a man for statesmanship did not get the vote, and turned into political statesmanship and got the votes. Therefore a conceptual difference was set between statesmanship and man.”
Some too with a research of Sharia and religious jurisprudence concepts have reviewed the argument of the opponents and concluded that there are no Sharia obstacles in the way of women become president, and the reasons of the opponents are not enough, because the Koran and Sharia documents have not banned women from participation in the social and political arenas, and there are no differences between men and women in these instances, the Sharia argument on the assumption of documentation, the thing that it rejects, does not include the subject of women becoming president with the nature and limitations that are included in the constitution.*
Some religious leaders believe that the Shia Imami Jurists generally have not given a view on the condition of being a man, and it is the contemporary speakers who have debated about governance and being a man, therefore there is no consensus even in this matter and it can only be argued on the consensus claim on the prohibition of women being judges and the conditions for leadership in judgement, which according to some religious jurists it is uncertain. Some jurists also have only given votes solely to the prohibition on women becoming judges, leading Friday prayers, and religious leadership.**
The author of this article believes that according to existing capacities of the constitution, women can participate at the highest levels of the pillars of the Islamic Republic. The presence of women in society is not only a citizen’s duty and in a way a religious duty, but at the national level we witness that the cultural and social development conditions have been created for women. Just as Imam Khomeini stated in his speeches, women must interfere in the basic destinies of the country. This view shows that the Imam approved worthiness. He did not say women must interfere in the basic destinies of the women’s community, but he believed that women should interfere in the basic destinies of the country.
Human rights prerequisite is that we must allow women to interfere, otherwise we will not have a balanced society. The belief in the difference between men and women must not result in discrimination against women. In other words, these differences must not be an obstacle for the realisation of women’s rights, their enjoyment of opportunities, their access to information and power and social responsibilities, and cause any harm in their presence in scientific, educational and social participation arenas. Also it must be said that the definition of the constitution must take place with a consideration of atmosphere and conditions of meetings, otherwise it will be presented as a definition selectively.
By: Negar Paidar
Human Rights Senior Expert
*The Presidency of Women with a Stress on the Capacities of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Philosophy of the Supreme Leader, Islamic Studies Scientific-Research Quarterly, Spring 2015 No. 40
**Women’s Presidency, Jamileh Kadivar, Political Econoic Information Journal, spring 2006, No. 223 and 224
The views expressed in this article are the author's opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ODVV.