Men and the One Million Signatures Campaign
Thursday 23 August 2007
By: Ali Abdi
Translated by: Pouran
I have great respect for men and admire many of them for their support of gender equality. However, it seems that men tend to be less interested in hearing about changes in discriminatory laws than women are and at times, men tend to react strangely to this issue. Discussion of the “One Million Signatures Campaign” with men and amongst groups of men also seems to be more difficult in the absence of women.
On the other hand, men who support and actively work to promote gender equality and equal opportunities for all human beings are treated with suspicion, as if they have an ulterior motive for their involvement in efforts designed to address these disparities. In the other words these male activists are often accused of having a hidden agenda which drives their feminist activities. What makes matters worse is that men, who are currently active in the Campaign and work to promote gender equality, are presumed guilty unless proven innocent. Very often, when collecting signatures in support of the Campaign’s petition, some men react by asking why they should sign the petition asking for changes in the laws, when as men they benefit from existing laws that allow them to unilaterally divorce their wives or to ensure that she remains under their control. Supporting such an effort does not make sense to some men, and as such they come to believe that there must be some other reason for reason other than a commitment to human rights and equality that causes men to support and be actively involved in the effort.
A few days ago in a family gathering, upon conclusion of our regular political and social discussions, I decided to initiate a discussion about the “One Million Signatures Campaign.” One of the guests, who had gone through a divorce the previous year, and had spent some time in prison for not paying dowry to his wife, bitterly accused me of not knowing the law. In an angry tone, he explained that “the existing laws discriminate against men, and they used these same laws to put me in jail, because my ex-wife filed a complaint against me for non-payment of dowry. I was only released upon paying her dowry, the sum of which I had to borrow from friends." He went on: "you don’t need to be more catholic than pope. Women do indeed have enough legal rights."
I explained that women who demand dowries as part of their marriage contracts do so mostly because of the discriminatory nature of the law, as a safeguard or guarantee to ensure that they have some rights within marriage, and if the women had equal rights for divorce, then we would certainly not be witness to such problems. While complaining about how he was mistreated in jail, this man disagreed with me. He went on to explain that since this incident and having been placed in jail he felt embarrassed in front of his family and friends.
We exchanged more ideas, yet he was adamant that the laws were discriminatory against men rather than women, again citing his jail experience as evidence. He believed that was out of my mind to be defending women’s rights and on his way out, he warned my mother that "you should take your son to a psychologist to get his thinking straight.”
Our guest’s behavior, in my opinion, indicates that those who are impacted negatively by discriminatory laws, will become take action intended to bring about change. Our guest spoke so passionately about the law, because he had suffered from its discriminatory nature and was himself a victim. It’s no wonder that women, who tend to be the main victims of discriminatory laws, are most inclined to become involved and active in the “One Million Signatures Campaign.”
Men, whether they realize it or not, too will benefit from changes in laws that discriminate against women. Once women can enjoy equal rights within the framework of marriage and society, requests for dowry by women, will no doubt diminish or end all together. These changes will also result in a healthier society, where equality, fairness and civility are reinforced, in turn increasing productivity and social disorder and reduction of domestic violence.
Regardless of gender, elimination of discrimination based in the law, is a basic human need. The effort to change these laws is an attempt at reinforcing the concepts of human rights in both the private and public realms. As such, both men and women should demand changes in discriminatory laws, no matter who they discriminate against.