Interview with Zina Modarresi, an Activist for the Campaign in Kurdistan
I hear the Voice of Liberation
Tuesday 31 July 2007
By: Maryam HosseinKhah
Translated by: Delaram Rad
Women from Kurdistan have been active participants in women’s efforts to gain equal rights, which encompasses a long history. They had an active participation in the peaceful protest in front of Tehran University, on the 22nd of Khordad ’84 (June 12, 2005) and along with their commitment to end legal discrimination against women in Iran, they joined in the Campaign, which was inaugurated in August 2006. We spoke with Zina Modarresi, a young activist from the One Million Signatures Campaign in Sanandaj about the style of the campaign’s activities and its progress in that city.
How and when did you become acquainted with the One Million Signatures Campaign?
I heard of the campaign’s plans from my friends at the Women’s Cultural Center during its very first days (at the beginning of fall), and I gained more thorough knowledge about the campaign’s plans by studying other websites.
What activities have you undertaken for women’s issues and how did you become interested in this subject?
Perhaps like for many others, the beginning of these activities arose from questions that I had on my mind since childhood. It started from the “whys” – the questions piled up so much that they weighed on my mind and I had to find ways of answering them: reading books and articles starting in my second year of high school, getting to know people and activists from Tehran and our city, Sanandaj, and likewise, my mother and her library, the women’s library of which many of our associates are members.
My own activities in this field were mostly studies, and sometimes writing for websites, and participating in setting up the March 8 ceremonies and workshops on the subject of women.
When did the campaign begin its work in your city?
Before setting up the workshop, a separate group had started to work through the website, but from the 2nd of Esfand (February 2007), when the educational workshop was held, we started our work in a serious and well-planned manner.
Before the Campaign began its work in your city, how were women’s issues pursued and what methods had the activists of your city developed to approach women’s issues?
The province of Kurdistan, and Sanandaj in particular, has a long history of activities on these issues. Considering the special circumstances of this region from any point of view (cultural, political, social, etc.), people are knowledgeable and motivated. Serious pro-women activities started around 1380 (2001), that is to say with issuing permits to non-governmental organizations which in turn held gender workshops, events in commemoration of International Women’s day on March 8th, and formed women’s literary and sports groups.
How did you come into contact with the first members of the Campaign in your city? What were their reactions?
Without exaggeration, everyone welcomed us enthusiastically. First, I discussed the issue of the campaign with women activists, college students, and any individuals from any background who came to mind. Everyone was enthusiastic and motivated. Several said they wouldn’t participate, because of the special circumstances here, the small size of Sanandaj, the fear of being fired or expelled from university, fear of condemnation by elders, and other sorts of problems and fears. Of course, there were continual questions besides their doubts and perpetual fear. We were trying to address those doubts. In any case, some were convinced and some were not.
How did you put together the educational workshop of the Campaign? How many people participated in that workshop? What were their backgrounds and how old were they?
We were waiting for trainers from Tehran to come to Sanandaj to hold the educational workshop. But given the fact that many of these trainers were very busy with trainings as well as other engagements, especially the Campaign’s lawyers, who provide training on the legal aspects of the Campaign, we decided to take a different approach. We changed our plans and went to Tehran instead. We departed at night and arrived in Tehran in the morning. We stayed at the home of one of the Campaign members, who had kindly given up her home, so that the workshop for activists from Sanandaj could take place. The training workshop was held and we returned to Sanandaj that same night! It was a tight schedule. There were eight of us – three people from Marivan and five from Sanandaj. After the educational workshop, which was implemented as a training of trainers program, we were charged with the responsibility of replicating the workshop for others in Sanandaj and surrounding areas, because it clearly it isn’t possible for all those interested in joining the Campaign to go to Tehran for training. Most of the activists were women, one a housewife and two college students. The members who participated in the workshop ranged from a 20 year old (myself) to a 50 year old woman, who is very active on women’s issues in Sanandaj.
Explain more about the process of forming the workshop. How did you find a place? How did you coordinate people, and…?
Our associates in Tehran had the challenge of putting together the first workshop. For later programs, we gathered either in private residences or in the office of one of our Campaign members in Sanandaj. We coordinate mostly in person or over the phone.
How did this workshop affect your work?
Well, besides the instruction, the Campaign’s primary issues and the legal discussions were really very good, and the excitement and energy of the Campaign’s members also gave people energy and made us more enthusiastic to continue with this work. People’s experiences were also a big help.
The activists of the Campaign in your city are predominantly of which background and which age group?
They’re from all backgrounds (employees, homemakers, teachers, etc.), but it can be said that college students make up the largest percentage.
What methods have you undertaken to communicate with volunteers of the Campaign in your city? Do you have a website or a blog? Do you communicate through e-mail or through actual meetings?
I am in contact with the Tehran Campaign through the website, but I have face-to-face meetings with members of the Campaign from our own city.
What is the method of organizing the campaign’s projects in your city? Have you formed various committees, or do you work from the top down?
The conditions of the city of Sanandaj are very different from those of other cities for these types of activities. In any case, we have both formed committees and worked alone, and every once in a while we form a small workshop and train a new group of people, who also start to work on the Campaign.
At the present time, how many people in your city participate in the campaign?
35 people are working actively with us.
How many of them are men?
About ten of them, but of course most of them are college students.
What plans do you have to continue with the Campaign’s work?
The province of Kurdistan is one of the provinces where people are Sunni. In the courts here, a set of issues are handled and judged based on the personal conditions of the Sunni people, that is to say, some issues that were in the Campaign’s brochure don’t apply to us as Sunnis. Therefore, we decided to analyze the section on women’s rights in the Campaign’s booklet which explains the law, and compare it with the conditions of the Sunni people. With the help of motivated members of the Campaign, law students, and a legal organization in Kurdistan, we decided to hold a one day workshop designed to address the legal issues facing women in Kurdistan. The workshop will be taught by several trainers, including lawyers and professors from the University of Kurdistan.
What was the reaction of the people of your city to the Campaign and how well was this issue welcomed?
The welcome was very warm. After we formed a group and came to Tehran for a workshop, we started to work in a more organized fashion. When I went several places to collect signatures, I came face to face with several people who said they had seen the Campaign’s website and printed the petition, collected signatures from those around them, and even sent it to Tehran!
Well, like everywhere else, some resisted, while others were just waiting for the petition to reach their hands so they could sign it. The reason for resistance was mostly fear of what would happen to an individual who decided to become an activist within the Campaign, and who engaged in collection of signatures. Many warned me to be careful with respect to my activities in the Campaign. The situation in Kurdistan is very different from that of other cities. The cost of activism, especially on behalf of women, is possibly higher in Kurdistan than in other cities. Here we are quickly labeled, for even the most civil and legal of activities, as separatists or we are labeled as being political and accused of other activities.
Sanandaj is a relatively small city, and people who are active and who work are completely exposed and are known by most people, even though our work is nothing more than education and provision of information to community members and specifically women, on the legal status of women in Iranian law. Of course, because many people in Sanandaj have a history of activism and most of them are knowledgeable, the welcome was very good. People even provided us with monetary support for copies of the brochure and petition.
What about social activists and non-governmental organizations?
Non-governmental organizations have helped us more in the formation of educational workshops.
What kind of communication do you have with the Campaign’s activists in Tehran and other cities?
Our communication with the Campaign’s activists in Tehran is through the site and mostly through e-mail, but we are constantly in contact with several of them. We have been able to stay connected to those working in small towns around Sanandaj. But unfortunately, we really haven’t had much communication or interaction with members of the Campaign in other cities and provinces, besides Tehran and Kurdistan. I should mention that we are in contact with one of our friends in Rasht. We sent her information on the Campaign, explained its goals and shared with her the address of the website. She has started to work on the Campaign in her own city, since.
Thank you for answering our questions.
I also thank you. I hope that as a result of our hard work, we will be able to achieve equality and human rights. As one of my friends says, we are not used to seeing the fruits of our labor, so I am hopeful. I will never forget this part of Pouran Farrokhzad’s poem, which I always repeat: “I hear the voice of liberation… from faraway in space and time, from the dear voice of history!”