Last week, after a year of anticipation, the Iranian parliament passed a bill to join the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The question is: is this convention going to do any good for Iranian women?
Most of us agree that joining CEDAW is not going to remove the discriminatory laws affecting the everyday life of Iranian women. It's not going to pave the way for them to take over more key positions or change the way they are treated in the society, let alone in their own homes. Nonetheless, I think there are certain ways that joining the convention can help women.
The answer lies in the arguments of the parliament members opposing the bill. They didn't oppose joining CEDAW on the basis of any of its articles, since they have been taken care of by the very ambiguous condition that no article or amendment opposing Islam is accepted by the Iranian government (Sounds familiar?*). Conservatives were attacking CEDAW on the basis of one and only one important issue: its very spirit. They argued that according to this convention, men and women are considered equal, and Islam doesn't recognize this equality. (In order to be PC, they also argued that what Islam recognizes for women is far better and more "natural", which is, quite frankly, complete nonsense).
I think this is where any benefit for the Iranian women's rights movement is going to be. Joining this convention can mean more foreign pressure on the Iranian government on issues regarding women's rights. Some even speculate that the fact that the bill was put on the agenda of the parliament less than a month after Mehdi Karrubi, the parliament speaker, asked female MP's to stand patient and not push for the bill, was because of the current state of the region and enormous pressure on the Islamic Republic on issues of human rights.
Even if the Council of Guardians rejects the bill (and it most probably will), I believe the fact that this issue has been brought to the spotlight in a time when even the reformists didn't want to take a risk on this bill—some found it not quite urgent—can give a new momentum to Iranian women in the quest for their rights.
* If you glance through the Iranian constitution, or any other law regarding essential freedoms, you'll find that every single one of them ends with the phrase "as long as it's not against Islam (or the foundations of the Islamic Republic)". This simple phrase has made it possible for the conservatives in the judicial system and the notorious Council of Guardians to deny people's basic rights, to censor the press, and to block legislation proposed by the reformists.