Skip to main content

'Men make the decisions': A reformist woman candidate in Iran's elections

Candidate Afifeh Abedi says if she wins a parliamentary place a top priority is to give more power to women in society
— Tehran (AFP)

A rare reformist woman standing in Iran's legislative elections on Friday, Afifeh Abedi hopes to bolster women's place in society and add a fresh voice in a parliament dominated by male conservatives.

Women "are very active in society but hold a very small share of the power," said the 44-year-old candidate ahead of a campaign event at a mosque in southern Tehran.

"It's men who make the decisions, even when they concern women."

Abedi said among issues she wants to address is Iran's strict dress code for women which drove mass protests after the September 2022 death in custody of Iranian-Kurd Mahsa Amini, 22.

If elected, Abedi says she plans to "defend the point of view of women who want to wear different outfits".

On Friday voters will choose the members of a new parliament from a list of pre-vetted candidates, as well as the 88-member Assembly of Experts -- a key body that appoints the supreme leader.

Abedi, a political science researcher, is among six women on the "Voice of the Nation" list, an alliance of 30 candidates from various political movements.

She says if she wins a seat in parliament, her top priorities are to give more power to women and tackle economic challenges in the sanctions-hit country suffering rapid inflation.

Women walk along a street in Tehran, ahead of the upcoming elections, on February 28, 2024

The "Voice of the Nation" list -- formed by influential ex-parliamentarian Ali Motahari -- has been approved to run for Iran's 290-seat parliament.

By setting up the list, Motahari hoped to help "restore confidence in the system", oppose the blocking of internet access, and push for loosening restrictions on the dress code which requires women to wear loose-fitting garments while covering the head and neck.

The death of Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the rules, triggered months-long protests that posed the most serious challenge for Iran's government led by the ultra-conservative president, Ebrahim Raisi.

Women have since been increasingly flouting the dress code.

In September, Iran's lawmakers voted in favour of toughening penalties on those deemed to be ignoring the dress code.

- Hopes for Iran -

Iran's current parliament, dominated by the conservative bloc, has only 16 women members, including four representing the capital Tehran.

Of some 15,200 hopefuls running for seats, only around 12 percent are women, according to interior ministry figures.

Abedi held a campaign event at a mosque in southern Tehran

Abedi hopes that if she's elected she can help promote the appointment of women to more influential positions.

Women "only have access to secondary positions, such as advisors or vice-minister in charge of women's affairs," she said.

Despite the promises of successive governments, a woman has only once held a seat in cabinet, in 2009.

Abedi said she is also aware of growing "disappointment" among Iranians over the dire economic conditions, as the country has been reeling under crippling US sanctions imposed over its contested nuclear programme.

"I know the economic problems have exhausted you all," Abedi said in the mosque's prayer room. "But I am presenting myself to make your protests heard by the authorities," she added to applause.

Abedi said she will also campaign for "the improvement of Iran's relations with all countries, particularly Western ones", in the hope of easing tensions over the Gaza war as well as Iran's nuclear activity.

"If we fail to attract investors, we will lag behind," she said.

Of 15,200 hopefuls running for seats in the new parliament, only around 12 percent are women

Voter turnout may be low on Friday after a recent state TV poll found that more than half of respondents voiced indifference.

Abedi says she expects support for the reformist camp "will not be very high", but still voiced hope for a late surge in interest and a good result for her list.

"I don't expect a high turnout at the moment, but I hope that in the last hours and days, unpredictable events will occur, and the Voice of the Nation list will prevail.".