Parvin Ardalan: Text of Speech Delivered at the Olaf Palme Foundation
Friday 7 March 2008
Change for Equality: The following is the English Text of the speech of Parvin Ardalan, delivered via video during the ceremony where she was presented with the Olaf Palme Award. Parvin Ardalan was due to travel to Stockholm on March 3, but was banned from travel at the last minute. Her sister received the award in her place.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased and honored today to be selected as the 2007 recipient of the Olaf Palme Award. This award, granted each year in remembrance of a person who chose as his life’s path the pursuit of justice and peace, and in turn paid for this choice with his life, brings with it a profound sense of responsibility. I believe that bestowing this honor upon me, is not only an act of recognition for the individual struggles of women’s rights activists in Iran, but an honor acknowledging the collective actions of the women’s movement as well as other social movements in Iran. The granting of this award demonstrates that the efforts of those who work to defend equal rights and freedoms in Iran — despite the many ups and downs their struggles entail, and the patriarchal obstacles along their path — has indeed been effective. And yes, today our demand for justice has resonated with the international community. I too am aware that by receiving this award, I will be subject to greater pressures and accusations at home.
I dedicate this award to all the women of my country, to my mother, to the mothers of prisoners of conscience, and to all the other mothers of my land, who while enduring, have taught us how to resist discrimination, so that we too can pass on these teachings to our children and to future generations.
I had hoped that on this grand occasion, which also commemorates the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day and the just struggles of women around the world, I could be among you. But unfortunately immediately prior to my departure from Iran, I was banned from travel by the order of the courts and as such, was prevented from participating in this event. These types of actions are not unusual in my country, where being a woman and voicing just demands for equality requires continuous struggle and brings with it exclusion. I am proud that I am a secular woman, belonging to a movement with a 100-year history of struggle and resistance to achieve women’s rights. For more than 100 years, we too, like our sisters around the world, have struggled for the achievement of the most basic of our human rights, including freedom of choice in our private lives and our dress—demands which have been repeatedly sacrificed for the ideologically based policies of our governments. Especially in the three decades following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, many achievements of the women’s rights defenders who came before us were forfeited by the adoption of such policies. Laws such as the Family Protection Act, were overturned and our freedom to choose our own form of dress was transformed into a mandatory dress code for women, imposed and supported by the law.
For nearly three decades now, we have been struggling to achieve the right to divorce and equal rights in marriage for women. We have repeatedly claimed that polygamy rights for men create an unbearable and disgraceful reality for women. But these patriarchal laws have sustained. For years, we have objected to unequal diyeh, or compensation for bodily injury, and have wondered why it is that being a man or a woman determines the amount of compensation to be paid to accident victims? We ask why our laws recognize men as full human beings, setting them as the standard, and value women at half the male standard, and sometimes even less.
We state that in our society, culture outpaces the law. Women’s high rates in university-level education and their active struggle for a continued presence in the social, political and cultural spheres attest to these claims, and reaffirm that we cannot sustain a situation where laws lag behind our culture. We ask, why it is that the Iranian government is a signatory to international conventions such as the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, yet it does not feel obligated to implement them. We ask, if according to these international conventions all forms of official discrimination - including gender discrimination - are to be abolished, why do our laws not adhere to these commitments? Why, for example, are there quotas limiting the participation of women in fields of study at the University level?
For years, we have spoken of the need to increase the age of legal responsibility, yet young girls of 9 and boys of 15 are still found guilty of criminal offenses, and continue to be treated as adults. The only reduction given to these young offenders is the postponement of execution sentences for capital crime convictions until they reach the age of adulthood, or 18 years of age. Opposing executions in general, we wonder why we cannot put an end to the execution of these child offenders who have reached adult age.
For years now many Iranian women have faced a multitude of problems because they have married Afghan or Iraqi refugees. Because of our biased nationality laws, these women are unable to pass on their nationality to their children. We ask, why?
For years, we have spoken about putting an end to the practice of stoning and honor killings and changing the laws, which support such cultural practices that violate the rights of women. Yet honor killings and stoning punishments continue to claim victims. Now, these practices - these crimes - can no longer be viewed as cultural and traditional practices. Rather they are clear forms of violence against women, which are supported by the law, and as such, implemented with greater vigilance and force.
Currently hordes of women and men, are targeted, harassed and arrested by morality police across our country because of their dress. This program is implemented under the guise of a government program intended to protect the social security of citizens.
The demands of the social movements in Iran, including the student, workers’ and teachers’ movements, speak in support of justice and freedom. But many of the activists involved in these movements are currently imprisoned. The members of these movements are prevented from connecting and collaborating with other movements, and are facing increased pressures and crackdowns.
As women’s rights activists, we have exposed the negative impact of laws on our lives, through the employment of a variety of civil strategies. Criticizing and opposing these violent laws, we have demanded reform and change. But in response to our peaceful and civil objections, the government has charged us with security crimes, such as acting against the state or spreading propaganda against the state. But, if we, as civil society activists, as women’s rights defenders, and as citizens, are the disrupters of national security, who then we ask, are the protectors of national security?
Despite all these pressures, we continue to pursue our goals and to struggle to achieve our human rights. We do so, by examining the experiences of those who came before us, by strengthening our historical memories, by utilizing the experiences of Iranian feminists who came before us, and by feminists in other countries, by learning from their successes and challenges, by learning from their theories, by learning from the experiences of Iranian feminists in exile while valuing our own daily experiences and strengthening our own activism. Through such purposeful actions, we have enhanced the richness of our thinking by listening to and learning from different ideas and perspectives. Through these strategies we have tried to increase the spaces for our struggle to redress legal inequalities and to realize the equal rights of women.
Our efforts have also strived to build on the successes of our sisters in the region and to share information and experience regionally. This strategy will surely work to expand and strengthen the women’s movement in the region and beyond. The One Million Signatures Campaign is one innovative strategy of the women’s movement in Iran, which has utilized the experiences of our sisters in Morocco. While our Moroccan sisters started and implemented their campaign initiative with the support of their government, Iranian women have implemented their movement from below, at the grassroots level, through the collection of signatures in support of a petition demanding that the legislature change and reform discriminatory laws against women, and through face-to-face education of our fellow citizens. By connecting with our fellow citizens, we hope that we can raise awareness and strengthen demands to reform the current laws which discriminate against women.
Today, a year and a half into the Campaign, we have not managed to change any laws, but we have increased awareness and promoted democratic and innovative discussions. We have managed to expand the discourse on women’s rights, which has penetrated various layers of society, seeping even into official institutions of our country; and we have forced officials to react and respond to our demands. In this process, we have tried to democratize civil society, because we believe that the path toward democracy must first and foremost include equal rights for women. We can no longer marginalize women’s demands for equal rights and we must reject the tired excuse that broader demands need to be addressed first.
The One Million Signatures Campaign, with its specific and tangible demands, with its civil and peaceful approach of collecting signatures, with the commitment of its activists who have paid a high price for their struggles, and with the generous support of its lawyers, who provide their services and support for free, has gained international renown . To date, more than 50 Campaign activists - the majority of whom are in their twenties, both men and women, living in Tehran and in the provinces - have been arrested, threatened, or called into court. They have been targeted for their peaceful activities in support of the Campaign, such as collecting signatures on the metro or in parks, participating in rights workshops or writing articles in support of women’s rights for the Campaign’s website, Change for Equality. Currently two of these activists remain in prison.
At the heart of this movement are the mothers of activists who have become active in support of the Campaign and their children. These mothers support younger activists when they are arrested, they follow-up on their cases and push for their release. They too have taken on the struggle of their children by engaging in civil actions to pursue equal rights. The entrance of mothers, fathers, and other family members of activists, into the equal rights movements and peace movements, has expanded the reach of our effort and has strengthened the bond between different movements in Iran. Currently, many student and workers’ movement activists continue to be imprisoned, and their family members have become active members of those same movements.
Today the slogan of the Campaign, Change for Equality, has transcended geographic borders. It has done so with the support and assistance of its activists and supporters inside and outside the country, the support of international networks of Iranian and international supporters, feminists and human rights defenders. The significant support of international feminist organizations, the international press, and human rights groups provided to Iranian activists to amplify their demands and highlight their situation is worthy of great praise. Iranian women’s demands have been pursued and supported by social movements, activists and human rights organizations across the world. The continuation of our struggle and movement relies heavily on supporters inside and outside Iran.
The equal rights movement in Iran, benefiting from these relations is quickly gaining strength and momentum. Of course, our opponents have grown stronger and more determined as well.
But no fear! The peaceful activism in which we believe will strengthen our resolve. And we will continue to be empowered and energized by the fact and belief that the energy which flows through our daily lives is at once innovative, productive, stimulating and powerful. We will guard it with our lives. Thank you!
Translated by: Sussan Tahmasebi