Challenge to Anti-Women Laws in Iran (Part 1)

Monday 17 May 2010

View online : CODIR

CODIR has recently interviewed Jelveh Javaheri on her views on the social and political developments in Iran since the rigged presidential elections of June 2009. In this issue we publish the first instalment of the interview with her.

The Iranian women’s movement is one of the key sections of the popular movement for democratic change in Iran. Women have played a leading role in the events since 1997.

Jelveh Javaheri, is a journalist and one of the founding members of the Campaign for Equality (Taqeer Baraye Barabari) which campaigned to collect One Million Signatures demanding an end to discrimination against women enshrined in Islamic Republic of Iran’s legislation. She has been arrested on a number of occasions and incarcerated in the notorious Evin Prison.

She was also one of the co-founders of Hastia Andish Center, a leading women’s NGO, which focuses on promoting women’s rights through education.

CODIR has recently interviewed Jelveh Javaheri on her views on the social and political developments in Iran since the rigged presidential elections of June 2009. In this issue we publish the first instalment of the interview with her.

1. What is your assessment of the strong presence and role of women in the Green Movement?

This is not the first time that women have had a strong presence in political and social struggles. Women’s presence was very strong during the Constitutional Revolution. This was also the case during the 1979 revolution. Perhaps this was why after the victory of the revolution many of the policies of the Islamic Republic with regard to women were contradictory. On one hand the political leaders, particularly clerics like Ayatollah Khomeini, wanted to mobilise women for the goals of the regime, while on the hand were trying to restrain women. In another words the contradictory policy that was pursued with respect to women, stemmed from their broad presence on one hand, and the need to mobilise them, on the other.

In the Green Movement the presence of women is very noticeable too and could not be ignored. It is of course stronger than the presence in the 1979 revolution. In my view, this condition has developed over time and it is because of the growing awareness of women and the gap between their demands and the realisation of these demands. Another form of this presence was seen in the presidential elections of 1997, when women rushed to the polling stations hoping to get closer to their demands. In all of the following elections this presence at the polls was very evident as women have had tangible demands. However, not only have their demands not been responded to, they have been openly or covertly curbed too.

This deep gap and disconnect, created between the realisation of women’s demands and their real demands, has meant that Iranian women have been in continuous struggle through their daily lives in these years. As a result, the social movement of women has broadened its struggle during the past years because their issues have become broader and deeper than before. These social and individual struggles have both given hope for change to women and developed the will to resist, such that they have a strong and significant presence along with the Green Movement that is seeking change.

2. How is the relationship between the Green Movement and the women’s movement? How is the gender struggle and the struggle for equality intertwined with the democratic struggle to deepen both and not desert the independent demands of women?

Democracy is the outcome of achieving the rights of women, human rights, environment, etc. As a result, during the struggle to gain their rights, women will inevitably engage in the democratic struggle too. They also have to separately pursue their own specific demands and we should not think that if we are moving on the way of democratic struggles we will necessarily attain the women’s demands too.

Many of the activists of the women’s movement state that the demands of people have broadened and radicalised, that women’s movement, particularly the One Million Signature Campaign, could not respond to the expectations of people any more. Yet some believe that due to the security pressures, circumstances for this type of work has become difficult and people may have become disappointed in change. I don’t think this way. I believe that the protests after the presidential elections of 2009 in the form of the Green Movement have created a dynamic and active space that could prepare more fertile circumstances for discussions about the rights of women in the society.

Hand in hand with the strong presence of women in these broad popular protests, the factor of discrimination against women has been repeatedly brought up and emphasized. For instance, Neda Aghasoltan was a symbol of not only the discrimination against women but also the courage and resistance of women. Anyway, I believe that today the people are more attentive to their destiny. At the same time, the struggles of women over the past years has resulted in the fact that the presence of women in popular struggles reminds people of the discrimination against women. On the other hand, practically nothing has changed in the state of women, i.e. demands like the change in discriminatory laws are still on the table. Therefore, with a timely and proper approach, this powerful potential of people for collective action could be utilised, and particularly women, who are ready to make a change in their destiny, could be drawn to this movement.

Under current circumstances, the social movements could raise the voice of their protest even higher by working together. Inevitably, this will not only help these movements expand but will also add to the diversity and dynamism of the current atmosphere and bring forward more tangible demands related to various social groups such as women, workers, students, etc. These are the demands for which people had entered the democratic struggle. If these collective actions work together, their outcome could help develop democracy. In reality, today a common point has been created between various social movements in Iran that ties all of us for common action. In fact, we all want to attain democratic means such as civil institutes, free gatherings, and people-oriented media.

3. Do you think that the previously tried forms of struggle, like the experience of the One Million Signature Campaign or other campaigns that resulted in raising the gender issue in society, must be revisited in the current situation and replaced by alternative methods?

In my opinion, both yes and no. Particularly in relation to the One Million Signature Campaign the previous activism could still be continued, because in my opinion, in the absence of people-oriented public media, talking face to face with people still is very efficient. We saw that this method was adopted by the Green Movement too and was even employed prior to elections. During the protests after the elections, many people notified each other of rallies through one to one communication. However, because we should never move in a hollow space, new tactics must also be employed in the new atmosphere.

4. The hundred-year old movement of women has been successful in publicising the gender-related demands among certain social strata. How do you see the demands of working people and the possibilities of organising them to raise their awareness?

Unfortunately not much significant work has been done in Iran about the working women. The reason might be that due to the sensitivity of the Islamic Republic to any form of labour-related organisations, no organisation has been formed to deal with the matters related to female workers which they themselves could steer. Even if such an organisation was set up, it would not be able to develop a broad and steady movement. Although in such movements as the One Million Signature Campaign the goal was to go among various classes and groups of women and to depict their pain and suffering through face to face action, but the demands of working women was not directly raised. The Campaign tried hard to engage various social forces and was successful in raising its legal demands, which were class-neutral demands, to working women, but was not able to organise them around these demands. I believe it is necessary to have independent movements developed by the working women and other social forces, including women of other classes, should fully support this effort. In other words, somehow the practical awareness must be developed among working women.

5. What are the urgent demands of Iranian women at present? Whether in conjunction with the recent post-election events or in general, what is the status of women’s organisation in Iran in terms of the scope and extent of activities? What would be the challenges facing women activists in the new Iranian year?

The question about the urgent demands of Iranian women at present is not a question that could be easily answered. I think that the demands of activists in the women’s movement may not necessarily have priority in the demands of Iranian women. Up until the recent elections, and particularly in the last few years, the activists of the women’s movement had been emphasising certain specific demands, such that you could identify various groups by their demands. For instance, those who put emphasis on changing the discriminatory laws, such as the One Million Signature Campaign, protestors against the Family Law, and No-Stoning Campaign; those who were striving to heighten the political participation of women, such as the coalition of reformist women; those who called attention to the laws related to gender segregation that systematically ban the presence of women in public events, such as the coalition against gender discrimination in universities and the campaign for the right of women to enter stadiums; and those who fought to eradicate honour-related family violence among Kurdish women, such as the committee against honour violence.

Among all of these efforts, the one demand that seems to have dominated over these years amongst various groups of women was the demand to change the discriminatory laws. For example, at the same time that students groups were pursuing the trade demands of female students, they also joined in alliances that were pursuing the change in discriminatory laws and made efforts to spread these demands among scholars. The coalition of reformist women attempted to build up the religious renascence views and enhance the political involvement of women in order to further impact on decision making about the change in the discriminatory laws. Also, the committee against honour violence paid due attention to changes in discriminatory laws related to honour killings, while it struggled against existing traditions and conventions among Kurds, and most of its members also participated in the One Million Signature Campaign.

It seems like these groups have somewhat changed after the elections. I believe that after the elections, the women’s movement, like other movements, somehow did not have adequate coherence. Maybe if this movement had adequate coherence after the elections, it would have had favourable results and achievements. This lack of coherence could be attributed to a certain degree to the unfamiliar circumstances and the excitement of events on one hand and on the other hand the widespread security atmosphere preventing the formation of organisations in the years prior to the elections. It seems that at this moment the activists of the women’s movement more than anything need democratic means to express and pursue their demands. This way, some may draft their demands mostly around attaining and establishing these means like the reformist women. Some many resort to collective action to achieve their demands and in doing so, inevitably seek democratic means, like the One Million Signature Campaign.

6. What do you think about the intensification of some legal restrictions against women such as passing the so called "Family Protection" law in the judiciary committee of the parliament, reducing the working hours of women, etc?

This tendency is now picking up pace. In fact, after the ninth government (Ahmadinejad’s administration) took office, we witnessed all kinds of plans to practically keep women at home. This trend was faced with broad protests in the past few years but today it appears that the government and conservative forces are trying to take advantage of the current chaotic circumstances and push this trend ahead faster. First and foremost, educational institutes such as daycare centres, schools and universities are targeted, along with the laws related to the family and employment of women. That is, by promoting the Islamisation of educational institutes once again, and at the same time changing the laws towards more discrimination against women, the government is moving faster than ever toward tighter controls over women, and keeping women at home. Besides these changes we witness a grave invasion against feminism and equality-seeking movements of women in universities and through the state media, in a manner that equates these movements to the "masculinisation of women" and portray them as destroyers of the family. But in essence, it is the plans of the state and parliament that destroy women and in the long run drives families into crisis. to be continued...


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