More than 1,600 people registered to run for office in Iran’s presidential election next month.
However, most of them will not make it as the all-male Guardian Council will, in all probability, rule that they are ineligible to stand. And on April 27, this elite body of 12 jurists and clerics will announce who can campaign in the 12th presidential election to be held since 1979, when the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution.
The last time the country held elections, the council only approved four men to run as candidates. None of the 42 women who applied to be candidates were given the green light.
This year a record 130 were among the hopefuls who registered to be candidates, but can a woman become president of this predominantly Muslim country?
1. Is it legally possible for Iran to have a female president?
In principle, it is possible. The Iranian constitution does not explicitly prohibit women from being elected as the president.
Women have signed up to run for the presidency since the 1990s. However, none has ever been certified to run for president.
2. What does Iran’s constitution say?
The Iranian constitution says the competition is open to “Rijal-e siasi,” an Arabic and Farsi term that appears to be applied exclusively as “religious and political men.”
However, some experts say that it should be interpreted as respectable personalities, regardless of gender.
Tayyebeh Siavoshi, a female member of the Iranian parliament, said the concept of “rijal” in the Quran does not refer to men specifically, but refers to all human beings.
Therefore, the concept shouldn’t be interpreted as banning women from holding the office of president, she said.
Last December, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesperson of the Guardian Council, said women would be allowed to run in the upcoming elections. However, it is not certain if the council will alter the definition of “rijal.”
3. What is the Guardian Council?
The Guardian Council is an upper chamber of the parliament that has 12 members, including jurists and clerics, none of whom are women.
The council vets all candidates before any elections and has the power to approve or disqualify the candidates.
“The religious politicians did not admit their real reason for excluding women; however, it was clear that these women were excluded because of their gender and the conservative male-centred interpretation of the laws that state women are not considered to be statesmen – rijal.” said Jamileh Kadivar. She was a member of Iran’s parliament from 2000 to 2004.
4. What happens if the council approves a woman?
Iranian Journalist Fateme Karimkhan said that Iran would in all likelihood not have a female president in the next 10 years, even if the council changes its mind.
She said that this was due to the fact that there were very few famous or well known female political figures in the country.
“Right now our problem is not about the Guardian Council. It is about the person. The question is who is appropriate that much for their work. Our political parties are not that powerful in training political figures and this is our real problem.” she said.
“All those who were nominated for presidency in the last 37 years were famous political figures, we do not have such things among women.”
But she added there are plenty of women in middle management who could be a president in the future.
5. What else makes it a dream?
Before presidential elections, there is plenty of political manoeuvring by members of the country’s numerous political parties to unite behind a suitable candidate who could present themselves to the Guardian Council in a bid to become a candidate. Their hope is that this candidate would be acceptable to the council and ultimately to the electorate.
This reduces the chances for the women because all of the political parties are pre-dominantly male, many of whom think a woman does not have the capacity to compete with a male rival.
Kadivar said the traditional interpretation of female candidacy for president needed to be changed.
“Almost all opponents of the presence of women at high levels of executive power refer to women’s weakness and inability to perform heavy responsibilities due to their strong emotions,” said Kadivar.
“According to some narratives, leadership and strategic management are not compatible with women’s body and spirit, and there are narratives which insist that too heavy responsibilities of statesmanship should not be placed on women’s shoulders. However, these narratives do not apply where there are women who deserve to be in these positions and who are more knowledgeable and wiser than men,” she added.
- Are women willing to participate in politics?
The appearance in parliament is a good example of how much women participated in politics. The Iranian parliament has 290 seats. But there are only 9 female lawmakers.
Women are highly educated in Iran. But they are disadvantaged compared to men in politics.
“Many women lost hope” Kadivar said.
“But many others became more determined to continue their struggle and challenge this erroneous perception in order to secure their rightful place in this political power struggle,” she continued.
“The increasing level of women’s education, their knowledge and awareness about their rights and their determination to overcome these obstacles are a clear indication that in the near future we will witness real changes in the field of women’s participation in the institution of the executive in Iran,” she said.
7. What are the challenges a female president could face?
It is widely believed that the current laws might prove troublesome to a possible female president.
State visits for a future female president might prove problematic because, under Iranian law, women can’t leave the country without their husband’s or father’s permission.
But, Karimkhan said women in the parliament or in embassies “have no such problems.”
“Maybe the biggest problem would be about shaking hands. Shaking hands is not acceptable between a strange man and woman in Islam, but I really cannot see any other problem for this,” she said.
“Maybe the more religious parts of the country couldn’t accept it in the first step. We already have women in parliament and people have no problem with that. So having a woman as a president would be acceptable in time.”
In 1997, Azam Taleghani became the first women to put her name forward to the Guardian Council to become a presidential candidate. History shows that she was not successful then or in subsequent attempts to become a presidential candidate. Since then the numbers of women putting their names forward has grown with this year an estimated 130 bidding to be a presidential candidate. Time will tell when the Guardian Council will approve one of them.