July-August 2020 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

The murder of a teenage girl in Iran by her father has led to a reexamination of the status of women in the harshly Islamic republic.

Romina Ashrafi, 14, was beheaded by her father, Reza Ashrafi, after he learned of her plan to run off with her 29-year-old boyfriend. Child marriages are common in Iran, but in this case Ashrafi disliked the man and refused to allow his daughter to see him. When Romina persisted, he murdered her in what has been called an “honor killing.”

Reza Ashrafi is in jail awaiting trial, but under Iran’s version of Islamic law he’s not facing the normal sanction for murder in Iran, the death penalty, because he was Romina’s father and legally her guardian. If her mother had killed the girl, however, she could have faced death.

The New York Times reported that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has asked the country’s parliament to pass legislation protecting women from sexual and physical abuse. But hardliners in the government oppose the measure.

“The laws for violence against women are enough,” Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, a conservative cleric and lawmaker, told Iranian media. “We cannot execute Romina’s father because it’s against Islamic law.”

Although Iran operates under its own interpretation of Islamic law, the status of women in the country is actually a little better than in other Islamic nations, such as Saudi Arabia. Iranian women may hold professional jobs, attend universities and even hold seats in government. But they face significant restrictions: They must cover their hair and bodies when in public, and may not travel outside the country without the permission of a male relative.

Reformers said the pace of change is exasperating.

“Everyone is infuriated and shocked because it’s a reminder that these laws are abnormal, these laws need to change,” Shadi Sadr, a women’s-rights lawyer who lives in exile in London, told The Times. “These laws were not meant for a woman or a child to be killed.”