Women’s Rights in Iran in Focus at UN Event

Sunday 8 March 2009

Iranian women face serious challenges on many fronts in their struggle for gender equality, despite their important role in all spheres of society, a group of prominent women’s rights activists from the country said today during an event organized by non-governmental groups attending the UN’s 53rd session of the Commission on the Statues of Women (CSW).

The group spoke at a panel entitled, “Inequalities between women and men, violence against women, and HIV/AIDS in Iran.” The event was organized by the Italian Association for Women in Development (AIDOS).

While women’s rights advocates have been working for equality for over 100 years, the past few years have witnessed policies which sharpen gender inequalities. For the past three decades, the state has promoted policies based on the concept of equity, rather than equality—in other words, policies based on the claim that women and men are different, and as such, different rights, responsibilities and roles should be accorded to them. Women’s rights advocates however are striving toward legal equality.

“Iranian women are leading one of the most impressive and dynamic movements for gender equality in the world today. The wide range of activities discussed by these activists and the challenges facing them is a testimony to the importance and urgency of the struggle for women’s rights in Iran,” said Daniele Colombo, AIDOS’ president.

Sussan Tahmasebi gave an overview of the grassroots movement, One Million Signatures Campaign, aimed at reforming Iran’s discriminatory laws against women. She highlighted the effects of legal discrimination on women’s lives and the Campaign’s peaceful activities to change it. She also discussed how the government has persecuted and prosecuted scores of Campaign activists, including Alieh Eghdamdoust, who is serving a three-year prison sentence for her participation in a peaceful protest against discriminatory laws.

Economic disparities and lack of equal employment opportunities disproportionately affect women, Khadijeh Moghadam said. She emphasized an urgent need for sustained programs promoting economic empowerment of women, noting that female-headed households, while increasing in number, suffer great economic hardships and many live below the poverty line. She identified patriarchal practices, legal discriminations against women and lack of policy initiatives as the main challenges for empowering women economically.

Regarding the punishment of stoning, Asieh Amini spoke about how discrimination against women, embedded in the legal code, coupled with unequal social conditions, lead to stoning sentences. She reported on her research about stoning cases of women in recent years and discussed the work of activists engaged in ending the practice of stoning.

Violence against women is particularly intense among provinces with tribal communities in Iran, Parvin Bakhtiarnejad noted. Discussing her in depth research on honor killings, she said that a host of social, economic, cultural, and legal biases against women in tribal communities has lead to increasing numbers of honor killings.

Fatemeh Farhangkhah focused on the problems of HIV infected/affected female heads of households. The majority of these women, many economically disadvantaged and HIV infected themselves, have to shoulder the burden of heading their households, and in many cases, their male partners are either serving drug-related prison terms or have succumbed to AIDS. These women, trapped under a double or triple burden of responsibilities of winning bread for the family, providing care for their children (who might also be HIV infected), and taking care of themselves, are often neglected by policy- makers, she said.

Shahla Akhtari discussed the challenges of improving cooperation between UN agencies and Iranian NGOs, and offered recommendations for both NGOs and the UN. She emphasized the importance of such cooperation to address a host of urgent issues facing Iranian women, as detailed by the other panelists, toward an end to gender inequalities.

Press Release issued by the Italian Association for Women in Development (AIDOS)


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