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Dissertation Proposal sample: Critical analysis of human and woman’s rights in Iran

Dissertation Proposal sample: Critical analysis of human and woman’s rights in Iran

Introduction to the Dissertation Proposal

The history of human rights in Iran is deeply influenced by its ancient civilizations and modern political challenges.[1] Dating back to the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC), Iran is home to the Cyrus Cylinder, an early symbol of human rights that promotes equality for all, regardless of race or religion.[2] In modern times, however, the narrative shifts, particularly concerning women’s rights. Under the Pahlavi dynasty, preceding the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian women experienced significant legal and social advances.[3] Notably, they secured the right to vote in 1963 and benefitted from the Family Protection Laws, bolstering their rights in marital and familial contexts.

The 1979 Revolution, which ended Reza Shah Pahlavi’s reign and ushered Ayatollah Khomeini to power, brought about profound changes. In its aftermath, numerous pre-existing reforms were rescinded.[4] The Republic imposed strict dress codes and lowered the legal age for female marriage, symbolizing the ebbing tide of women’s rights. Yet, Iranian women, resilient as ever, persisted as vanguards of change, leading protests and advocating for improved rights.

Internationally, Iran’s stance on human rights conventions presents an intriguing juxtaposition. While the nation aligns with some global norms, reflected in its ratification of treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), it exhibits ambivalence towards others, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).[5] This nuanced engagement provides a window into Iran’s challenges and perspectives on human rights, with an emphasis on women’s rights.

The aftermath of the 1979 Revolution highlights the persistent challenges surrounding women’s rights in Iran. This dissertation will delve into the dichotomy between the symbolic empowerment, as exemplified by the preserved right to vote, and the actual barriers faced by women. Rather than being a milestone for women’s robust participation in the new Iranian society, these rights often seemed reduced to mere formalities against a backdrop of longstanding patriarchal norms. Throughout this exploration, the present research will examine different aspects of this issue and attempt to provide a comprehensive understanding of women’s rights in post-revolutionary Iran.

Definition and Scope of Human Rights

Human rights, at their core, are universal principles that recognize the inherent dignity, freedom, and equality of all human beings.[6] Rooted in diverse traditions and cultures, these rights act as a global standard of norms for treating every individual fairly and equitably. The universality of human rights emerges from the idea that every person is entitled to these rights, irrespective of their nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion, or any other status.

Specifically focusing on women’s rights, they are an integral subset of human rights.[7] These rights address the injustices and discriminations that women face solely based on their gender. They encompass a myriad of facets – from the right to education and employment to reproductive rights and the right to live free from violence and discrimination. Women’s rights are critical, not only because they aim to achieve gender equality but also because they are fundamental to advancing all human rights.

In the Iranian context, women’s rights hold a unique significance. Historically, Iranian women have seen oscillations in their rights – from periods of progressive reforms to times when these rights have been considerably constricted, particularly following the 1979 Revolution.[8] As a result, women in Iran find themselves navigating a challenging terrain of societal expectations, religious tenets, and legal limitations, making their struggle for rights both distinct and paramount.


In this dissertation, I will explore various facets of human rights, placing special emphasis on women-centric concerns. This encompasses Civil and Political Rights, which protect everyday freedoms like women’s participation in elections, freedom of speech, and fair trial rights. Simultaneously, Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights aim to ensure equal access for women in education, healthcare, and decent living standards, while also addressing gender disparities in employment. I will also spotlight the Rights Against Discrimination that women confront, not just due to gender but intersecting with factors like race, religion, or socio-economic status. Moreover, the discourse will touch upon the Rights to Physical and Mental Integrity, covering pressing concerns like gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, and mental health disparities. These delineated categories will collectively guide the understanding of the current landscape of women’s rights in Iran, revealing the inherent challenges and suggesting potential avenues for positive change.

Statement of the Problem

The essence of any commitment to human rights lies not just in the acknowledgment of these rights but in the mechanisms established to implement, supervise, and protect them. In the context of Iran, the central research problem under examination is the conspicuous absence of these vital mechanisms, which has had profound implications for the nation’s human rights landscape.

While Iran has, over the years, made various commitments to human rights both domestically and internationally, the ground reality paints a different picture. A robust system that can oversee the execution of these rights, hold violators accountable, and provide remedies to victims is paramount for any human rights framework to be effective. Regrettably, the lack of such mechanisms in Iran creates a vast disparity between the rights formally recognized on paper and their real-world implementation. The consequences of this shortfall are varied, yet they become especially glaring when assessing women’s rights. Without robust oversight and accountability systems, both blatant and insidious discriminations against women have flourished. Even though Iran has formally recognized women’s rights in several domains, prevailing laws and customs continue to undermine women in areas like family law, employment, and individual liberties.


[1] Abghari A, ‘Introduction to the Iranian Legal System and the Protection of Human Rights in Iran’ (2008) BIICL.

[2] Ansari A, ‘A Royal Romance: The Cult of Cyrus the Great in Modern Iran’ (2021) 31(3) Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 405.

[3] Tabari A and Yeganeh N, ‘In the shadow of Islam: The women’s movement in Iran’ (1982).

[4] Zolan AJ, ‘The Effect of islamization on the Legal and Social Status of Women in Iran’ (1987) 7 BC Third World LJ 183.

[5] Sobar M, ‘The Dilemma of Iranian Women: From Position to Rights Restrictions’ (2023) 16(1) An-Nisa’: Journal of Gender Studies 77-92.

[6] O Schachter, ‘Human dignity as a normative concept’ (1983) 77 American Journal of International Law 848.

[7] C Bunch, ‘Women’s rights as human rights: Toward a re-vision of human rights’ (1990) 12 Human Rights Quarterly 486.

[8] A Osanloo, The Politics of Women’s Rights in Iran (Princeton University Press 2009).


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