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Iran Vows to Investigate Whether or Not Male-Dominated Civil Service Is, In Fact, Sexist

The president of Iran has pledged to look into whether civil service exams discriminate against women.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24:  President of Iran Hassan Rouhani sits before speaking at the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly on September 24, 2013 in New York City. This year's U.N. diplomacy session, the 68th General Assembly, is likely to be dominated by Syria's civil war and Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24:  Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sits before speaking at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on September 24, 2013 in New York City. Over 120 prime ministers, presidents and monarchs are gathering this week for the annual meeting at the temporary General Assembly Hall at the U.N. headquarters while the General Assembly Building is closed for renovations.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: President of Iran Hassan Rouhani sits before speaking at the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly on September 24, 2013 in New York City. This year's U.N. diplomacy session, the 68th General Assembly, is likely to be dominated by Syria's civil war and Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sits before speaking at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on September 24, 2013 in New York City. Over 120 prime ministers, presidents and monarchs are gathering this week for the annual meeting at the temporary General Assembly Hall at the U.N. headquarters while the General Assembly Building is closed for renovations. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In February, after Sheena Shirani — a young woman working at Iran’s state-run broadcaster — quit her job and moved out of the country, she released recordings of her older, male manager sexually harassing her at work.

The recordings were quickly shared more than 100,000 times on Facebook, and republished on various websites, ultimately casting light on the struggles Iranian women face in the still male-dominated workforce.

“In a society like Iran, if you happen to be weak and if you do not maintain strong ties to powerful people…then you are basically on your own,” Shirani told Voice of America’s Persian service at the time. “In addition to that, if you are a woman and a single mother, you are completely devoid of any value in this society.”

This week, roughly six months after Shirani opened the door to conversations about sexual harassment on the job in Iran, President Hassan Rouhani postponed the country’s civil service exams — because of concerns the government job program discriminates against women.

The civil service exams restrict women from applying to work in from entire departments, thus stiffening the competition for whatever jobs are left.

According to the BBC, young women in Iran are five times more likely to be unemployed than their male counterparts. And even once women have landed a job, activists say the male-dominated workforce encourages discrimination against women — as exemplified in the case of Shirani.

Rouhani has been been touted as a reformist on women’s roles in Iranian society after appointing a number of women to prominent political posts during his presidency. But his opponents claim he has also fueled discrimination in the workplace by pumping money into sectors that typically employ men, thus further disadvantaging women who also need to support their families.

Rouhani’s latest order to postpone the exams and review all 3,000 civil service jobs currently on the table could signal a willingness on his part to try to make amends to the male-dominated workforce in Iran. Still, there are plenty of other huge obstacles in his way, not least severe restrictions on women’s movements.

That was spotlighted last year when Niloufar Ardalan, captain of Iran’s national women’s soccer team, was unable to travel to a championship in Malaysia because her husband refused to allow her to travel abroad.

He wanted “Lady Goal,” as she is known, to stay home and cart their 7-year-old off to school rather than cart bucket loads of goals back home for the national team.

Ardalan, publicly disputed her husband’s opinion on the matter, but was still unable to travel in time for the game.

After Ardalan spoke out about her husband’s restrictions, Shadi Sadr, an Iranian women’s rights advocate, told Radio Free Europe that the incident “shows to what extent this law can impact a woman’s life.”

“Even if a woman reaches the highest ranks in politics, sports, or culture, she still needs her husband’s consent for one of her most basic rights — traveling abroad,” she said.

Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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