Iran Adopts Draft Law to Outlaw Violence Against Women

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Jayanti Singla, Reporter

Recently, Iran’s cabinet approved a bill that criminalizes physical and sexual violence against women. The draft law, entitled the “Protection, Dignity and Security of Women against Violence Bill,” comes after Iran’s #MeToo movement and outrage over “honor killings.” The bill still has to be approved by the country’s conservative Parliament, but it is likely to pass.

In late 2020, Iranian women launched a #MeToo campaign over social media to spread awareness of sexual violence. After 14-year-old Romina Ashrafi was beheaded by her father for running away with her boyfriend, pressure on lawmakers increased. The Iranian Quarterly Journal of Social Development reported over 8,000 such “honor killings” from 2010 to 2014.

Iran is one of almost 50 countries that lack domestic violence laws, and survivors of sexual assault rarely come forward. Sex outside of marriage is a criminal offence, so victims risk being prosecuted if they are not believed. In addition, Iranian law requires unreasonable amounts of evidence and has a restrictive definition of sexual violence. 

After nearly two decades of campaigning to change these laws, women’s rights activists view the bill as an encouraging start. Sending unsolicited sexual messages and demanding sexual relationships would be punishable by up to two years in prison, 99 lashes, and monetary fines. The draft law also focuses on educating the public about violence against women. Furthermore, it requires support centers for victims and all-female police units to protect women. 

Although promising, the bill falls short of international standards. The draft law broadly defines violence against women as “any intentional act against a woman that is committed because of her gender, vulnerable position, or the nature of the relationship, and which causes harm or damage to her body, mind, character, reputation or legitimate rights and freedom.” Because this description is so vague, using it to prosecute abusers may be difficult. Additionally, the law does not directly address child marriage, virginity testing, marital rape, or domestice violence. 

Tara Sepehri Far, an Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, stated, “For decades, Iranian women have been waiting for comprehensive legislation to prevent violence against women and prosecute their abusers… [This] law is long overdue.”