Iranian Women Slowly Winning More Rights

This story was written by CBS News' Leily Lankarani in Tehran.

(CBS)
Iran's Parliament has voted to allow widows to inherit land from their husbands, the latest in a series of tentative moves by Iranian legislators to expand the rights of women in the conservative Islamic Republic.

If approved, the bill approved last week will alter Iran's 76-year-old civil code, which was written by a committee of clergy and experts according to Islamic rules that prohibit widows from inheriting their husbands' real estate.

The current law says a widow with children can inherit one eighth of her husband's belongings; if she has no children, she can inherit a quarter of his assets — but that excludes real estate.

Over the years, the law has caused much sorrow and many a family feud, as it makes it easy for ungrateful children to essentially deny their mothers any share of the family property.

As with any other bill passed by the parliament, the new bill is subject to scrutiny and approval by The Council of Guardians of the Constitution, who are charged with making sure it complies with Islamic law. They've not yet ruled on the bill passed by lawmakers last week.

The legislation has caused friction between Iran's lawmakers and the religious establishment. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made public his agreement with the change in the law, and this is likely why the Deputy Minister of Justice has told reporters that it will be approved by the council.

But for every step forward in the area of women's rights, there are efforts to take the country in the other direction.

In a letter to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, Grand Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani said that parliament should not be legislating on matters that ought to be decided by religious decree.

In reply, Larijani wrote that it was only after seeking advice from the country's religious leadership that parliamentarians passed the bill.

Earlier this year the government proposed changes to Iran's marriage law which could have made polygamy easier for men and taxed the obligatory payment a man gives to his wife when they marry. This dowry acts as a financial safety net for millions of women who do not get alimony or support if they're divorced.

That proposal rallied an unusual coalition of women's rights activists from both conservative and reform camps to lobby – successfully - against the law. In the end, Iran's judiciary and parliament vetoed the law, saying it would have promoted polygamy and eroded women's financial independence.

Rafat Bayat, a former Member of Parliament from Zanjan province said a number of prominent conservative Iranian women played a big role in crafting the new legislation on widows' inheritance rights.

Bayat said that is proof that Iranian women from across the political spectrum are becoming more assertive about their rights in society.

In another sign of slowly increasing tolerance, female musicians were joined the choir that sang at a Saturday ceremony commemorating the return of Ayatollah Khomeini from exile 30 years ago... This, in a country where, technically, women cannot perform for an audience which includes men.