October 2, 2013
The Rouhani administration has been formed without a single female face appearing in the cabinet. That said, a woman has been chosen as the spokesperson of the foreign ministry, one has been named vice president and director of environmental protection, and one has been appointed as vice president for legal affairs.
What is the new president capable of doing for women? During the years of Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, the Iranian public came to the conclusion that in the Islamic Republic system, the president is not all powerful, and other, higher powers will not allow him to put his proposed policies into action. But during the time of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, legal experts – and regular citizens – were shocked and dismayed when they saw that the president can indeed exert great power and although his critics in the Majlis tried to challenge him, he remained defiant. In fact, his exertion of power – with the support of the radical conservative establishment – was such that he was able to go beyond the legal limits of the presidency, overreaching his constitutional power without facing serious consequences for his actions and serving out two full terms, despite complaints.
The danger is that President Hassan Rouhani could cite the past two administrations as an excuse to claim that he lacks the legal power to boldly tackle some of Iran’s most pressing problems. Most notable is the issue of women, which is one of the country’s pivotal issues and which takes a toll on half of the population; the president, who according the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is endowed with great powers, and if he so desires he is capable of making an impact on the situation of women in the country. Although the presence of women in his government is not as great as had been hoped for, the capacities of the executive office and the ministries are great enough to give President Rouhani the necessary power to ease the problems facing the women of Iran.
Taking a look at these capacities in detail, it is clear that President Rouhani cannot use the power structure of the Islamic Republic and its constitution as an excuse for insufficient action to improve the status of women in the country. The women of Iran voted for President Rouhani, and they will be keeping a close eye on the actions of his administration on women’s issues.
Hassan Rouhani must pursue policies that reflect the social norms of today’s Iran, in which technology has brought critics and dissidents together and amplified their voices. His administration can remove the obstacles from the path towards a mutually respectful relationship between the government and women. If he succeeds in making them feel secure, they will be able to constructively express their needs directly to his government.
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October 2, 2013