THE BLOG

Iran's First Female President: Not Gonna Happen

This year, for the first time in the over 30 year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the government announced that there would be no objection to women standing for President.

It seemed like a notable improvement on a policy that had previously stated that women "lacked the intellectual capacity and understanding to stand."

Nearly 500 Iranians registered to be considered as presidential candidates - 42 of them were women.

Today, the results of the candidate vetting process were announced: as with each election in Iran, the Guardian Council vetted out a great majority of the candidates. In the end, only four men have gotten the go-ahead to campaign for president: incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, former Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karroubi and former military commander (and wanted Interpol suspect) Mohsen Rezai.

Not one woman made it through -- apparently not a single one had the integrity or ability to stand up to the high caliber of the four male candidates who were chosen. Interpol, schminterpol.

As many observers expected, the Guardian Council's announcement was just a gimmick: not a single woman has been given the chance even to campaign for the country's highest elected office.

A close look at what exactly the Guardian Council is, might explain why. It is a powerful body comprised of 12 Islamic jurists and theologians (necessarily male): six appointed by the Supreme Jurist Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and six appointed by the Parliament from among a limited number of jurists approved by a man who was appointed by - you guessed it -- the Supreme Jurist.

To reiterate, 12 men, either directly or indirectly appointed by one man, have the massive responsibility of acting as what is essentially a first-round election run-off.

The Iranian public doesn't whittle down the choices for president, the Guardian Council does.

What's left is a tiny group of establishment male candidates who despite all appearances have no intention of seeking significant progress.

In a society where approximately 70% of the university population is female and the female vote has noticeably impacted major elections for years, the election vetting process is a sad comment on the true condition of Iran's girls and women: second-class citizens.

As if to glide over this glaring omission, much is being made in the domestic and international press of a woman who could become Iran's First Lady: reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi's wife, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard. She'll stand up for women's rights, say the papers and the blogs. She'll help change the laws to ensure their equality, so she says herself.

As former Chancellor of Al Zahra University in Tehran - the country's only all-female university - she carries some clout. As a charming campaign trail colleague to a husband who by most accounts lacks charisma, she is noticeable. But as First Lady, she'd have as much power to change the laws as her husband would: zero.

So why did the Guardian Council make an announcement that women could get a chance at the presidency? It made them look good -- at least till the vetting came to an end. It also gave them a lead on the growing chatter among the vetted candidates -- especially reformist candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi -- about the important role women play in Iranian elections.

There is, in fact, a concerted effort amongst the candidates to not only address women voters but to say that the needs and rights of women must be met in the next presidency. Dr. Rahnavard even picked up on the tone of much of the women's rights movement: that Iranian laws need to be changed to reflect equality for girls and women.

But it's hard to concede that all that talk might not just be rhetoric. What can be expected of candidates who were vetted by a Council who misled the public into thinking it cared about women's rights? What can be expected of a government that has bundled its female population into forced hejab?

Not very much, that's what.

Like the Guardian Council and its attempt to revamp its image, the women's rights platforms of this year's approved candidates might just be another artifice for making things look nicer than they are.

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