In a November 1 op-ed in the New York Times, Arash Azizi celebrated Azam Taleghani, a deceased Iranian dissident politician, as a women’s rights advocate. Nothing could be further from the truth. Aziz’s main argument is Taleghani’s attempts to become a female presidential candidate several times in Iranian history. According to the Islamic laws introduced after the Revolution in 1979, this cannot happen. Her attempts were undoubtedly courageous, but only tell part of her story. It is sad to see New York Times does not fact check such an important issue, and misled its readers. I have been trying to submit a response to this article for two weeks with no avail.
Azam Taleghani, daughter of the famous cleric Ayatollah Mahmood Taleghani, one of the prominent clerics of the Islamic republic, was elected to the first Parliament assembled after the Iranian revolution in 1979. It was in this term that most women defying laws were admitted and set in Iranian parliaments. She was among four women representatives, and served from 1981 till 1985.
In 1975, under the Shah’s reformist laws aimed at supporting women, the minimum age at which girls could marry was set at 18 and the minimum age for boys was set at 20 years. This was an historic victory for Iranian women.
In 1983, in the first post-revolution parliament, article 1041 of the Iranian civil code that forbids child marriage was defied and condemned as opposing Sharia law. It was then up to parents to decide if their children were “mature” enough to get married. Azam Taleghani, not only did not oppose this law, but also defended it on the base of child physiology being different from province to province and a matter for parents to decide. It was on her watch that this abusive law was set. It took many years and many attempts to challenge this law. Only in 2003, 20 years later, was the law amended to require parents to ask for permission to marry their girls under “the age of 13”.
But the law does not punish the parents if they don’t. Almost 1,600 cases of child marriage have been registered in the province of Hamedan, western Iran, a local-judiciary authority revealed last May. In East Azerbaijan province alone, child brides have risen 42 percent according to Iranian authorities’ reports today.
A series of laws were changed after the Islamic revolution of Iran. The Iranian women’s laws from the Shah’s era that gave Iranian women equal rights in family, inheritance, divorce, child support, compensation and insurance were changed to the point that Iran is now referred to as gender apartheid by secular feminists.
Secular feminists have always been on the frontlines to advocate for women rights in Iran. There are plenty of female Muslim feminists around the world that work for equal rights for women within Islam. Taleghani was not one of them. She is not a Rosa Parks of the Iranian women’s rights advocacy, but a woman who was evidently pro-child marriage in Iran and supported many other anti-women laws, notable among them the compulsory hijab law that forces Iranian women to wear the hijab in public. She certainly did not oppose them when she had the chance.