By Kelsey Perry – Legal researcher Street law
This past September, Iranian president Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi addressed the United Nation’s General assembly. Considering women in Iran are risking their lives protesting for basic human rights, it’s hard to believe that the core message of the speech would actually be extremely valid.
Essentially Raisi called out the Western world on their hypocrisy for being critical of Iran’s internal justice structure, which is rooted in Sharia Law and Islamic tradition. While Sharia recognizes that in God’s eyes, men and women are considered equal, there are different rights and obligations assigned to men and women. It is a system that is designed to be complementary but ultimately equal. When viewed through a Western lens, this dynamic appears to be purely theoretical, especially when we hear reports of eight protestors being sentenced to death after a ten-minute trial with no legal counsel, and rumours of mass executions of hundreds being planned. Nevertheless, there is an extremely valid truth in Raisi’s commentary - there are still gender equality gaps that have yet to be closed. Raisi specifically addressed Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people, which gained international attention in May of 2021 when a mass grave was discovered on the site of a former Residential School. Residential Schools are considered Canada’s dirty little secret, and rightly compare to Nazi Germany’s concentration camps. These boarding schools were designed to isolate Indigenous children from their communities and native culture and assimilate them into “mainstream” colonizer culture. Children were often forcibly removed from their homes to attend these state-sponsored schools, run by the Catholic Church, where they were subject to all varieties of abuse, and inadequate living conditions that caused disease, malnourishment, and death. While the remains of over 1700 children have been found on the sites of former residential schools, we will never know the true number of casualties. Many children succumbed to the elements while attempting to flee, and there’s no way to calculate the premature loss of life caused by the trauma inflicted. The gruesome legacy of the Canadian residential schools has had a harrowing impact on Indigenous women. Canadian Indigenous women are more than twice as likely to be subject to violent or sexual crimes than their white counterparts, according to the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. While the Canadian government has pledges to create a comprehensive action plan to address the disproportionate harm that affects Indigenous women, there has been little progress in developing, implementing, and funding such a plan.
The United States has also repeatedly failed to address gender equality issues domestically. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization effectively overturned Roe v Wade, the case known for securing federal constitutional rights to abortion. While denying women access to reproductive healthcare procedures is an obvious blow to gender equality, it barely scratches the surface of the issues the United States needs to address. Child marriage is legal in forty-four US states, with ten states putting no age limit whatsoever on marriage. There have been documented instances of children as young as ten years old being married, albeit with parental consent. The overwhelming majority of child marriage cases - eighth six percent - involve a minor female being married to an adult male. Shockingly, Afghanistan has stricter marriage laws; the youngest a girl can marry is fifteen with paternal permission, otherwise, sixteen is the minimum age.
The United Kingdom has not been exempted from criticisms of gender equality. The world watched with shock and dismay as it was revealed that Sarah Everard’s killer was an on-duty police officer who manipulated his position of power under the guise of enforcing COVID-19 restrictions. While the number of women reporting sexual assaults is at an all-time high, prosecutions for such crimes have fallen by 70% in the past four years. The few that do head to court are often a year’s long process where the victims must relive the ordeal over and over and over. Many women who have had their cases heard report that if they had known how arduous the court proceedings would be, they never would have reported their assault in the first place.
After seeing peaceful protestors in Iran be subjected to disproportionately harsh police and military response, it’s unfathomable to think we could find any validity to anything any government official has to say on the matter. Yet here we are. Raisi’s critique of how many Western nations treat their own women is more than valid - it underscores our societal tendency to undermine the urgency of our own issues by pointing out bigger issues in other nations. While we should devote attention and resources to the blatant human rights violations occurring in Iran, perhaps this should be an opportunity for us to take stock of our own domestic treatment of girls and women. Raisi aptly commented that “as this double standard persists; human rights will not be safe from repeated violations.” The onus is on us to heed this warning.