Campaign for Equality

Shirin Ebadi

Tuesday 24 October 2006

For years, the Western world has tried to paint a dark picture of Iranian society, especially, as it concerns Iranian women. Iran’s legal sanctioning of stoning and the execution of minors only serve to reinforce these negative images.

Iranian intellectuals have objected to portrayals of Iran that are primarily based on such markers and have pointed to the inherent biases of highlighting only the dark features of their society.

One of the most impressive facets of Iranian social life is that women comprise 65% of university students, making Iranian women more educated than their male compatriots. Such statistics put Iranian women on a similar level to that of women in advanced European countries and are a great source of pride. They also serve as a stark contrast to women’s subordinate legal status. Angry at their legal subordination, Iranian women ask themselves questions such as: Why should the life of a woman be half the value of a man’s? When a car hits and injures a man and a woman, why should the driver be obligated to pay the woman half the damages entitled to the man? Is it a sin to be a woman? Is human dignity based on gender?

Educated and conscious women in Iran ask themselves why the legal testimony of two women is equal to the testimony of one man? And worse, why can the system punish and whip women who have chosen to bear witness to a crime in the absence of any willing male witnesses? Articles 75 and 76 of the Islamic penal code states:

Article 75: In cases of zena [fornication], where the punishment is had-e jeld [lashing], the testimonies of two just men and four just women suffice.

Article 76: The testimonies of women alone cannot prove guilt or innocence. Nor can the testimony of only one man. Furthermore, had-e ghezf [punishment of 80 lashes] can be imposed on such witnesses.

Is it right in the 21st century to use lashing as a form of punishment? For years, this and hundreds of similar questions have preoccupied the minds of many Iranian women. They have used various means to express their opposition to discriminatory laws, and have used every opportunity to speak of equality and justice. Whether they were arguing for the legal rights and protection of girls, opposing stoning and early marriages, or protesting against gendered discrimination in family laws, Iranian women have been voicing their opposition. And underlying all these protests was that single pressing demand: "Equality of rights between women and men in the laws of Iran."

Now, Iranian women are spelling out this demand. A campaign to reform discriminatory laws has begun. This campaign will collect one million signatures from Iranian women and men to protest against this legal degradation. The feminist movement has taken another step forward by demanding the elimination of ALL legal inequalities against women.

The feminist movement of Iran believes that women’s rights and democracy are intimately related. Without equality of rights, there can be no democracy. The victories of feminist movements in all countries can open the way for democracy. Of course, this means victory of women in the true sense. The rise in power of a few select women, or the election of a handful of women to the Parliament will not solve anything. The true victory of women will occur when discriminatory laws are lifted.

The important question is, how will this take place? Are we thinking too big? To answer this question, we must argue that the feminist movement of Iran cannot limit itself to one or two legal clauses. The goal of equality is much larger. The world must know the demands of Iranian women who refuse to submit to discriminatory laws. Iranian society cannot afford to tolerate such laws.

We support actions, which aim to eliminate laws such as stoning as a form of punishment. But we want to go further and demand "complete equality" of rights between women and men. If you, too believe in human equality, visit this website and support your sisters and brothers.

Translated by Mahsa Shekarloo

This article was originally published in Farsi in

The Farsi Version of the Article



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