Third Year Anniversary of the Campaign
Focus on the Campaigner: Somaiyeh Farid
Interview by: Sussan Tahmasebi
Friday 4 September 2009
Somaiyeh Farid has been active in the Campaign since November 2006, a few months after the start of the Campaign. She began activities in the Campaign after reading about it and about women’s issues and women’s rights in the site of Change for Equality, the website of the Campaign. This was her first experience in advocating for women’s rights. Prior to this, she was active in the student organization at Zanjan University, where she received a BA in Agriculture. Besides collecting signatures in support of the Campaign’s petition and engaging in discussion with the general public about women’s rights, she has worked in the Volunteers Committee, the Training Committee, the Committee on the Provinces and managed the Face-to-Face Section of the Change for Equality for a year. Somaiyeh is 28 years old.
Three years have passed since the start of the Campaign, how would you asses the accomplishments of the campaign over the past three years?
I think that the Campaign has been a unique movement from the perspective of the effect it has had on society over the last three years. During this time we have become familiar with the reality of society in Iran, that is to say its severe patriarchy, as if we were able to touch it. The Campaign with its demand for equality has broken the ice in addressing many areas. Up until now the approach toward women’s issues was such that it gave the impression that being a woman was considered a crime. In my opinion the Campaign has managed to infiltrate society with a new discourse-whether it be among the general public or among politicians and decision makers. This is the case for example, among reformists who did not consider women’s rights to be an issue of importance even while addressing issues such as freedom. Unwittingly they excluded women from their agendas. Among conservatives and Principalists who it seems accord little social and human value to women, but who have lately taken issues relating to women into account in their programs. The Campaign pushed women’s demands into the sphere of political activity. Many social movements, including the student and labor movements, which before the Campaign had a male dominated make-up and approach, took on a more female hue with the presence of Campaign activists who were also active in those movements. The female presence of the Campaign in all of the social movements, along with its own wide-ranging activities on behalf of change toward the interests of women, has truly been an unparalleled effort. The coalitions involving Campaign members and other women’s rights and social activists like the one objecting to the Family Bill, which through the wide mobilizations of activists resulted worked to prevent the passage of the Bill, is one very clear example of this.
What do you foresee for the future of the Campaign? Do you feel that it can or should continue along its path?
As to whether the Campaign should continue or not, I do not have a specific opinion because it’s an issue I am constantly engaged with on a mental and personal level. How is it possible to convince people who eagerly went polling stations and voted, and who are now faced with doubt with respect to the results of the elections, that it is possible to change something with a simple signature? How is it possible to compel a government to effect change when it has not taken seriously the objections of citizens to the results of the elections? From that point of view I think the Campaign has come to an end, but on the other hand if we consider it from the point of view of its ability to propagate discussion on women’s issues as a social reality, then it must remain and continue along its path. The Campaign now is not just about the collecting of signatures, but it is about proliferating society with a female discourse and with women’s perspectives. The Campaign’s website is one of the few sources in which it is possible to read women’s writings. Even in the selection and editing of news it has a specific difference with other sites. Of course as I said these are the concerns that come to mind and not my precise answer to this question.
What has been your motivation for involvement in the Campaign?
As far as my motivation is concerned, I have to admit that it has changed a great deal over the past years. At the time I became acquainted with the Campaign, equal legal rights were not a priority for me, because before that I did not have sufficient sensitivity to the gender inequities that exist in our society, or if I did that sensitivity was not deep inside me and I was not conscious of it. But with the passing of time along with the Campaign I feel the depth of gender inequities more and more each day and what is especially important is that I have become extremely sensitive to all forms of inequality. Now the question for me is not one of legal equality, for this is only the beginning of the struggle for equality at every social and human level. During every moment in which I do something with the aim of attaining one of the Campaign’s objectives, I feel good with respect to myself and my conscience, and my motivation is taking a step along the road to equality.
Given all the pressures on Campaign activists, what have you given up during your involvement in this effort and what do feel is the most important contribution the Campaign has made to your life?
Yes, the pressure during this time has been massive, for anyone who has been collecting signatures or engaged in any other sort of activism. Whether that person has experienced prison during this time or they have had to shoulder the burden of other concerns. Having one’s telephone bugged, or believing this might be the case, being worried about whatever it is we are doing, even about our private visits which have never been without attendant anxieties. Worries that have become part of our private lives, at least, they have become part of mine. Worries about unknown telephone numbers, the unexpected ringing of the doorbell, worries about losing my job, all these have been things I’ve experienced over the last three years. Yet all this is insignificant compared to the feelings of power that have taken shape inside me. A part of what I have acquired is completely personal—something that has changed inside me or a a self-confidence that I have obtained. It is a changed perception of myself and my environment. Even the words I use have taken on a different form. Today, I view myself as a woman who is familiar with her femininity, her womanhood. Something of which I was perhaps unaware I became aware of with the existence of the Campaign and I am always filled with joy when I feel it inside me.
On the one hand I think that an individual active in the Campaign constitutes any individual who consciously struggles for equality and whose presence is a force for change in society. Because, we have learned to talk about our concerns wherever we go, our presence forces people to think and this thinking is the force that brings about change. This gives a little push to society around us. Our ideals are identical to our life. Even if we wanted to, we could not keep quiet. So, whether the Campaign exists or not, we are here and we will lay out our demands for equality everywhere and in any environment. It seems to me that we, or at least me, are different now. I’m different from how I was before I was part of the Campaign. Wherever I am, I can no longer keep quiet even if I want to. Demanding equality has become like speaking for me—like being. The color of my life has become the color of equality.
Translation: Translation Group of the Campaign in Southern California