Following is an exclusive interview with the head of the Iranian Parliament’s Committee for Women and Family Affairs, Mrs. Fatemeh Alia, who is also an active member of the Majlis Cultural Commission.
Sat, 08 Dec 2007 22:12:51
By Maryam Torabi, Press TV, TehranQ. Islam encourages women to be active members of the society while considering them important pillars of families. Islam also places the central responsibility for the upbringing of children upon women. How can women in today’s world balance family matters against social responsibilities?
A. Women can have social responsibilities without necessarily being employed. The society can greatly benefit from women who voluntarily take part in social activities and influence the culture, politics and economics of their country. What is important is that the position of the family as the main building block of the society should always be cherished.
When employed, women can benefit from features such as flextime and maternity leaves. They can also use technologies like the Internet to continue to work at home while caring for their families.
The main issue here is that the family, which is an abode where love and friendship rule, should never be transformed to a mere dwelling deficient in the spirit of companionship.
Q. Does such balance exist in the world today?
A. In most parts of the world, in the West in particular, women are merely objects of collective materialistic values. The notion of complete equality between men and women with no consideration for their biological and emotional differences has distanced women from their inborn nature.
Many women have traded in family values to be able to work. In the West, people are changing the laws of nature such that family values have been forgotten and even same-sex relationships are emerging.
The modern world seems to be greatly concerned about women and makes favorable promises to them. It promises them freedom from slavery, male-domination, and even the established institution of marriage, but what does it actually have in store? Nothing but exploitation, injustice, oppression, aggression, harassment, neurosis and indignity.
Q. What measures have been taken in Iran for women to be able to have an active role in the society while fulfilling their duties at home?
A. The Iranian Parliament (Majlis) has approved a series of rules to allow women to fulfill both their social and familial responsibilities and facilitate their active participation in Iran’s social arena. We have passed an act increasing maternity leave from 4 months to 6 months. We have also reduced compulsory working hours for women, and working mothers have been entitled to compensation for working environments which don’t provide kindergartens.
However, meager laws are not enough and the main factor lies within the assistance and encouragement that a woman receives from her family.
Q. One of the indices of sustainable development is the rate of employed women. What is Iran’s viewpoint in this regard?
A. The Islamic Republic of Iran considers the employment of women from the viewpoint of Islam, which puts great importance on the family, as the main building block of the society and the major institution that can pass on a county’s culture and ideology to the next generation.
In addition to women who have opted to work outside the home, many have chosen to continue professions as writers, translators or artists who, besides managing the household, pursue their dreams and passions professionally. This sort of work is not considered in the data pertaining to employment.
Another issue which is also a major index in the economy and development of every society is the domestic work that every woman engages in. Unpaid productive work such as domestic work and child care ought to be included in satellite national accounts and economic statistics.
Q. Can you please give us your viewpoint on the notion of equality between men and women that is propagated in today’s world?
A. One cannot assume that equality always results in justice. We believe in justice, but justice is not always the same as equality.
Although men and women have been created equal in the eyes of God, they are not created alike and their differences require a different approach to their roles and responsibilities within the society. Men and women in Islam are not antagonists but separate entities created to complement and complete one another. Islam considers each sex unique in its own sphere of activity and allots significant roles best suited to each according to its own nature and needs.
According to Iranian law, therefore, the two sexes enjoy equal rights and the Qur’an differentiates among human beings only based on the quality of their deeds in this world.
Q. In a meeting with Iranian women, leader of the Islamic revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said that Iran objects to the West’s record on women’s rights. In your opinion what does his comment mean?
A. The West has oppressed women and has not recognized their real rights according to their intrinsic nature and creation. We consider the manipulative treatment of women in the West as oppression against humanity and betrayal of women rights.
The West should be held accountable for degrading woman to mere means of promoting consumer goods and perpetual sexual slavery.
The Islamic culture challenges the West and demands that the status of women be restored to its rightful and dignified position.
Q. Can you please explain some of the shortcomings of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)?
A. Iran is concerned about various issues of the mentioned convention. CEDAW undermines the traditional family structure which is much respected in our society. The preamble states, “A change in the traditional role of men as well as the role of women in society and in the family is needed to achieve full equality between men and women.” This requires states to “Modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices based on stereotyped roles for men and women.”
This convention denies any distinctions between men and women. It defines discrimination in its own words as “any distinction on the basis of sex,” in “any field”. This is to say, it ignores differences between the roles, rights and obligations of men and women in the natural world.
The convention also states that governments should “ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning”. This sort of rhetoric also includes open access to abortion services.
Abortion, of course, is only one of the contradictions between Islamic law and the Convention. Countries that have ratified CEDAW will also be obliged to welcome sexual relations out of wedlock, which Islam prohibits because of the harm it does to the society.
The Islamic tradition of hijab frees women from being perceived primarily as sexual instruments and helps cleanse the society of promiscuity. A healthy and vigorous society is considered essential in Islam for individuals to be able to nurture and develop their abilities.
Societies which promote women as sexual objects also have a horrendous rate of violence toward women. The wisdom behind this dress code is to minimize sexual enticement and degradation in society as much as possible for both men and women.
Regarding Islamic laws relating to inheritance, women have been granted the benefit of being completely entitled to their own property.
A woman receives a dowry at marriage and can choose to keep all of her inheritance for herself. She does receive less inheritance than her male sibling but this is due to the difference which derives from the obligation men have to support their wives financially, while the woman’s share would be entirely at her own disposal.
Islam allows polygamy for men whereas there is no such law for women. Certain circumstances require such remedial laws to be introduced in the society. Due to conditions like war, the total number of women sometimes exceeds the number of men. At such times, the society must resolve the dilemma of caring for women who have the right of marriage, emotional support and welfare. In these circumstances polygamy is the only just solution.