TEHRAN — The government, led by President Hassan Rouhani, has approved a bill to combat gender-based violence, titled “Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence,” Al Jazeera reported. After reviewing the draft law, American organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the bill makes significant progress but “falls short of international standards.”
“For decades, Iranian women have been waiting for comprehensive legislation to prevent violence against women and prosecute their abusers,” Tara Sepehri Far, Iran HRW researcher, said.
“With the growing national attention to this important issue, the law is long overdue, and parliament should not waste any time in adopting it.”
Under the bill, the judiciary will be tasked with creating offices to support survivors of violence and conduct educational courses for judges and other judiciary staff. Judiciary entities will also establish a fund to support survivors and incarcerated women.
Law enforcement and prison organizations will have to ensure efforts align with the proposed legislation. HRW said that this stipulation is significant citing lawyers who said law enforcement and prosecutors often misevaluate such cases as “family disputes,” not crimes.
Additionally, the ministry of health will be obliged to increase and enhance medical and psychological resources, both to support women and train experts.
The state broadcaster will be responsible for producing programs endorsing the support of women and prevention of gender-based violence as “family values.” Similarly, the ministry of education will be required to better identify vulnerable students on a micro scale and conduct educational courses for students, teachers, and parents on a macro scale.
Such are, as the HRW put it, the “positive provisions” of the bill.
The bill defines violence as “any behavior inflicted on women due to sexuality, vulnerable position or type of relationship, and inflicts harm to their body, psyche, personality and dignity, or restricts or deprives them of legal rights and freedoms.”
However, the HRW pointed out, the bill does not define domestic violence. Iran is among fewer than 50 countries that do not have definitive domestic violence laws. HRW said that the billl also failed to revise the criminal code’s “limited and problematic” definition of rape, which excludes marital rape.
HRW added: “Some of the crimes it sets out violate the right to privacy and other protected freedoms, such as proposing an ‘illicit relationship’ and encouraging or persuading a woman to commit acts contrary to ‘chastity’.” Due to the murky semantics of “chastity,” judges have interpreted it to include and criminalize homosexuality and “consensual sexual relationships short of sexual intercourse.”
According to the HRW, Iranian law criminalizes extramarital consensual sexual relationships and if authorities do not believe a woman reporting rape, she could be in danger of prosecution. Consensual sex outside of marriage is a crime punishable by flogging.
The HRW also note that the bill does not criminalize certain forms of gender-based violence including marital rape and child marriage. The organization added that because rape is punisable by death penalty, women are often reluctant to report it.
In the event that a father or husband is accused of violence, the bill requires the authorities to refer the case for mediation for a month and refer it to the judiciary if it is not resolved. Citing UN Women, HRW advised that mediation should be prohibited at all stages of legal proceedings because it removes cases from judicial scrutiny.
Moreover, “Promoting reconciliation reflects an assumption that both parties have equal bargaining power and may be equally at fault and reduces accountability for the offender,” HRW said.
UN Women recommended that legislation should “make protection orders available to complainants/survivors without any requirement that the complainant/survivor institute other legal proceedings.” It also said, legislation should make protection orders available to survivors to all forms of violence against women.
Developed by former-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, the bill will be reviewed and approved by the parliament before it is forwarded to the Guardian Council, a constitutional vetting body of jurists and religious experts.
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