10 Reasons Why You Should Be Following The Iranian Elections

While you may have noticed and admired the recent Snap Judgments featuring women participating in Iran's political process, you may not have realized why the women in Iran believe this election, taking place tomorrow, is so important.

1.There are 4 main candidates for President: current President Mahmoud Ahmadenjad, who is widely viewed as an opponent of women's rights and a hard-liner against engagement with America; reform (but still conservative) candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi; reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi; and conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaie. All but Ahmadenijad have made deliberate appeals to female voters.

2.Unlike in other countries in the region, women in Iran are encouraged to be well-educated, have a high literacy rate and are very active participants in their political processes.

Iranian women are among the most highly educated and socially active in the Middle East. Women have a 77% literacy rate and account for 60% of university students, according to local census. Half of the eligible voters in Iran, which has a population of 72 million, are females.

But they still face discrimination in some ways.

Activists say women in Iran are subject to discrimination that makes them second-class citizens in divorce, inheritance, child custody, legal matters and other aspects of life.

They're also more subject to unemployment then men, in a country with an already-high unemployment rate.

More than 60 percent of Iran's university students are women but with unemployment in Iran running at 20 percent, employers can afford to be selective. Many prefer men, and women make up only 15 percent of the workforce.

So, many women are not exactly happy voters at the moment.

3.Current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad's election resulted in a harsh crackdown on women's rights in Iran, the results of which some women have felt strongly.

During president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's term in office, several women's rights activists have been jailed and the morality police, who try to ensure that women are dressed according to Islamic guidelines, have stepped up their patrols. "Ahmadinejad has tried to put women back in the house for the past four years," says Koulaie, the former parliamentarian. Many women have chafed under these restrictions. "We want the morality police patrols to stop," says Mahsa Motavalizadeh, a 19-year old university student who attended [Mir Hossein Mousavi's wife Zahra] Rahnavard's rally earlier this week.

Many women are disturbed by the post-Ahmadenijad restrictions on the freedoms they previously enjoyed.

4.In addition, Ahmadenijad's term in office has been marked by attacks on women's rights activists in particular.

But activists say dozens of campaigners have been detained since they launched a campaign in 2006 to try and collect one million signatures on a petition demanding greater women's rights. Most of them were released after a few days or weeks.

One imagines that prison time in Iran would be a pretty decent deterrent for women who were politically engaged, but these women stayed engaged.

5.In addition, most international observers feel that although even the reform candidates would be unlikely or unable to effect significant changes in Iran's foreign policy, Ahmadinejad's reelection would mean that President Obama's timeline for increasing pressure on Iran would be moved up.

However, some experts say an Ahmadinejad loss may buy Iran more time from the United States.

"If Ahmadinejad wins, there will be no transition and you will see the administration not wanting to waste more time on the negotiations and sanctions," said Carnegie's Sadjadpour,

If he loses, however, the Obama Administration will likely give a new President time to get his arms around the policy.

6.Ahmadenijad's reported top contender is Mir Hossein Mousavi, who broke with tradition and is actively campaigning with his wife, Zahra Rahnavard. Rahnavard is, herself, a force to be reckoned with and a strong supporter of women's rights.

She was active in the struggle to oust the Shah in the late 1970s and is the author of a popular book on Islam and women's rights. She went on to earn a master's degree in art and a doctorate in political science and was appointed as the chancellor of Tehran's Al Zahra University in the late '90s. During the same period, she served as a political advisor to Khatami.

Iranian press has dubbed her Iran's Michelle Obama.

7.Mousavi and Rahnavard have promised to roll back some of the crackdowns against women of the Ahmadinejad years.

She talks about providing women with more rights before family courts, better education opportunities and more jobs. That is not only appealing to the female half of the estimated 46 million eligible voters — many of their fathers, brothers and husbands also think this the right way forward.

Rahnavard is considered one of the reasons that Mousavi appears to have so much support, especially from women.

8.Mehdi Karroubi, a more liberal candidate than Mousavi, has proposed a variety of reforms, including the elimination of the law requiring women to cover their hair, and talked of appointing women to significant cabinet positions.

Presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist cleric, has said he is against forcing women to wear the Islamic veil. He recently debated with his team the number of cabinet posts women should fill. Mr. Karroubi's top advisers lobbied for the foreign ministry, speculating that when relations with the U.S. normalize, the new foreign minister could shake hands with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Although no one quite expects him to top Mousavi or Ahmadinejad in the polls, his inclusion in the race is significant because Iranian law allows the top clerics to pick the candidates.

9.Even conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaie has reached out and appealed to women voters and spoken of reforms to benefit women.

Conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaie, who formerly headed Iran's Revolutionary Guards, has an advisory team of accomplished women and said he plans to reform the law so it ensures more equality for women. Mr. Rezaie has said he will place Iranian women in top posts in politics, education and management both in and outside the country.

That means, potentially, female ambassadors, too.

10.Most observers feel that, like in nearly every election in the States, women will play the deciding role in who becomes (or remains) the President of Iran.

Iranian Presidential Contenders Court Women Voters [Wall Street Journal]
Women's rights activists pin hopes on Iran vote [Hindustan Times]
The Woman Ahmadinejad Should Fear [Spiegel Online]
Woman On The Scene [Newsweek]
In Iran Race, Ex-Leader Works to Oust President [NY Times]
In Iran, A Reformer Can Only Do So Much [CBS]
Will Iran's 'Marriage Crisis' Bring Down Ahmadinejad? [Time]

Earlier: A Face In The Crowd
Paint By Numbers
Iranian Graffiti
Women In Iran Work For Equal Rights, Better Future