April 28, 2017
By Roshanak Asteraky

The Guardian Council has disqualified all 137 women who had registered as candidates in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s 12th presidential elections. Many argue that the powerful vetting body never had the slightest intention to seriously review the applications of those women, and that their rejection was a forgone conclusion.

Most of the female candidates were not well known with the exception of Azam Taleqani, daughter of Ayatollah Taleqani, who is a reformist and democracy advocate. Taleqani is a journalist and a former member of the Majlis, Iran’s legislative body. She is also the head of the Society of Islamic Revolutionary Women of Iran.

Taleqani’s candidacy received extensive coverage from the state-run media which ridiculed her presence in the presidential elections rather than highlighting its significance for Iranian women. The conservative newspaper, Javan, ran a story entitled “Reforms by Walker,” alluding to Taleqani’s use of mobility walker due to ill health.

Azam Taleqani

Taleqani had also registered in 1997, 2005 and 2009 presidential elections, and was disqualified by the Guardian Council in every one of those races. Her intention for entering the presidential election was, as she put it, to “seek clarification on “rajol-e-siasi,’ meaning the male political figure.

Indeed, the Guardian Council’s interpretation of Article 115 of the Islamic Republic has prevented women from being elected as presidents in Iran. “The President must be elected from among religious and political personalities possessing the following qualifications: Iranian origin; Iranian nationality; administrative capacity and resourcefulness; a good record; trustworthiness and piety; conviction and belief in the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the official religion of the country.”

The problem stems from the Arabic word “Rejal” which may be understood to mean “personalities” but is interpreted by the Guardian Council to mean “men.”

Taleqani’s repeated attempts to enter the presidential election has exposed the regime’s patriarchal and chauvinistic nature. Facing widespread criticism after Taleqani’s rejection in the 1997 elections, Ahmad Jannati, the chairman of the Guardian Council released a statement. “Female candidates had not been disqualified due to their gender, but because they lacked the necessary political and religious credentials,” he insisted.

At the time, Taleqani countered Jannati’s assertion by arguing “why is it that those who fought against the injustices of the former regime, and today work tirelessly to protect the civil rights of Iranian men and women, are not considered to possess the required qualifications? And why is it that those who neither criticized the Shah nor praised Imam Khomeini are deemed to have the necessary credentials?”

The Guardian Council has not responded to Taleqani’s questions to date. Despite her best efforts, Taleqani has not been able to pave the way for women to have an effective presence in the presidential elections, not even for those with close ties to the regime.

Meanwhile, the Guardian Council has rejected a broader and more inclusive interpretation of the word “personality.” So, for all intents and purposes, “rejal” is still understood to refer to “men.”

Guardian Council

This view is widely shared by many government officials. Speaking on the last day of registrations for the presidential elections, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli said that “based on our interpretation of the law, the term ‘political personality’ doesn’t encompass women.” However, many of the women candidates who were disqualified believe that the term political personality is gender-neutral and it simply means a politician.

Many prominent women were notably absent in the forthcoming presidential election, including Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi, a former parliamentarian and the first  female government minister. She is also one of the founding members of the conservative Popular Front Forces of the Islamic Revolution (JAMNA) which has pledged to become the main rival of President Hassan Rouhani.

The absence of conservative female candidates in the election is not that unusual, particularly since the wording of Article 115 is viewed to exclude women from the process. However, it was rather disconcerting to see that no woman from the reformist camp had registered as a candidate. By boycotting the elections, the reformists, who pose as a progressive party, have in effect sided with the conservatives.

It is rather puzzling that no women from the reformists camp, who has held a senior government post, has ever participated in presidential elections. None of them has ever pressured the Guardian Council to change its position on the wholesale disqualification of women in presidential elections.

Furthermore there was no massive support from the reformist side for women candidates who did register as candidates in the elections. Shahindokht Molaverdi, a vice-president in charge of women and family affairs for the past four years, tweeted a couple of short messages in support of Azam Taleqani.

However, after Taleqani was ridiculed by the conservative media, Molaverdi claimed that Taleqani’s participation in the election was a symbolic gesture aimed at motivating women and the future generations to remain steadfast in their commitment to create a society in which progress is based on ability and talent rather than gender.

Molaverdi believes that by ridiculing Taleqani’s candidacy, the conservative media is actually attacking President Hassan Rouhani. It is rather puzzling that Molaverdi and other reformist women who have held senior posts have never used their positions to advance women’s causes. “ We have never heard someone being disqualified because of her gender,” Molaverdi told the student news agency ISNA.

It is clear that women politicians in the reformist camp do not challenge the misogynous policies of the Islamic Republic, and their plans for broadening the role of women in the country’s social and political arenas are ineffective and lack true substance.