Report: Proposed Laws Could Restrict Women’s Reproductive and Divorce Rights

March 16, 2015

Two proposed laws could restrict women’s reproductive rights in Iran, according to a new report by Amnesty International. One law would outlaw sterilization and restrict access to information about contraception. The other would disadvantage women without children in the labor market and make it more difficult for women to get divorced. The following are excerpts from the report.  

Two proposed laws pose a major threat to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls in Iran. The Bills, part of the government’s drive to increase population growth, are being considered by the authorities at a time when women and girls are already suffering increased discrimination and violence.
 
The Bill to Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline (Bill 446) threatens women’s right to sexual and reproductive health. If passed, the law would curb women’s use of modern contraceptives, outlaw voluntary sterilization, ban the provision of information on contraceptive methods, and dismantle state-funded family planning programmes, the very programmes that have been so widely praised for improving women’s access to contraceptive goods and information, including in remote and poverty-stricken areas of the country.
 
Respect for women’s autonomy to decide freely whether and when to have children is a human right and is fundamental to the realization of other human rights, including women’s enjoyment of physical, mental and social well-being. Yet in Iran, as elsewhere in the world, women and girls continue to be stripped of their physical and mental integrity and autonomy by laws that criminalize or place undue restrictions on their sexual and reproductive rights.
 
The roll-back of women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Iran comes in the wake of a striking shift in official population policies that have contributed, since their inauguration in 1989, to a steady decline in the country’s fertility rate – from 7.0 births per women in 1980 to 5.5 in 1988, 2.8 in 1996 and 1.85 in 2014. As a result, Iran’s population policies are coming full circle, once again embracing the restrictive contraception approach that was pursued in the first decade following Iran’s 1979 Revolution to promote population growth, with little or no regard for the life, health and dignity of women and girls.
 
The authorities are also seeking to accelerate population growth through the Comprehensive Population and Exaltation of Family Bill (Bill 315). This proposes various harmful and discriminatory measures aimed at encouraging early marriage, repeated childbearing and lower divorce rates, at the risk of trapping women in abusive relationships. The Bill allows discrimination against female job applicants, particularly if they are single or without children; makes divorce more difficult for men and women; and discourages police and judicial intervention in family disputes, including those involving violence against women.
 
The Bill also entrusts multiple state bodies with developing and promoting “an IslamicIranian life style” rooted in “traditional” family values and gender-role stereotypes that present women’s primary role as wives and mothers, based on the “guidelines” of the Supreme Leader. If passed, this law would entrench the discrimination suffered by women in Iran and further breach Iran’s international human rights obligations in this regard.
 
Iran has ratified several treaties that outlaw discrimination, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Once ratified, international treaties are accorded the force of law under Article 9 of Iran’s Civil Code, yet key human rights guarantees contained in the two Covenants and other treaties have not been incorporated into domestic law. In 2011, the UN Human Rights Committee observed: “the status of international human rights treaties in domestic law is not specified in the legal system, which hinders the full implementation of the rights contained in the Covenant.” Iran is not party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Iran is also one of the 179 member states that signed the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994, committing to provide universal access to family planning and sexual and reproductive health services and guarantee reproductive rights. The ICPD Programme of Action recognized that efforts to control women’s sexuality affect both women’s health and their status in society.
 
The latest shift in official population policies began in July 2012 after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei denounced, in a televised speech, existing policies as an imitation of Western lifestyle. He exhorted the authorities to increase Iran’s population to 150 to 200 million (from around 78.5 million), including by cutting subsidies for contraceptive methods and dismantling the state’s Family and Population Planning Programme. His orders reflected growing concern in Iran’s leadership about the country’s declining rate of population growth and the perceived impact of this on the leadership’s aspiration to establish Iran as a dominant regional power with an overwhelmingly Shia population.
 
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