Women’s Participation in the May 2017 Elections

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Author: NID

Many have considered the recent presidential and City and Village Council elections to be a crucial moment for women’s rights activists in Iran. The Iranian Women’s Movement have used both elections as an opportunity to challenge some of the obstacles that women face in entering and moving up the governmental ladder, including participation in major government roles, and upper and middle tiers of leadership positions. These activists have also seized this opportunity to echo their demands and combat their many challenges in society. Women candidates have also been vocal about women’s needs, concerns, and the necessity to enhance women’s condition in Iran.

In the past few decades women have been demanding an equal share of participation in political, economic and social processes. More recently, the discourse has focused on women’s share of key positions in governance. Different women’s rights groups from across political spectrum have united around the issue of women’s political participation to oppose the monopoly of power in the hands of men.

Activists who believed the women’s movement began to wane as the Iranian reformist movement lost momentum in 2005, found the recent elections a unique opportunity to revitalize the movement. In the elections, activists turned their focus from the state to the people. Instead of demanding legal change to secure the basic rights of women, they called for women’s massive presence and participation in all aspects of the city and council elections.

In a manifesto titled “Right to City”, women’s rights activists demanded half of the seats of City and Village Councils. They argue that women are half of the population therefore they ought to be half of the decision-makers and leadership. This manifesto, although focusing on women’s political participation and women’s quota of municipality and councils seats, also tries to shed light on some other key issues. These include public safety for women, women’s dedicated spaces in public transportation, saying no to victim blaming in sexual harassment cases, women’s health, welfare and homelessness. Moreover, it calls for building partnerships between different nonprofits and councils, women’s educational services and facilities, empowering neighborhood councils, and putting an end to cultural promotion of sexism.

In the most recent City and Village Council elections, candidate registration increased 14%. The elections also demonstrated a 1% increase in women running as candidates compared to the last round. Out of the total of 287,425 who registered to run, 17,885 were women. According to the Iranian Interior Ministry , women consisted 6.3% and men 93.7% of the vetted candidates. in the 2013 elections, only 12,000 women ran.

In general, more women in villages registered than in cities. 6,743 women from cities and 11, 142 women from villages registered. The following six provinces had the highest number of female candidates : Kerman: 1,840; Sistan and Baluchestan: 1,397; Tehran: 1,337; Fars: 1,189; Khorasan Razavi: 1,116; Mazandaran: 1,005.

The increase in women’s participation in the recent elections represents the success of a group of civic and political activists who were able to break through the gender barriers to participate in the political structure and mobilize women to take more part in governance, despite the challenges. The coalition over women’s political participation was so influential that for the first time since the birth of Islamic Republic of Iran, it drove an official figure to react. Additionally, Shahindokht Mowlaverdi, the Vice President of Iran in Women and Family Affairs, invited all encouraged women to participate in the elections through different social media platforms.

Unfortunately, even though the general number of elected women in the last election increased compared to the previous elections, statistics show that the number of elected women in province capitals decreased overall. Women’s seats reduced in sixteen province capitals, while the number increased in eleven capitals including Tehran. The number has remained the same in three province capitals.

Sistan and Baluchestan province has had the highest number of elected women with 415 elected to different City and Village Councils. The number of elected women in Tehran’s city council has doubled, with the number growing from three in the last round to six in the new election.

Iran’s newly elected incumbent president , Hassan Rouhani, has emphasized the importance of women’s participation in governance and civic engagement. He stated that his cabinet “has a responsibility towards women as citizens” and will continue in the same path to “take advantage of women’s capabilities and talents.”

The elected women of Tehran City Council also announced the creation of a Women’s caucus in Tehran City Council as a priority on their agenda. The caucus is dedicated to address women’s demands and concerns within the council.

Female Candidates campaigned around a variety of issues and promises, most of them concerning women’s civic engagement, citizenship rights, jobs, education, welfare and social security. Some specific examples of women’s campaign promises are as following:

‌Zahra Nejad Bahram, campaigned to finish discrimination and make the city safe for women. She demanded an increase in women’s share of municipality management. Elham Fakharinejad, focused on the mental health of citizens and the importance of public space in the welfare and health of its residents. Leila Arshad’s plan was to change the city management to end child labor and help women with addiction and drug abuse issues. Roghaie Gazmeh wanted to protect stay-at-home mothers and housewives who do so much work without pay. Her priority was to create job opportunities for stay-at home women in her village.

Women’s movement reached a mileston on increasing number of women in city village councils in 2017; however, long way to go.

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