The rights of women in Middle Eastern countries have often posed concerns for Western critics. Those nations have male-dominated societies, where women are often treated like second-class citizens. This idea is expressed thoroughly in some interpretations of Sharia Law, a doctrine of law advocated by some Muslims. These rules and regulations have been the source of a number of atrocities against women, most recently the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Her story started when a man made an attempt to rape her in Iran’s capital city of Tehran. She managed to defend herself by killing the rapist. Since then, she has been arrested by the Guardians of the Revolution and held in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Jabbari pled guilty to the murder, but asserted that it was an act of self-defense.
Since Iran is an Islamic Republic, all of the nation’s laws and practices are derived from Sharia Law. It has been this way since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. In this case, the law dictates that if a woman commits a murder, it results in capital punishment unless the woman in question manages to get a reprieve from the murder victim’s family within ten days of the sentence. The rapists’ family refused to issue the reprieve, and Jabbari was hanged at dawn on Oct. 25.
The whole case is extremely upsetting. A woman should not have to die as a consequence of trying to defend her honor, something that the Islamic tradition holds dear. But then again, we are never really going to know for sure what happened.
The prosecution said that Jabbari could have made up the rape attempt to try for a more lenient sentence. Her account of what happened could also be true, but because of the complicated politics at work here, we will likely never know for sure.
Either way, the fact that Jabbari received the death sentence does call into question the treatment of women in Iran. If a man were in this position, one could easily assume that he would probably have either been acquitted or sentenced to a short period of time in prison as punishment.
Sharia law provides countless examples of Iran’s sexism. If a man kills a woman in the presence of fifteen other women, the man would get acquitted because women are not allowed to testify in Iranian courts. And if a woman gets married, her right to a divorce is not guaranteed unless her husband gives it to her. Even then, the man automatically has custody of the children.
We can also observe misogyny at work in Iran by looking at the austere dress code that all women must follow. They must wear a headscarf that covers all of their hair as well as wide coats and pants that hide their body shape. Women are not allowed to wear any kind of jewelry or makeup. All of this shows that Iranian society legally oppresses its women in countless ways. We can attribute that to the strict interpretation of Islam that permeates the country.
Despite all of this, we must not get ahead of ourselves and say that women are completely put down in Iran. In fact, compared to some of the other countries in the region, Iranian women enjoy quite a few rights. Women in Iran are allowed to join the workforce, attend university and even run for government positions. There are several elected positions in the government reserved especially for women. Actually, the first female Nobel Prize Laureate for the field of Mathematics was Iranian.
If we compare women’s rights in Iran to that of another Middle Eastern country, like Saudi Arabia, we can really see a difference. Saudi women are not allowed to walk outside of their homes without a male escort. Women also must be fully covered from head to toe, including their faces. They can’t work, go to school or travel on their own. Saudi women are even forbidden from driving their own cars.
Although Iran is somewhat more Westernized than its Arab counterparts, its treatment of women is still a huge problem that must be addressed. The death of Reyhaneh Jabbari surely illustrates this.
Conor Devlin ’17 firstname.lastname@example.org is from New York, N.Y. He majors in English.