Focus on the Campaigner: Maral Farokhi
Interview by: Sussan Tahmasebi
Saturday 29 November 2008
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Maral Farokhi and I am 26 years old. I am a Masters level student in Cultural Studies at the Science and Culture University in Tehran.
How did you get involved in the Iranian women’s movement?
Before the start of the Campaign I was not involved in the women’s movement at all, but only read publications and websites related to women’s issues. A few months before the official start of the Campaign, I started to read the various sites related to women’s issues and heard about the Campaign. At that time, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what the Campaign was going to be like. On August 27, 2006 the official start of the Campaign, I attended the seminar at Ra’ad Institute [which security officials prevented from taking place]. I signed the petition of the Campaign outside Ra’ad conference hall on the streets, where the Campaign was officially launched. I gave my name to some of the Campaign activists who were there, who later contacted me to attend a training workshop on legal issues and women’s legal rights. After that training workshop I started volunteering with the Campaign.
So you attended a workshop and then what?
I was contacted a few times after the workshop to meet other volunteers and to discuss our activities and issues around signature collection for the petition of the Campaign. After about 3-4 months we established the Volunteers Committee of the Campaign and I became active in this committee and have been involved in this committee ever since.
What do you do in the Volunteers Committee?
We organize training workshops for volunteers and follow up with volunteers. First the Volunteers Committee was created to identify new volunteers, after about 6 or 7 months we came to realize that the Volunteers Committee should be charged with following up with volunteers, so that if there were people interested in becoming more active in the Campaign we could facilitate their increased involvement. Even for those who just want to collect signatures, the Volunteers Committee serves as facilitator in connecting these individuals with the Documentation Committee which is charged with collecting and documenting the signed petition forms.
Do you feel that the Campaign has played a role in empowering you and if so in what way?
I can say that the Campaign worked to raise awareness about women’s issues in me. I mean before the start of the Campaign, I always had questions about why things are the way they are, why women face discrimination, why women in our society face cultural impediments and why they are expected to play a certain gender specific role, and why our laws have to work to promote discrimination against women. I had these questions, despite the fact that in my family girls and boys were treated equally and I can’t say that the treatment of my brother was different from the treatment I received because I was a girl—we enjoyed the same freedoms and had the same restrictions. But in society there were cultural issues that I was aware of and upon my entrance into the Campaign, I became more aware of the impediments that women face in our society, and my questions and concerns became more active, rather than passive and I felt that I now had a strategy for addressing these concerns in a proactive manner.
After I started working in the Campaign I realized that my information on these issues was limited. So I started studying and reading about gender issues and women’s issues and the causes of inequality in our society. So my interest in social issues grew and I decided to pursue my studies at the Masters level in the social sciences. My BS in Engineering focused on the Management of Natural Resources, but am now studying Cultural Studies.
The experience of working in an environment which is so fluid where you are constantly meeting and working with new people, has been very interesting and empowering for me. I have actually come to deal with and meet people from such diverse backgrounds during this time and have developed friendships with people who I may never had met otherwise. It’s been a very exciting and interesting experience.
In 2007 you were arrested in the March 8th demonstrations in front of the Parliament, can you tell us about that?
There were some women’s rights activists still in prison on March 8, 2007, who had been arrested a few days earlier on March 4 in a protest in front of the Revolutionary Courts. We decided to hold a protest in front of the parliament on the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8th. Actually the protest was planned prior to the arrest of the 33 women in front of the Revolutionary Court, so we went ahead with it. I had only been involved in the women’s movement for about 6 months at that point, so this was my first experience in a public protest. Of course, I went to the 7th of Tir Square protest on the 12th of June 2006, but since I didn’t know anyone, I kept my distance and of course we were all prevented on that day from joining the crowd. So the March 8th protest in front of the Parliament was my first experience and I was arrested along with a friend of mine, Gita Ahmadi. We spent a day in Vozara Detention Center.
What’s the status of your case?
I was sentenced to two years suspended sentence for the period of three years, meaning that if in these three years I am found guilty of another crime, I have to serve the 2 year sentence. I have objected to the ruling of the court, and my case is in the appeals process now. My friend Gita Ahmadi who was arrested at the same time, was acquitted. Of course she was in the Campaign but she no longer is active in the Campaign or the women’s movement.
The members of the Volunteers Committee have consistently been targeted by officials for harassment. Your meetings in your private homes and even in public spaces are broken up, your members are called in for questioning, and even the home of one of the members was recently searched and her property seized. I believe this goes to attest to the fact that this Committee is an important entry point for those interested in joining the Campaign. Why do you stay involved in the Campaign despite all this pressure?
I think that during the course of these two years we have all come to believe that we have started something that we must see to fruition. I have this feeling that I am a part of the Campaign and the Campaign too has become a part of my daily life. So I am committed to it. And this ethical commitment keeps me from abandoning the cause of the Campaign. I am committed to its goals, to my friends in the Campaign and to myself and I believe that I have to see this through, despite all the pressures.
My sister, Nazli Farokhi, is 2 years younger than I am, and we are involved in the Campaign together. We entered the Campaign together. We have a lot of commonalities in this respect. We talk and discuss the Campaign and the Campaign has helped us to grow closer together. My parents are very supportive now, but at the beginning they were very concerned about our safety. They have always supported our goals in the Campaign, but they were initially nervous about our safety and worried that we would get arrested. But now they are no longer opposed to our participation in the Campaign and they now support our involvement—this support makes it easier for me to stay involved with the Campaign and to continue along the path that I know in my heart is right.