Published: February 22nd, 2023
In light of recent events, The Australian Global Health Alliance holds grave concerns for the health and wellbeing of all Iranian people, particularly for the health, safety and rights of women and girls.
The Alliance strongly condemns the ongoing violence and suppression of free speech in Iran and the limited access to health resources for Iranians who are accused of taking part of the uprisings.
Following the tragic death of Jina Mahsa Amini perpetrated by the “morality police” of Iran, the Iranian people have been peacefully protesting for over 18 weeks but have faced violence and heavy-handed responses from Iranian authorities. As of 1st of February 2023, reports suggest that almost 20,000 individuals, including many children, have been arrested by Iranian security forces, with four announced executions and another 109 at imminent risk of facing the death sentence.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javaid Rehman, emphasised the disproportionate targeting of children in the protests, with more than 27 children killed, schools raided and many arrested for taking part in the protests. Iran has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, which includes every child’s right to health care, access to education, safety and protection from discrimination on the basis of status or activities. Despite being a ratifier, Iran is failing to uphold the agreements of this Convention.
We are concerned for the lives not only of protestors but also of the healthcare workers who face abuse and imprisonment for medical neutrality and failing to capitulate to the Islamic Republic regime’s forces. Doctors’ obligations to treat patients have collided with police tactics of deliberately injuring protestors and then waiting to arrest them once in the hospital; such tactics include undercover police surveillance. Additionally, ambulances have been mis-used by regime forces to suppress protests by infiltrating demonstrations and detaining protestors.
Due to this impact on healthcare workers, Iranian residents who are affected by the violence are reluctant to seek medical care in fear of repercussions. Iranians are therefore forced to seek out other avenues to gain medical attention or forego it completely, posing great threats to individual health outcomes.
Rights for women have been severely limited in Iran for the past few decades. They face discrimination in law and practice in most areas of life including health, education, marriage, divorce, employment, inheritance, and politics. Women have been fighting against the compulsory wearing of hijab for years, which is only one aspect of the systemic discrimination they face. The Youthful Population and Protection of the Family Law, which was ratified by Iran’s Guardian Council on 1 November 2021, severely restricts women’s access to abortion, contraception, and sterilisation in an attempt to boost the nation’s fertility rates. UN officials have stated that this is “in direct violation of women’s human rights under international law.” This law has alarming effects on women’s health and safety, and on healthcare services run by Iran’s government including:
1) Pregnant single women being refused admission to hospitals. As a result, Iranian news service IMNA reports that the number of newborn babies abandoned on Iran’s streets has increased sharply.
2) Doctors are pressured to report patients who seek contraceptives and those who fail to enforce government mandates face threats in losing their job.
Women in Iran lack access to platforms to raise their concerns and voices due to discrimination and any attempt to fight against these laws increasing risk of violence, detention and/or oppression. The restrictions on access to healthcare not only has crippling effects on women’s and healthcare workers’ welfare and safety, it also increases the burden on neighbouring countries. Without immediate and appropriate international support and assistance, the health and lives of millions of Iranians specifically women and girls continue to be at risk.
Encouragingly, the recent uprisings are the first time both men and women from various backgrounds are marching under the banner of women’s rights. By calling for ‘Zan, Zendagi, Azadi’, originating from the Kurdish phrase ‘Zhan, Zhian, Azadi’ meaning ‘Women, Life and Freedom’ there is an understanding that freedom for women means freedom for all. This is also significant for the social, political, and economical inequity imposed on ethnic minorities in Iran who have faced unequal rights when accessing healthcare services, education, and work opportunities under the regime. This is sign that with increased international support this movement has the potential to positively change the narrative for Iranian people more than ever before.
As a signatory to the UN Responsibility to Protect principle, Australia has an important role and responsibility to protect and fight for the health and human rights of the people of Iran. We urge the Australian Government to take the following immediate, targeted actions: