Women in Iran (illustrative)
Women in Iran (illustrative)Reuters

Women's Day was celebrated in Iran on Sunday.

But the celebration - which, in Iran, is set on the birthday of Fatima, Mohammed's daughter and the first wife of the first Imam of Shi'ite Islam, Ali - was highlighted by deep divides between the Islamic Republic's fundamentalist leaders and its more "moderate" politicians over women's rights.  

According to Walla! News, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei addressed the holiday on Saturday, stating that "equality between women and men is a Western matter and completely wrong." 

"[Gender] equality is not always the outcome of justice," he added.

Khamenei also showed contempt for working women, masking the notion that women are to remain at home behind "concern for the poor."  

"What sense does it make that the woman - whom God created both physically and emotionally to fill a special part of life - will be forced into areas which lead her against her will, into facing difficulties and suffering?" he said, regarding women working. 

Women face a number of difficulties in Iran, which follows Islamic sharia law. According to the law, women are restricted from taking certain majors at university, from traveling abroad without official permission, and from dressing in any way which deviates from strict modesty laws. Legally, a woman's testimony is only worth half that of a man's - a stricture Amnesty International says leads to discrimination in divorce proceedings, child custody cases, and inheritance disputes.

Dissenting Voices

President Hassan Rouhani, an alleged "moderate" in Iran, expressed direct support for Women's Day and the concept of women's rights in a well-received address earlier this week.

“I, as the head of the government, confess there are still so many deficiencies with regards to the vindication of women’s rights,” Rouhani told a conference attended by members of Iran’s female elite. The conference was recorded by Al-Arabiya

“Based on the Islamic criteria, we neither consider men as the first sex nor women as the second sex ... they both have the same human dignity and none is superior,” he said, drawing warm applause.

“Is it possible to corner and marginalize the role of half of the society? Women should enjoy equal opportunities, security and social rights,” he continued. “We will not accept the culture of sexual discrimination.”

Rouhani also slammed Khamenei and others for linking Islam and women's discrimination, according to Walla!

"Those who are now afraid for women's rights and empowerment, or have [sexist] perceptions - I do not want to see them link their mistake to Islam or the Koran," he stated.

Rouhani's statements garnered the support of other politicians, including Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani. On Sunday, Larijani stated that "insistence on forcing women to take care of the household [. . .] and issues social exclusion - these traditions are wrong."

Discord in Iranian politics

This is not the first time Rouhani and Ali Khamenei have disagreed on political issues. 

Controversy has reigned over Iran's actual stance on the Holocaust, which has allegedly turned more "moderate" since President Hassan Rouhani was elected to power, but hinges on which elected official speaks. 

Earlier this year, Iranian Foreign Minister Javvad Zarif stated at the Munich Security Conference that the Holocaust was “tragically cruel and should not happen again.” He later allegedly added that “We have nothing against the Jews. We do not feel threatened by anyone." Hardliners later upbraided Zarif over the statements.

In September, Zarif wrote on Twitter that Iran had never officially denied the occurrence of the Holocaust, and that former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denied the Holocaust and openly called to wipe Israel off the map, was no longer in power.

That tweet came in response to Christine Pelosi, the daughter of the U.S. House Minority Leader, after Zarif joined Rouhani in sending Rosh Hashanah wishes to the Jewish people.

Rouhani himself later stated in an interview on CNN that the Nazis committed a "reprehensible" crime against the Jewish people.

Iran subsequently claimed that CNNhad misrepresented Rouhani's statements, claiming the network added the words "Holocaust" and "reprehensible" to its translation.

In addition, Khamenei claimed in March that the Holocaust may never have happened at all, and claimed that Europe's persecution of Holocaust deniers infringes on human rights.