Iran is a country of more than 70 million people – almost half of them women, some of whom play political roles but are barred from running for president.What role will women play in deciding Iran’s next president in this month’s election?
When Iranians go to the polls on June 14, they will get to select one of eight presidential candidates – all but one older than 50 and all men. Iran’s Guardian Council ruled last month a woman cannot be president even though 30 women sought to be included in the race.
That worries Iranian women’s rights activists, who say Iran’s clerics, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were trying to send a message.
“They think that Iranian women – they should stay at home and it’s better they make them more limited than this,” said long-time activist and lawyer Mehrangiz Kar.
But some of the candidates appear to be reaching out to women voters anyway.
When Mohammad Reza Aref, the 61-year-old university professor seen as the leading reformer in the race, registered to run, he did so with his wife.
It quickly drew comparisons to Turkey, where Islamist-leaning Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared in campaigns with his wife. Iran hardliners criticize the husband/wife appearances as “Western.”
Still, some of the more conservative candidates have promoted joint appearances with their wives – something current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also did when he was a candidate.
Kar said it means little.
“Sometimes you can see some women beside their husband during elections. It seems something like a propaganda for the men and not for women,” she stated.
But some analysts say the ability of women to influence the election outcome is not out of the question. They point to Mohammad Khatami’s election in 1997, when he appealed to women and minorities.
In the last presidential election, in 2009, the four final candidates spoke on women’s issues.
Analyst Geneive Abdo with the Stimson Center said this election is much different.
“Unlike last time, there are no candidates that are inspiring people,” she noted.
Despite that, a hunger for inspiration, especially among women, seems to linger.
In recent weeks – this video showing former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani during his last campaign – has gone viral on Iran’s social media sites. In it, a young woman criticizes the societal status of Iran’s women. The video shows Rafsanjani with tears forming in his eyes.
But voters cannot choose Rafsanjani this time. The Guardian Council barred his candidacy during its final cut.
By VOA News
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