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The 98 Percent Strategy
Photo by Kevin Matthews

The 98 Percent Strategy

Nearly every women's rights bill passed by the Iranian reformist parliament that the Guardian Council effectively cast out in 2004 met one doom or another. Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former legislator, illuminates the paths of Iranian-style gridlock.

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A lot of our bills from 2000 are in the Expediency Council.

A podcast of this lecture is now available.

A FEMINIST and former Iranian legislator (2000–04) now teaching at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Fatemeh Haghighatjoo offered an Iranian civics lesson to UCLA students and members of the public attending a Jan. 14, 2008, lecture on campus sponsored by the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies. The review of how a bill becomes law in the Islamic Republic of Iran allowed Haghighatjoo to explain religious conservatives' success in maintaining second-class status for women in a country where women vote, own property, and substantially outnumber men at universities.

"When I was in Parliament, more than 98 percent of any bills related to women's issues were rejected by the Guardian Council," she said, referring to the powerful body that disqualified reformist candidates on ideological grounds in 2004. Half of the council's members are chosen by the Supreme Leader of Iran, an appointed figure who also commands the armed forces, and the other half are nominated by the judiciary.

Bills rejected by the Guardian Council return to the Parliament (Majles), which may choose to vote on them again. If passed a second time, a bill goes to the Expediency Council, which has the power to resolve just such disputes.

In spite of its name, the Expediency Council, said Haghighatjoo, has no deadline for taking action on a bill.

"Still there are a lot of our bills from 2000 in the Expediency Council," she said. Though members of the body may have more diverse educational backgrounds than the jurists on the Guardian Council, this is yet another institution that is not accountable to voters.

Suppose a bill redressing stark inequities in Iranian divorce law, against all odds, made it through Parliament ("Even some reformists in Parliament may not vote for this bill," said Haghighatjoo) and then one of the two appointed councils to become law. A judge inclined to deny a woman's case would still have the ability to do so under Article 170 of the constitution, which says that judges are obliged not to execute "un-Islamic" laws, she said.

In Iran, people's fates depend upon who gets to say what is Islamic, she said. If changes are to come, they won't come from within the system alone.

"I think NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and social movements can influence governments … if they mobilize more people," she said.

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