I Wish Azita L Would Play Me Today
By: Nahid Jafari
Tuesday 7 October 2008
Translated by: Sussan Tahmasebi
It was 10:00 Am and I had a meeting scheduled for 11:00. I had been invited to a park to speak about the Campaign at a meeting of women. I hoped to get signatures from those who agreed with the statement of the petition and the aims of the Campaign. The group I was supposed to meet was a group of women my own age who gathered in a park in Sa’adat Abad on a weekly basis, to talk with one another and perhaps at the end eat a sandwich and then go home. I placed several booklets on the laws and the petition forms in my bag put some lotion on my hands and face and some blush on my cheeks. For some reason, after all this time, I felt like putting on some pink blush, which would go well with my pink headscarf.
I got into the communal Taxi going toward Sa’adat Abad. In my head, I practiced how I would start the discussion about the Campaign, and what I would say after the intro, and thought about when I should distribute the booklets and ask for signatures. There was a woman in the front seat of the Taxi, and I was sitting behind the driver. A man and a woman got on together. As soon as the taxi drove off, I took out the petition forms from my bag. "Excuse me. Have you heard anything about the One Million Signatures Campaign?" I asked the woman sitting next to me. She said no. I started to explain about the Campaign, when we started the effort and what our goals were.
— "Excuse me. Just one question…Is it for your new soap opera..?" She interrupted, by asking.
The woman started to explain that Azita L was an actress who played in Iranian soap operas, and tried to remind me of the different programs featuring her which had run on Television. I tried to listen to her explanations, but my mind kept wondering. I was praying to myself that the actress Azita, well even if not beautiful, had at least a bearable appearance, that she wasn’t too fat, and that she didn’t play roles that promoted negative stereotypes about women, when my thoughts were interrupted once again. "Excuse me miss, will you sign as well? Finally we have seen a program that is useful for all women, not just a select few…" I realized that the man and woman sitting next to me had already signed the petition and were asking the woman in the front seat if she was interested in signing.
In an open space in front of a building belonging to the State Welfare Organization, there were a number of white lawn chairs and benches arranged in a circle. There was a whiteboard too. It seemed that this group of women gathered on a weekly basis to receive counseling from a social worker, and to spend a few hours talking to one another. I listened to the discussions, all the while searching for the woman who had invited me to the gathering. I had met this woman in another park the previous day and spoken to her about the Campaign. She signed the petition and invited me to her meeting today. The social worker was explaining about the impact of the programs focused on women, which were sponsored by the State Welfare Organization. The other women were giving me sideways glances and trying to assess who I was—the new comer to the group.
Sitting down in the park, I cooled down a bit. In my hands, I was holding the tissues that I had used to wipe off the sweat from my face, and I was looking for a trash can, so as to dispose of them.
I was deep in my own thoughts. I wondered on which station I could find Ms. Azita L? How could I get the Campaign’s petition forms and booklet to her? Who knows, she might even be supportive of the Campaign… I wondered if she had heard about the objections of women’s rights activists to the television programs sponsored by the state broadcast agency. Women’s rights activists had held a meeting to assess these programs and the negative stereotypes of women they promoted at the Journalists Association. I wondered if she had heard about that program. I wondered if she knew any of the artists who had supported the Campaign. I hoped that she played different roles in her soap operas, and objected to polygamy as a model for women, refusing to play in soap operas that promoted this concept….I wished…
With an offer of lemonade, I came to myself and rejoined the group. I thanked the lady who had brought me the drink and welcomed me so kindly.
I had been sitting in the group for about an hour and a half. I had remained quiet of course. Every so often, when my mind would stop wondering and I could free myself of my fantasies, I would listen to portions of the discussions of the group and again…
Hearing the ruckus and the disruption in the order of the meeting, I realized that the meeting had come to a close. The social worker, whispering in my ear, asked what I had intended to speak about.
— "I want to speak about the One Million Signatures Campaign, which we started about a year and half ago. It seeks to change discriminatory laws against women."
I really wished that our conversation wasn’t just between the two of us and that the group was able to participate and hear what I had to say. But, it seemed that the social worker was not too keen on this idea. She continued whispering: "you see this program is sponsored by the State Welfare Organization, which is a government entity. So you can’t speak about the Campaign here. What you are doing in the Campaign is illegal and I would be responsible, and…"
My face turned red with anger, my mouth became dry with a bitter taste. "You mean that we as women, can’t even talk about our rights among ourselves and to do this would be illegal? The law is not just ours these laws govern your life as well. By the way, on the list of your goals I noticed that this group is set to discuss issues such as violence and addiction, which made me very happy indeed, because many of these same laws contribute to violence against women. You mean you can speak about violence but avoid the violence that is perpetuated in the law?" I asked.
In a low voice, and fraught with pain, I spoke to the social worker about the social and family situation of women. I pleaded in the hopes that she would allow me to address the group about these issues and the aims of the Campaign. But in the end, she still refused me a platform for discussion with the group. As I was speaking with the social worker, one of the women came over to offer me a sandwich. My throat was closed, and I didn’t feel hungry one bit. I was so upset, that I didn’t want to eat anything.
I was upset, not because the social worker had denied me an opportunity to discuss the laws with the women in the group. Rather, I was upset, because I could not understand how this social worker, who based on her own claims had devoted her life to helping women, who could sit among other women and have a discussion with them, free of interference from police or the ever present security forces, could discuss domestic violence, economic violence, psychological violence, without addressing legal inequities and the violence they promoted.
I coldly bid the social worker farewell and got up to say goodbye to the rest of the group, without having spoken a word to them about why I had come to their meeting in the first place. All of a sudden I thought "why not give them some copies of the booklet on the laws, so that they can read it on their own." The signatures didn’t matter so much. At least they could read about the laws and their negative impact on the lives of women and families. It turned out to be an interesting experience.
I took out a bunch of booklets and as I said goodbye to the women in the group one by one, I handed each a booklet. All of a sudden they all started telling me that they had already signed the petition and that they had handed out these very booklets to others. One woman said: "I signed a long time ago, but I need some booklets to give to others."
These words renewed my energy and determination. All of a sudden I no longer felt upset, my frown turned into a smile and I handed the woman a bunch of booklets. Another woman asked for the new address of the Campaign’s site. I started writing the address of the site on the booklets. Another woman asked how many signatures we have collected and I said that the documentation committee had to announce the number of signatures.
During this time, the social worker held her head down, as if she was reading her own pamphlets!
Finally, I said my goodbyes and left to go home. On the way back in the Taxi, I started wondering about Ms. Azita L again. I wished that she could play me on this day.