Ayatollah’s Comments on Women at Odds With Abuses at Home

By Patrick Goodenough | November 26, 2013 | 4:40 AM EST

An Iranian woman and girl in Tehran on Augut 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

(CNSNews.com) – Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women with a series of Twitter messages extolling women, but U.N. rights experts paint a bleak picture of Iran’s treatment of women, especially those in prison.

Several other Islamic countries also have a poor record when it comes to treatment of women, with abuses including female genital mutilation, stoning for adultery, and “honor” killings – the murder of women accused of bringing family honor into disrepute by their behavior.

“Woman is a flower. How evil of a man to treat a flower w/ violence and w/out appreciation,” read one message on Khamenei’s official Twitter account.

“There’s no 2nd-class creature. Man & woman are entitled to equal rights in life affairs,” read another tweet, while a third said, “Islam knocked down idol of masculinity worshipped by men & even women in eras of ignorance.”

The U.N. defines “violence against women” as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

In a report delivered to the General Assembly last month, a U.N. “special rapporteur on violence against women,” Rashida Manjoo, examined issues relating to the incarceration of women in various countries.

In Iran, she said, abuses including the rape of virgins before execution, forced marriages and other forms of sexual violence have been occurring for decades, with some continuing today.

In one case in 2011, a female prisoner committed suicide after violent beatings, including with electronic batons, Manjoo reported.

In another case, a prisoner alleged guards had tortured her by “subjecting her to sleep and toilet deprivation, keeping her in a standing position for hours, burning her with cigarettes, exposing her to extreme temperatures for extended periods of time and punching, kicking and striking her with batons.”

‘In conformity with Islamic criteria’

A September 2012 report by the U.N. “special rapporteur” on human rights in Iran noted that under Iran’s Islamic penal code, “a woman’s testimony in a court of law is regarded as half that of a man’s and, despite amendments … a woman’s life is still valued as half that of a man’s. The law also continues to treat girls and boys unequally, recognizing the legal culpability of girls at 9 years and boys at 14 years.”

An example case cited in the report: A Iranian woman, a victim of domestic violence, was forced into prostitution by her husband to support his drug habit. When one of her clients killed her husband, the woman was convicted of adultery and of being an accomplice to murder. The client was sentenced to an eight-year prison term; the woman was sentenced to death by stoning.

Iran’s government states that under the constitution, “all citizens of the country, both men and women, equally enjoy the protection of the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, in conformity with Islamic criteria.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the bloc of Muslim-majority nations, disputes assertions that violence and other mistreatment of women is linked to Islam.

In a statement delivered during the most recent annual session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the OIC called female genital mutilation a “cultural” practice that is “disguised as part of religious tradition.”

Furthermore, it said, “child marriage, violence against women as well as other negative acts perpetuated are often misidentified as being part of Islamic tradition, whereas they are part of the local tradition and we should raise awareness at the local level to de-link these practices from religion.”

(Iran, incidentally, is a member of the CSW. It was controversially elected onto the women’s rights body in 2010 despite an appeal by hundreds of Iranian women’s rights activists, who told the U.N. that Tehran would use its position “to curtail progress and the advancement of women.”)

Women in Islamic societies

The OIC says initiatives like its “plan of action for advancement of women” and the recent establishment of an OIC human rights commission help to address violence against women. But its attempt to distance Islam from abuses is not helped by some Islamic states themselves.

It was reported on Monday that Afghanistan is proposing to restore stoning as punishment for adultery, an abuse last carried out in the country under the Taliban rule

Last week, U.N. rights experts, responding to a case in Sudan, called for an end to the flogging of women for “honor-related offenses,” saying the practice amounts to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” under international law.

The gaps between women and men in economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment and health and survival – factors that can contribute to violence against women – is also starkest in the Islamic world.

In its latest annual “Global Gender Gap” report, the World Economic Forum (WEF) evaluated 136 countries, and of the 20 at the bottom of the list, 17 are Muslim countries.

From the bottom of the list, they are Yemen, Pakistan, Chad, Syria, Mauritania, Cote d’Ivoire, Iran, Morocco, Mali, Saudi Arabia, Benin, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Oman, Turkey and Jordan. (The three non-Muslim countries in the bottom 20 are Nepal, Ethiopia and Fiji.)

A recent Thomson Reuters Foundation survey assessed 22 Arab states – all Muslim-majority – and found severe problems for women in many of them, including:

--99.3 percent of Egyptian women and girls are subjected to sexual harassment, and 91 percent of its female population are victims of genital mutilation.

--Iraq’s penal code allows men who kill their wives to serve a maximum of three years in prison rather than a life sentence.

--In Saudi Arabia, rape victims risk being charged with adultery.

--Syrian girls as young as 12 have been married in refugee camps.

--In Yemen, child marriage, human trafficking and rape are endemic.

--Sudanese victims often don’t report rape, fearing they will be tried for adultery.

--In the Palestinian territories, 25 honor killings were recorded in the first nine months of 2013; Jordan ranked second-worst in the category of honor killings.

--In Somalia, girls as young as 13 have been stoned to death for adultery and 98 percent of women and girls undergo genital mutilation.

--In Djibouti, 93 percent of women have been subjected to genital mutilation.

--Bahrain’s penal code allows a rapist to avoid punishment if he marries his victim.