The City of Yazd has Joined the Campaign
Translation by Roja Bandari
Sunday 21 January 2007
Activists in the city of Yazd formally joined the “One Million Signatures Demanding Changes to Discriminatory Laws” Campaign upon the convening of an educational workshops in the City. Yazd is the sixth city to the campaign, since its start in the summer of 2007. Most cities which have joined the Campaign have done so because of the initiative taken by local activists. Usually activists in the provinces learn about the work of the Campaign and its educational and advocacy efforts through personal contacts or through the Campaign’s website www.we-change.biz. Upon deciding to join the Campaign, these activists identify 10-20 individuals interested in participating in the educational workshops implemented by trainers cooperating with the Campaign. Upon receiving appropriate training, activists in each city begin the work of face-to-face and alley-to-alley dialogue and education focused on the legal issues related to women.
The educational workshops have a fixed format. First the fundamentals of the campaign, and its goals are explained to volunteer participants at the workshop. Then a legal expert further explains the legal discriminations against women and answers any questions. Afterwards, one of the members of the education group explains how face-to-face education and dialogue should be carried out, including how volunteers with the Campaign should interact with the public when collecting signatures.
But this is not the whole story. Each city and each workshop has its own tale. For this workshop, a group of six people set out to Yazd. Our group included Zohhreh Arzani –a lawyer- who conducts the legal education component of the training, Sara Loghmani, who was charged with introducing the components of the Campaign and explaining the face-to-face methododology, Nahid Jafari, representing the financial committee of the Campaign, Jelveh Javaheri and Zara Amjadian, representing the volunteers committee, charged with identifying and recruiting new volunteers, and myself, Maryam Hoseinkhah, from the media committee charged with writing a report on the workshop in Yazd for the Campaign’s website. The workshop was scheduled at 2 in the afternoon on Thursday and the trainers boarded the train to Yazd on Wednesday.
Since Campaign members personally finance these educational activities, we work to save costs wherever we can. We usually take the bus or the train and the trips are most often only a day long. We generally don’t need a place to stay because we are often patrons of the train beds and bus chairs at night. And if we must stay the night, we are usually invited by local activists to stay in their homes. Trainers involved in implementing the educational workshops usually alternate and different groups of trainers go to different cities. This strategy is intended to allow for a variety of Campaign members in the City of Tehran to connect with their counterparts in the Provinces. It also allows for cost sharing between members, so that the burden of time and cost are not always focused on one group of volunteers. Yazd was no different. We left Tehran at 10 pm and arrived in Yazd at 7 am. The hours on the train gave us a chance to talk about the campaign and also examine new strategies for the collection of signatures. One suggestion included collecting signatures from passengers on the train, but since our time was limited and the number of Campaign booklets outlining some of the laws pertaining to women were few, we did not collect signatures from other passengers.
Upon arriving in Yazd, we realized that we had some time to see the City and also to collect signatures in support of the Campaign. Time spent in various cities, before the start of workshops are precious opportunities offered to us by the Campaign, allowing us to go for walks in the streets and back allyes of different cities of our country, to engage in discussion with different groups of people, informing them of the Campaign and asking them for their signatures in support of our efforts. Certainly this is a dream shared by many, but for years we felt that this level of connection with the general public was in fact unattainable for women’s rights activists. We all realize that, despite a strong focus on Tehran, the Capital of Iran, we need to reach further and that the seeds of knowledge need to be scattered in all corners of the country. In the past however we felt that this level of engagement with the grassroots was difficult at best and that our power was limited in this respect. The Campaign now serves as a welcome excuse for connecting, even if for a few hours, with our brothers and sisters across the country, listening to them and learning from their experiences.
Our hours of free time in Yazd gave us a chance to see the city with our hosts and also speak to a few people. The best part of this experience was at an old historic house, converted into a hotel, where the female manager, agreed to sign the petition asking for changes to discriminatory laws. While at the hotel, a few people who had come on a student tour overheard our conversations and entered the discussion. After a few minutes all the people in the hotel courtyard were talking about the Campaign and discriminatory laws against women. Things went so well that some people gave us their phone numbers and volunteered to collect signatures. A man who was the director of an educational institute in Tehran promised to give the campaign access to his assembly hall for seminars.
A woman who worked at a traditional tea house and the employees of another hotel signed the Campaign’s petition, as well. As usual, there were a few people who took our pamphlet explaining laws pertaining to women, but did not sign the petition. For example the head chef at the restaurant where we had lunch, took the booklet, read the statement of the petition, but didn’t sign, explaining that while being in agreement with all our demands, he found signature drives to be ineffective. We had hoped to go to the bazzar in Yazd, stroll the busy parks and streets of the city and talk to people about the laws, but there was no time and we had to get ready for our workshop.
The Yazd workshop was held in a small shop. The store owner had given us access to the property for a few hours and the Yazd crew had prepared it for the workshop by renting 20 chairs and a whiteboard.
The participants who had gathered for the workshop with the help of some activists in Yazd represented a wide group of citizens, including young men and women students, university professors, teachers, law trainees, and housewives. In Hamedan, Tabriz and Gorgan, the main task of coordination between individuals was done by non-governmental women’s organizations and the participants were often the active members of these organizations. But because NGOs were not as active in Yazd this group of trainees came together in different manner—through face-to-face interaction carried out by social activists, who connected with interested citizens and convinced them to become an active member of the Campaign in Yazd.
Like usual, the workshop began with the introduction of the campaign by Sara Loghmani. She spoke about the impetus behind the formation of this movement and emphasized: “The campaign wants to show that our independent and just women’s movement, is not limited to a few thousand women and Iranian women from every class, race, age and educational level face challenges due to the same discriminatory laws.”
Then Zohreh Arzani described the legal inequities inherent in the law. She discussed laws governing the institution of marriage, including the restrictions and advantages of marriage for women. She also discussed legal issues pertaining to divorce and explained that according to the divorce is an undeniable right provided to men. She further discussed child custody laws, and how mother’s rights have been denied in this respect through legal measures. Arzani also described the laws allowing for polygamy and explained that this law, which permits men to marry 4 wives and enter into an infinite number of temporary marriages (Sighe) has facilitated the some men’s insatiable appetites. Inequalities related to legal age of adulthood, the price of blood money paid for bodily injuries (dieh), a woman’s testimony, a woman’s right to serve as a judge, inheritance laws favoring men, and honor killings were some of the other issues discussed by this lawyer during the training.
Next, Nahid Jafari who participated in the training as a member of the Campaign’s financial committee explained some strategies for securing funding for the activities of the Campaign in Yazd. She explained that the Campaign organizers had largely benefited from financial support of its members and supporters, and through these contributions they were able to cover the costs associated with printing of educational booklets.
After an introduction to face-to-face educational techniques, used for the collections of signatures and a review of various approaches of outreach and education which may be useful in Yazd, educational booklets were distributed to training participants present in the workshop. Each volunteer received 20 booklets and a few signature forms. The participants decided that educational and signature collection activities should begin in Yazd, after the formation of a small working group of volunteers.
Zara Amjadian and Jelveh Javaheri provided insights on creating and expanding the network of volunteers in Yazd, by discussing some of their experiences in the Volunteer’s Committee of the Campaign. Mainly they focused their discussion on how the team in Yazd can go about recruiting new volunteers and organizing their efforts.
The workshop concluded with the exchange of contact numbers and a plan for a continuous and long-term collaboration. We hope that this initial training will transform into a purposeful and organized movement and perhaps even an impetus for the expansion and establishment of active women’s NGOs in Yazd.