word in the constitution. AFP
by Farhad Pouladi
TEHRAN - Iranian women have been barred from standing in next year's presidential election after a powerful conservative body stood by its literal interpretation of a single but ambiguous word in the constitution.
The Guardians Council stipulated that the word 'rejal' means "man", a significant interpretation given that under the constitution the president of the Islamic republic "must be elected from the religious and political 'rejal'".
"Up until now the Guardians Council's interpretation of the word is its literal meaning, that is male gender," a spokesman for the council, Gholamhossein Elham, was quoted as saying.
"Those who devised the constitution (shortly after the Islamic Revolution in 1979) also discussed this issue and they were mostly concerned with the gender," he added.
The disputed word, which comes from Arabic, could also be interpreted as meaning "personalities" in Persian and this is the translation used in some English translations of the constitution.
Elham added that Iran's Persian Language Academy was "welcome" to interpret the word, but he did not say whether the Guardians Council would implement their interpretation.
Hasan Habibi, first vice President under former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the incumbent Mohammad Khatami, currently heads the academy. He was one of the lawmakers who drew up the Islamic Republic's constitution.
"In Arabic literature the word 'rejal' is not gendered, and we hope that Mr. Habibi comes with an answer... we will have to wait," an Iranian woman conservative deputy, Fatemeh Alia told AFP.
"The issue of running a country requires merit... I personally think if women met all the required conditions why not, but the final choice is that of the people, its people who choose their president," the MP from Tehran added.
Elahe Koulai, a reformist female deputy, told AFP that there were other more pressing issues for women in Iran other than whether they should hold the presidency.
"Issues concerning women in Iran are not confined to the presidency, since we currently do not have an woman minister or ambassador and frankly talking about a woman president is not going to solve women's problems," she added.
There are 11 women MPs in the current conservative-dominated parliament, compared to 13 in the previous one that was reformist-dominated.
Masoumeh Ebtekar, a vice president and the head of the Iranian Environmental Protection Agency holds the highest post in Iran awarded to a woman.
Iranian women face a number of legal restrictions. They receive half of the inheritance and blood money given to men, and they are also not allowed to be court judges. If they are married, a woman needs her husband's permission to travel abroad.
Iran's current president, Mohammad Khatami, is nearing the end of his second consecutive and therefore final term and speculation is mounting over who will contest the presidential election scheduled for next June.
The Guardians Council is an unelected conservative body that vets all legislation and those seeking to be parliament deputies and president in the Islamic republic.