Midwifery at all costs – the essential role of midwives in advancing women’s rights in Iran

Photo credit: Taymaz Valley

Over the past several weeks, Iranians have taken to the streets in protest of their country’s discriminatory rules that limit the full participation of women in girls in Iranian society, including by enforcing a strict dress code, regulating their access to sexual and reproductive health care and limiting their career opportunities. These protests have been fueled by the senseless beating and killing of 22-year-old, Mahsa Amini. Mahsa was arrested by Iran’s notorious morality police in September of this year for not wearing her hijab correctly and sporting skinny jeans.  

According to Human Rights Watch – a non-profit investigating and reporting on abuses globally – Iranian authorities have, in recent years, introduced new policies to confine women to a life of domesticity. They’ve done this by outlawing the free distribution of contraceptives in the public health care system and encouraging early marriage through interest-free loans to those who marry before the age of 25.  

As sexual and reproductive health practitioners, midwives are under scrutiny for their efforts to provide family planning information. A spokesperson for a midwifery organisation in Iran says that midwives across the country have been aggressively targeted in recent weeks for standing up for women’s rights.  

“Several midwives have been arrested and detained across the country. We don’t have an exact number as families are often threatened to keep silent,” says a midwife we spoke to for this article, whose name we are keeping anonymous to protect their safety, and the safety of their family and fellow midwives.

She explains that midwives in Iran are committed to advocating for reproductive rights and educating women them about their family planning options and the critical role they play in breaking the generational cycle of discrimination by raising self-aware children.  

According to the midwife we spoke with, at least one midwife was killed in a recent protest in Tehran, the Iranian capital. She was a mother who was peacefully protesting when she was shot in the streets, presumably by a member of Iran’s security forces. 

This blatant defiance of the Regime’s discriminatory policies is not new to Iranian midwives or the organisations that represent them.  

“Historically, midwives in Iran have been heavily involved in women’s rights activities because of their wide range of reach to communities across the country, as well as their close connection with women of all ages and social classes,” explains the midwife representative.

Along with other midwives, she engages in anonymous advocacy activities in an attempt to improve the lives and rights of women and girls.  

“We have been raising awareness to stop child marriage and have been involved in documentation and legal actions to change the laws on this,” she says.

Under Iran’s civil code, girls can marry at 13 and boys at age 15, as even younger ages if authorised by a judge. 

Despite the consequences of this work and the increasing severity of the punishments being handed out to protestors, she insists that her organisation and the midwives it represents will continue to advocate for women’s rights and bodily autonomy. 

“The majority of midwives’ activities are aggressively discouraged and punished by the government with the risk of detention and suspension, yet brave anonymous midwives across the country have been persistently engaged in them throughout the years as their moral and social obligation, with the hope for women, life and freedom.”  

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