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The Discourse about the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Iran

Legal Encounter with Prof. Irene Schneider, Göttingen University

On 13 November 2013, the Institute of Law at Birzeit University organised a legal encounter on The Discourse about the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Voices of Female Jurists. The presentation was made by Irene Schneider, Professor for Arabic Studies and Islamic Law at the University of Göttingen, Germany.

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Professor Schneider introduced the 1979 CEDAW Convention that defines discrimination against women as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

According to Professor Schneider, states ratifying international conventions, including the CEDAW, are required to enshrine gender equality into their national legislation. This process would arise questions regarding the implementation and definition of gender equality in the individual national contexts. Professor Schneider explained the gender concept and terminologies that prevent the adaption of the CEDAW in Iran. She further introduced the positions of different Iranian jurists regarding the Convention, such as Mortazā Moṭahhārī, who was of the opinion that the discourse of gender equality, far from being a universal principle, was a Western product and therefore irrelevant to Islam. Professor Schneider also mentioned the position of the female jurist Farība Alāsvand, who argues that “similarity” between men and women cannot be accepted as their differences would be confirmed in the Qur’an.

While these attitudes would run counter to the ratification of the CEDAW, Shahīndokht Mawlāverdī, a female jurist well versed in family law and recently appointed by President Rouhani as the new Secretary of State in charge of Women’s Affairs, argues that CEDAW could be accepted from an Islamic point of view. She sees Iran in danger of isolation on an international level because the state has not yet ratified CEDAW.

In the ensuing discussion, participants highlighted significant campaigns launched by the Iranian feminist movement in order to change laws for the benefit of women. In addition to making clear the difference between sex and gender, discussants advocated development of personal status laws in Palestine. Organised in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung - Ramallah Office, the legal encounter brought together many interested researchers and representatives of relevant organisations.

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Legal Encounter with Prof. Irene Schneider, Göttingen University KAS Ramallah


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