Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Khaleej Times: Woman MP Rafat Bayat seeks okay to run for president in Iran

Khaleej Times Online: "Woman MP seeks okay to run for president in Iran

25 April 2005
TEHERAN - Iranian lawmaker Rafat Bayat may be bidding to be the first woman allowed to run for president since the 1979 Islamic revolution, but she rejects Western accusations that the country is oppressing its women.

A 48-year-old sociologist elected to parliament in February 2004, Bayat says depictions of the Iranian women’s rights situation have been exaggerated in the West and by opponents of the country’s system of clerical rule.

“To say that women in Iran are under pressure, that their rights are violated, is not true,” she told Reuters in an interview on Sunday.

Rights activists draw attention to the fact that in Iran a woman needs her husband’s permission to travel abroad and her testimony carries half the weight of a man’s in court.

Divorce, custody and inheritance rights in Iran are also unfairly biased against women, rights lawyers say.

But Bayat, one of just 12 women in the 290-seat parliament, played down the importance of such issues, many of which she said could be resolved through dialogue between husband and wife.

Instead, she said, if elected she would place emphasis on promoting women into more positions of power and influence.

“My views are mainly political and I want to be involved in getting women into high levels of decision-making,” she said, speaking at her office in an computing and arts educational college which she heads in upmarket north Tehran.

Council says men only
Aspirants vying to replace outgoing reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami in the June 17 election must first be vetted by a constitutional watchdog known as the Guardian Council.

The Council, comprised of six clerics and Islamic jurists, has in the past always rejected women hopefuls and its spokesman earlier this year said its interpretation of the constitution remained that only men could stand.

Many reformist clerics disagree, arguing that the word ”rejal” used in the constitution means “mankind” and not “man” and thus, does not exclude women.

“I’m very hopeful,” said Bayat. “It’s my interpretation as a member of parliament that I have all the qualities that are needed.”

Ali Larijani, selected by a panel of hardline politicians as their official candidate last week, said on Sunday a female participant in the race could encourage voter turnout but that the final decision lay with the Guardian Council.

Political analysts, however, do not rate Bayat’s chances either of getting the Council’s approval or of success in the vote if she did.

Opinion polls suggest the front-runner is former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, followed by former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, both viewed as moderate conservatives. A group of hardliners and reformists trail in their wake.

Human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, has also called for women to be allowed to stand.

Bayat, however, criticised Ebadi for being overly influenced by Western feminist approaches and international law.

Bayat also criticised young Iranian women who flout Islamic dress codes by wearing tight-fitting and skimpy coats and allowing headscarves to slip and reveal their hair.

But she said education rather than the usual response of police crackdowns was the way forward. “We need to teach people to believe in it (the dress code),” she said."