Hey Iran, Stop Trying to Turn Women Into 'Baby-Making Machines'

Amnesty International denounces Iran’s proposed laws to increase its population by limiting contraceptives and banning sterilization procedures.

(Photo: Flickr)

Mar 11, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Celeste Hoang is the Film & TV Integration Editor for TakePart.

At a time when leaders and organizations around the world are calling for action on gender equality and women’s rights, it seems as though Iran is concerned with doing the complete opposite.

The country is considering two new laws aimed at boosting population growth by curbing access to contraceptives and banning voluntary sterilization—a move that’s being called “misguided” by Amnesty International, which says the laws could set women’s rights in Iran back by decades. The human rights organization slammed the two proposed bills in its new report, You Shall Procreate: Attacks on Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Iran, published on Wednesday.

“Authorities are promoting a dangerous culture in which women are stripped of key rights and viewed as baby-making machines rather than human beings with fundamental rights to make choices about their own bodies and lives,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement. The bill's passage would affect men's rights as well, as it also calls for a ban on all voluntary vasectomies.

The Bill to Increase Fertility and Prevent Population Decline would also cut family planning programs, which have been key to providing health care and sex education to marginalized communities. Amnesty International’s report stated this would lead to a “greatly increased risk” of unwanted pregnancies and illegal, unsafe abortion procedures and an increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The other bill, the Comprehensive Population and Exaltation of Family Bill, encourages discrimination against female job applicants who are single, makes divorce more difficult for both men and women, and promotes violence against women by discouraging police involvement in family disputes, according to the organization’s report.

“The bills send a message that women are good for nothing more than being obedient housewives and creating babies and suggests they do not have the right to work or pursue a career until they have fulfilled that primary role and duty,” said Hadj Sahraoui.

Iran has developed several progressive family planning policies over the last two decades, including government-subsidized vasectomies and the distribution of free condoms. But the tides began to change when the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spoke out about Iran's declining birthrate in a 2012 televised speech that criticized contraception and encouraged the country to double its population size. Hadj Sahraoui called it a “zealous quest to project an image of military might and geopolitical strength.”

Amnesty International's report also outlines what it cites as Iran’s “widespread” discriminatory practices against women, including not criminalizing men for marital rape; restricting access to higher education by excluding women from certain degree courses; and banning women from watching football in stadiums since 1979.

If the bills become law, the report warns, “generations of women and girls will face a perilous future marked by ill-health, inequality, discrimination, limited reproductive choices, and restricted freedoms.”

The report also comes amid the publication of three new reports this week that reveal slow progress on gender equality around the world, as well as a trend in well-educated Iranians leaving their home country for better opportunities abroad.