This International Women’s Day, the Iranian government should commit to enacting strong legislation to protect women and girls from gender-based violence and repeal discriminatory laws that heighten their risk of domestic violence.

A draft law on violence against women was finally sent to parliament in December and has some positive aspects. If passed, police would prioritize received complaints of gender-based violence, protect the identity of women who file them, and allow women to file restraining orders against those threatening them.

But serious gaps remain. Consensual, extramarital relationships in Iran remain a criminal offense, which can make it difficult for women to report violence and allow the authorities to punish those who do. The bill also does not define or criminalize marital rape. Further, one provision will make it unlawful to invite women to mixed gender parties or other places of “corruption or prostitution,” which could result in charges carrying up to 10 years in prison.

In 2020, amid a string of gruesome femicides, dozens of Iranian women on social media bravely shared their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, igniting a #MeToo movement. Their stories underscore the urgent and ever-present need to pass a strong law.

Women’s rights activists in Iran have long campaigned for comprehensive legislation against gender-based violence. Many have faced persecution, and the government’s  repression of civil society has made it difficult to for them to push for reforms.

Laws that provide for male guardian control over women and girls’ freedom of movement, as well as control over decisions related to marriage and discrimination in relation to divorce, put them at added risk of domestic violence.

Too many women and girls have been denied control over their own lives, beaten and even killed by those close to them. Parliament should strengthen the draft law by removing discriminatory provisions, adding others to better protect all women and girls from violence, and then swiftly pass it.  

International Women’s Day would also be a fitting time to release all women’s rights defenders unjustly sentenced for their peaceful activism related to discrimination against women, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, Najmeh Vahedi, Hoda Amid,  Yasaman Ariayi, and many others.