We struggle for progressive change! (Part 2)

Saturday 5 June 2010

View online : CODIR

Following the publication of the first part of the CODIR’s interview with Jelveh Javaheri, one of the well known activists of the Iranian women’s movement, we are pleased to publish the second instalment of that interview. In this part Jelveh answers a number of important questions about the state of the women’s movement inside Iran. We encourage all supporters of human and democratic rights to study this important interview.

7. What is the central slogan of the women’s movement at the current time?
In my opinion, the women’s movement does not have a central slogan. However, the course of post-election actions indicates that some of the women’s movement activists are more than anything pursuing non-violence and citizens rights, and as such, their slogan is to avoid violence. There are many groups that are after the elimination of discrimination against women. Their slogan remains that of equality between men and women and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. Nevertheless, there is no solid boundary between these groups and in general the slogan of equality and the elimination of discrimination could be seen implicitly among most of these groups.

8. Is the One Million Signature Campaign still active?
Yes it is active, but somewhat in shadow. Since 2 years ago, the pressure on the Campaign has been such that even if a meeting was organised over the phone, police and security forces would appear at the location of the meeting and interrogate the owner. This situation practically forced the large body of the Campaign to split into smaller groups. The organising tasks were split between these groups. This situation intensified after the recent elections. Nonetheless, we have been able to advance our work during this period by keeping a low profile and without media publicity. Whenever the connection between these groups was cut off or weakened, the Campaign moved more sluggishly but was able to restore its actions through reviewing and re-assigning tasks. This model, i.e. making the groups smaller and networking amongst them, had a significant impact on the continuation of the Campaign. I believe the Green Movement could utilise this model too because any one of these groups has an institutional role and after the completion of the Campaign goal, they will remain in place. Even today they could get connected with other networks. This is what happened when the mothers in the Campaign approached and expanded to Mothers of Peace and Mourning Mothers.

9. Were there any 8th March celebrations this year in Iran?
I wrote an extensive article about this subject. Prior to the 8th March a number of activists of the women’s movement were trying to promote their demands in one way or another. However, on this day we were not able to publicise our demands as loudly enough as we should and act appropriately according due to the atmosphere after the election. This day could have become one of the protest days after the election, with its women-specific slogans, in which case it would have helped both the Green Movement and the women’s movement. For whatever reason, this unity did not exist among women, and even the Green Movement did not consider this day in the list of its days of protest. That was how the opportunity of International Women’s Day was wasted amidst the current Green atmosphere. Perhaps this was a reminder to think about re-uniting the movements.

It is true that the ambiance has changed. However, if we are thinking of completely abandoning the previous actions and starting fresh movements all over again, we will not only lose the experience we have gained in the past, but would not be able to properly organise our new actions. We will jump from one branch to another. I believe that the post-election events to a certain extent drove the women’s movement into some sort of disarray. Many of the activists of the women’s movement believe that, considering the new circumstances, the demands have to change. However, I think that demands must be pursued consistently in order to get results otherwise, if we keep shifting direction like this, we will have to go back to square one every time. In my view, the demands could be broadened but the previous demands will remain until they are attained. In particular, the demand to change discriminatory laws, which I believe is both a strategic demand which has the potential to mobilise the public and is also urgent, since the existence of such laws leads to broad violence against women and their lack of independence. Therefore, our demands should not change so swiftly and become isolated from the everyday lives of women. The modes of action, however, should be adjusted and it is these modes and methods that should be kept up to date.

10. What is the status of Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Iran today?
I can definitely assert to the fact that during Ahmadinejad’s administrations, NGOs were gradually silenced. Right from the inception of Ahmadinejad’s administration, NGOs were put under pressure. First it was the state order that the permits of NGOs must be re-validated. One had to live in Iran and go through the NGO registration and the obtaining of permits during Khatami’s government in order to understand what it means to renew the permit during Ahmadinejad’s. I was active in one of these NGOs during Khatami’s term. In those days, when the talks about the expansion of civil society and NGOs as wings of the state was going on, it took us two years to get our permit, and it was only a year after that it expired, only because the members of the central council of this NGO attended a peaceful gathering and demanded a change in the laws. The order to revoke our permit came directly from the Intelligence Department; even during the interrogations later on, they alluded to this fact. As such, during Ahmadinejad’s administration, the permits of NGOs that were able to register, were revoked and those NGOs were simply shut down. In this period, the remaining NGOs are either dreadfully neutral and do not criticise any policies, or are state-related and in fact only carry the name of NGO.

11. What images of women do the mainstream media in Iran, including TV and radio stations, portray? What layers of women are the main audiences or targets of this state propaganda?
The policies of the mainstream media in Iran are somewhat different from each other. For instance, radio stations have better programmes than TV. Nevertheless, the unified policy of state media has become so misogynistic. Nowadays, polygamy is freely publicized on Iran’s TV. Women are encouraged to stay at home [become housewives]. Divorce is considered a social problem and not a phenomenon. Female characters portrayed are far from characters of everyday life. The policies of radio and TV and newspapers such as Keyhan are very misogynistic, and in my opinion, very anti-man too. One of the recent ideas promoted by the state is pre-marital education and issuance of the marriage certificate. Imagine that during this education they portray a woman as delicate, subservient, with nice body shape, and a man as burly, rough. It is hard for us to imagine that such images are taught so explicitly. Many objected to these policies, even from the inner circle of the regime, but it had no bearing.

12. How is the relationship between the women’s organisations with other civil movements, like the youth and student movements?
In recent years, the women’s movement and its organisations have had very good relationships with the students to a large extent, simply because about 70% of students are females. Many of these students live outside their home city, which has a significant impact on their independent thinking and actions. During the reform years, many of these students were members of women’s NGOs or they helped organise women’s organisations in universities. Establishing the Women’s Commission of Tahkim Vahdat" [Bureau for Consolidation of Unity, a major national student organization] was just one example. They organized a student movement with female demands, such as protesting against gender quotas in universities. In particular, after 12th June 2005, the women’s movement organised joint actions with the student movement. On the day of 12th June, 2006, a large number of student activists, including Bahareh Hedayat were arrested. A number of them became involved in the One Million Signature Campaign too and absorbed numerous students to this civil movement. It must be noted though that due to their struggle on two fronts, i.e. academic freedoms and the elimination of discrimination against women, these students are under double coercion.

13. In one of your commentaries, you pointed out the silence or relative passivity of the women’s movement. In your opinion, how could this be overcome? What are your recommended approaches for strengthening and harmonising the ranks of the women’s movement?
I believe joint actions must be organised. Despite the wide-spread range of demands of the women’s movement at the moment, I still think that this movement is pursuing specific demands and goals. For this reason, if it could focus on the common points, it would certainly be able to organise very broadly. For instance, on the topic of protest against the so-called Family Protection bill, I believe a collective demand could be agreed upon and this could be, as I mentioned previously, organised around the change in discriminatory laws, along with proposing alternative laws. For example, some have placed the stress upon labour laws; some on family laws; some on the laws and regulations governing universities; or supportive laws to eliminate violence against women; and have demanded equality and the elimination of discrimination in each of these areas. They are all engaged in other activities too, but they could jointly act together around legal issues. I believe this will make the women’s movement and its networks stronger and will link these networks together. In this case, we could become stronger in the field of interest of others too, e.g. in the field of the labour laws we will stay beside the labour movement; on the university laws and regulations we will stay alongside the student movement; and on the topic of elimination of violence we will go along the Green Movement in certain paths. In my opinion, this movement has the capability of tying the movements together, as it is present in all of them, one way or another.

14. Do the Iranian women’s organisations have friendship and collaboration with the women’s organisations in other countries or with international organisations? How is international support and solidarity with the demands of Iranian women?
I believe this collaboration and relationship exists, and its history goes back to the years before the [1979] revolution. During the Constitutional Revolution [1906] many groups had this kind of relationships and after that, during the Pahlavi regimes, some groups, like the Union of the Women Lawyers of Iran, took part in international groups or had relationships with them. In the 1980’s, when many of the activists of women’s movement left Iran, they could make contact with feminist groups outside of Iran, and after the 80’s and the end of Iran-Iraq war, this relationship extended inside of Iran. They became the connecting bridge between Iranian feminists and the feminists all around the world. Currently, and particularly after the launch of One Million Signature Campaign, this rapport has expanded. Since many of the Campaign groups are active outside of Iran, including in England, the US, Italy, Australia, France, Germany, Austria this relationship has been inevitably maintained. At the time of the arrest of activists of the women’s movement inside Iran, we witnessed the support of many feminist and human rights groups from all over the world. These groups supported the goals of the Campaign too. In fact, this support is inevitable, because the problem of women is not an Iranian issue, but a global issue. Patriarchy is also a global phenomenon that could be overcome only through the wide-ranging support of the international women’s movements for each other across the globe.

15. Do you have a message for CODIR and its readers and human rights, democracy and peace activists?
To follow on from my previous comments, I believe human rights, peace and democracy are global matters. We could not achieve these goals except with broad supports for each other. These three could only be sustained when they are sustained across the world. The threat is when we see that far or near countries around us are in overt or covert war, are suffering from despotism, or are directly suffering from violence. Under such circumstances, the society that we are living in will also inevitably suffer from these issues. At the end, I would like to thank you for caring about the domestic issues of Iran and publicizing them in the media.


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