Iranian Professor Discusses Women and Law
While tensions between the West and Iran escalate in the wake of Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s visit to the Columbia University campus, Laya Joneydi, an associate professor of law and a researcher from the University of Tehran, visited Oberlin on Monday to deliver a lecture on the role of women in Islamic judiciary.
Professor Joneydi was greeted by a packed-to-capacity Wilder Main Hall. The event was hosted jointly by the Muslim Students Association, the Oberlin College Dialogue Center, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Law and Society Program and the Gender and Women Studies program.
Joneydi began by discussing the widespread perception that “Islamic traditional law prohibits women from serving in the judiciary.” She discussed the serious consequences of this misconception on state actions, as well as on the functioning of international arbitrations.
She then explained the role of women in Iranian judiciary through a historical perspective. “Perhaps the most important event in modern Iranian history was the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, an event that laid the grounds for a democratic Iran,” she said.
She highlighted how women had virtually no representation in the judicial system before the revolution: “Even after the revolution, it took more than two decades before women could enter the judiciary… One of the first major steps was the entrance of women to law schools in the 1950s. Within a decade after this, women had began to prove their mettle in the legal system.”
She added that the Islamic Revolution of 1979 dragged this process backwards, resulting in what she termed a “regression.”
“The Revolution of 1979,” said Professor Joneydi, “saw a resurgence of restrictive approaches to the interpretation of traditional Islamic law. A ceiling was imposed on the number of women who could be admitted into law school, and women previously serving in judicial posts were placed in administrative ranks.”
These restrictive and “regressive” measures led to a women’s movement that sparked a lifting of the ban on the number of women admitted into law school. Consequently, this movement, which grew to be more of a social phenomenon, saw women regaining the higher posts in the judiciary and also spurred a rise in the number of female law graduates and the activism of bar associations.
Professor Joneydi, sees the role of bar associations, a progressively critical media and constructive academic societies as pivotal in maintaining civil liberty in society, especially in Iran.
One of the highlights of her lecture was her explanation of the sources of Islamic law and her arguments refuting the claims made by “restrictive” interpretations. With references to the Holy Qur’an, history of the Islamic Caliphate and various Islamic schools of interpretation, she demonstrated how the verses and instructions are misinterpreted and misquoted by a certain section of Islamic jurists to bolster their restrictive conceptions.
The lecture was followed by a question and answer session, which saw many students, staff and faculty members putting forward queries to the lecturer. Professor Joneydi, in most of her responses, asserted how women are aptly represented in academic and social environments in Iran and how the atmosphere is both congenial and motivating for women to step forward and take their place actively in the larger society.
Professor Joneydi’s historical, religious and legal perspectives brought her to the following conclusion, which she proclaimed confidently: “I feel that there is no hindrance that prevents women from serving in judicial posts in Islam.”