There is no denying that the Iranian nuclear program has been the central preoccupation of countries worldwide, and it is only natural for people to be enthusiastic about the ample future investment opportunities in Iran. However, there is an important segment within the Iranian society that needs our attention: Iranian women. We have all seen the Black Lives Matter movement take the US by storm, and similarly, we implore all those whose main concern is to please Iranian leaders, whether they were mullahs, civilians, hardliners, or the so-called moderates -if they even exist- to divert some of their efforts towards addressing the issues of Iranian women. For Iranian women, ‘death by suicide’ has become their only salvation. Suicide rates among Iranian women and girls are constantly on the rise as a direct result of all the violence and poverty women have had to endure as attested by government officials and experts.
Despite these known facts, we still hear officials like Masoumeh Ebtekar, the Vice President of Iran for Women and Family Affairs, claim that domestic violence and other forms of violence against women is “not high”, and, compared to other countries, Iran is in a better position. Presidents have come and gone, yet officials like Masoumeh Ebtekar remain. Such claims prompted Iran's Deputy Interior Minister and Director of the Social Affairs Organization, Taghi Rostamvandi, to confront her by warning that the current situation was extremely alarming. He said: “Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in suicides. We have had a 4 to 5 percent annual increase in suicide rates. This year, we have the same statistics as last year. But what is remarkable is that we have a significant change in the range of ages among those who have attempted suicide. Suicide has increased in the last year among those under 18 and over 60.”
This staggering increase has been confirmed by an informed source in the National Forensic Medicine Organization, who warned that about 15 people commit suicide each day. It has also been noted that, unlike in the past, the current methods of suicide are faster and irreversible. According to sociologist Khalid Tavakoli, who specializes in the field of social harm, “Recently, the suicide rate of married and middle-aged people has been added to the statistics, and this is a worrying trend. We have also witnessed two suicides in Kurdistan: one was a bride; the other was a 14-year-old girl.”
The number of failed suicides is not usually reflected in official statistics, which indicates that the number is much higher than what is formally announced. Extreme poverty was the biggest threat to Iran, or so we thought, with widespread unemployment on the rise. There are currently 30 million unemployed people in Iran and double that number is living in poverty, all the while the rich Iranian class only keeps getting richer. Meanwhile, more than 38 million Iranians live in slums.
Over the past year, statistics on the suicides of women and girls have been shocking and include many horrific methods that are particularly gruesome, especially those involving children as young as 11. Observers say that the regime of the mullahs with all its thievery, embezzlement, and corruption is to be blamed for the rampant poverty in Iran and the rising rate and number of suicides in the country. 60 million Iranians live below the poverty line due to the regime’s systematic lack of supervision over the economy.
The high rate of suicide among women is not the only hardship that Iranian women suffer from as women also suffer from executions under this regime. With the execution of an unidentified 23-year-old woman in Ardabil Prison on February 8, the Iranian regime has executed at least 113 women during the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, a supposed moderate. This took place just over a month after the execution of Zeinab Khodamoradi in Sanandaj Central Prison on December 27, which was followed by at least 27 executions in January. Most women in Iran are executed for murder, but, in reality, this is just another example of how the regime fails women because they are mostly victims of domestic abuse who kill to defend themselves or their children since they have no legal means to end an abusive marriage.
A former political prisoner concerned with human rights says that these women had murdered their husbands, either as an immediate reaction in the heat of the moment or based on a pre-meditated plan after years of being humiliated, insulted, battered, and even tortured. These women have been deprived of their right to divorce as if they were allowed to get a divorce, they may never have committed murder.
In other countries, these women would be granted leniency based on their circumstances, but not in Iran, where murder is not separated by degrees and is punished by the death penalty regardless of the circumstances. This, of course, does not even touch upon those executed for crimes that are not capital offenses under international law, like drug offenses, or political activism.
The Iranian regime flagrantly and brutally uses the death penalty as a form of punishment and deterrence. In many cases, religious and ethnic minorities, political dissidents, and women are targets of the death penalty in a discriminatory manner.
Last Tuesday, the Iranian regime executed four prisoners of conscience after they were tortured and deprived of a fair trial. Their families were not informed until after the prisoners were killed, among them were two young men from the Khuzestan Province.
Iran has ranked first worldwide in executions per capita, as well as executions of women and juvenile offenders. Over 4,300 people have been executed since Rouhani took office in 2013. There is a widespread belief that both overall executions and those of women are actually much higher because most of these executions are carried out secretly without witnesses. Therefore, many are calling for the abolition of the death penalty and granting women equal rights in many aspects, including divorce.
It appears that women in Iran are constantly battling ceaseless obstacles. The inaction from the authorities in the face of domestic violence provoked the anger of the Iranian people. For instance, the Iranian police and the judiciary have aroused the people’s ire over their lack of response to the domestic violence suffered by Ashraf Sadat Hosseini over the past 27 years.
During the past weeks, Ashraf Sadat Hosseini, who resides in Tehran, was violently assaulted and stabbed with a machete by her husband. She sustained serious injuries and was on the brink of death when her son, Alireza, came home and took her to the hospital, which is not a trip the family can afford. A journalist who visited her in the hospital reported the following injuries: vision loss, multiple wounds to her face that required numerous stitches, amputation of several fingers and part of the palm, and paralysis of the other hand.
As in most cases of domestic violence in Iran, this was not the first time Hosseini was abused on the hands of her husband. In fact, she had given many statements to the police on multiple occasions, the last of which was when her husband hit her with a heavy vase and broke her ribs. Unfortunately, he was let go by the police every time under claims that there was nothing they could do. Her husband, as an act of revenge for reporting him, attempted to kill Hosseini in his last assault. He was forced to flee the scene of the crime because the neighbors came, but not before chopping off one of her fingers.
Hosseini, whose pictures were published by opposition newspapers while in hospital wrote a letter to Chief Justice of Iran and former presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi, asking why the government allows this type of abuse to continue: “Why does the judiciary, the government, and the system not support women’s rights for a decent life? Why don't such individuals face proper legal consequences? Why doesn't the law hold them accountable?” But Masoumeh Ebtekar has remained completely silent about this growing concern in Iran. Masoumeh has been groomed as the regime’s follower ever since the attack on the US embassy in Tehran at the beginning of the revolution. Domestic violence in Iran has increased 15 times since the coronavirus pandemic. This is particularly worrying, not only because of the Iranian government’s lack of transparency -as the leading country worldwide in terms of domestic violence cases- but also because of the social pressures that would prevent many women from reporting such cases to the police, knowing that the government would do nothing to help; thus, leaving them exposed to real danger and more brutality. To make matters worse, 70 percent of those who lost their jobs during the pandemic were women. More than a million women became unemployed over the course of one year and are now struggling to make ends meet because the regime is busy providing money to its supporters abroad and not to Iranian women. This is despite the fact that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei controls hundreds of millions of dollars, a portion of which can easily be distributed to the poor. Ironically, much of this money is held by institutions that are supposed to provide support to those living in poverty.
Now that everyone is talking about the latest preparations by the US and Europe to negotiate with Iran, we must emphasize that these negotiations should include female members who are enthusiastic about reviving the nuclear deal. All that is required is to include new provisions regarding Iranian women’s rights in order to protect them from the threat of murder, domestic violence, and poverty, and if Western countries simply ignore this issue, then even women in countries under Iranian influence would be subjected to an even harsher reality. Happy International Women’s Day.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.