The Iranian Cabinet approved a bill on Sunday that criminalizes sexual harassment and violence against women, ending a decade long debate about the proposal.
The bill must now be adopted by the country’s conservative Parliament to become law, but women’s rights advocates are hopeful of its success.
The decision to move ahead with the bill – which, if approved by the Parliament, will be the first law of its kind in Iran’s penal code – comes in the aftermath of a groundbreaking #MeToo movement and shocking reports of so-called honour killings that have gripped the public over the past six months.
“The events of last year, both ‘honour killings’ that got national attention and the #MeToo movement in Iran, have increased the pressure on the government to push this Bill that was in the making for almost a decade,” said Ms. Tara Sepehri Far, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
She said that the bill still fell short of international standards and did not address all the aspects of violence that women face. It did not address child marriage and marital rape and did not properly define domestic violence.
Still, many Iranian rights activists and lawyers said it marked a step forward and reflected the shifting dynamics of Iranian society, which they describe as steps ahead of the government on issues of violence against women.
The complete draft of the Bill has not yet been made public, but a summary posted on the government’s website states that “any act that causes physical or emotional or reputational harm” to a woman or results in curbing her freedom and social rights is considered a crime.
It also addresses sexual harassment and coercing women into sexual acts short of intercourse as crimes. Sending a woman an unsolicited sexual message, text or photograph, demanding sexual relations or forcing sexual acts could bring penalties of six months to two years in prison and up to 99 lashes, as well as monetary fines.
The judiciary is required to create and sponsor centres that provide support for victims of violence and women vulnerable to violence, the bill summary said. Security forces are also obliged to create a special female police unit to protect women.
“We have been waiting for this for 10 years,” said Ms. Shima Ghoosheh, a lawyer based in Teheran who specialises in representing women and who said she was one of the attorneys the government consulted.
“I think this is a step forward because it gives us a general law for protecting women that we can build on and amend.”
The bill still faces a big test in the Parliament, which has a conservative majority often at odds with the more centrist government.
Ms. Ghoosheh and two other legal experts in Iran said they expected the Parliament to pass the Bill because it had been watered down and altered to reflect the views of the judiciary and lawmakers.
Ms. Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s Vice-President for Women’s and Family Affairs, said on Twitter that the measure was the result of hundreds of hours of deliberation by legal and government experts and “dedicated to the deserving and patient women of Iran”. (Source: The Straits Times)