The reality of
women's liberation movement in Iran
Mass resistance is the other side of large-scale oppression
In describing women's conditions in a particular country, one either
refers to laws governing that country or statistics. In this manner,
one either exposes the extent of the oppression women suffer, or
admires their achievements. As it regards women living under the
rule of Islam, it is pure discrimination and oppression, subjugation
and state violence. If women are considered second class citizens
in many countries, in Islam-ridden countries they are not even considered
as citizens. They are extension of men. In fact, according to Islam,
the concept of citizen is non-existent. There is a relation between
God and religious hierarchy and a collective of right-less, conscious-less
men, with women as their slaves. As a matter of fact this is true
about any other religion. However, this is beside our today's discussion.
You have heard
a great deal about women under Islam, Islam a la Taliban, in Pakistan,
in Bangladesh, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran under the Islamic Republic.
The downtrodden situation of women, sheer discrimination, gender
apartheid, Islamic veil, forced marriages, officially recognized
pedophilia, by setting the legal age of marriage at 9 for girls,
honor killing, polygamy, stoning women to death for engaging in
sex outside marriage, encouraging men to hit their wives for punishment.
The list is long.
If once the
issue of Islam and women was an unknown topic, nowadays, thanks
to the rise of political Islam, Islamic states in Iran, Afghanistan,
and now in Iraq, it has become a well-known topic. I am sure that
you all have heard about the non-existence of women's rights in
Islam. However, some think it is not Islam's fault, they blame the
patriarchy. They maintain that it is not Islam, but patriarchal
interpretations of Islam that is responsible for the conditions
of women in countries under the rule of Islam. In other words it
is the ruling men's fault not the ruling Islam. We will not get
into the debate that Islam as all other religions is the direct
product of patriarchal era. It could not have escaped being permeated
by patriarchic values and outlook. However, we must state one undeniable
fact, that is, millions of women are violated daily by Islamic laws,
customs, values and states. We must deal in an effective manner
with this violation.
I am here on
behalf of Organization for Women's Liberation. I am here to familiarize
you with realities of Iranian society. You have heard about Iran.
I do not mean the oil, or the nuclear project. I do not mean the
mullahs or the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. I mean about the situation
of women. Today, I want to talk to you about women's resistance,
rather than women's oppression. You have heard long tales about
women's oppression. I like to tell you that there is a mass resistance
movement against this systematic oppression, this official misogynic
ideology. I like to break this encouraging news to you that Iran
is the birthplace of a very important historic moment in international
women's liberation movement, a movement more significant than the
Suffragette, or as vast as the women's liberation movement in the
Soviet Union during 1917-1930, or in the West during the 60s and
70s. I am here to ask for your solidarity and support. This movement
has a great potential. If it materializes, it is capable of not
only liberating women in Iran, but also it opens up the door to
freedom to all women in the Middle East. We must recognise this
in Iran is different from that of Afghanistan, Iraq or Sudan. There
is mass discontentment in these countries. There is resistance,
but there is a lack of a mass movement in defense of women's rights.
Such a movement exists in Iran.
In Iran there
has never existed a secular state, the separation of religion from
the state, or education. The laws have always been religious laws.
There has always existed a dictatorship. The efforts to reform the
family law in favor of women during the 60s, were very meager and
not very effective. During the 1979 revolution a women's right movement
was born. This was not a mass movement, but rather formed by left
and intellectual women. I am from that generation. My struggle for
women's rights and for freedom and equality goes further than that
attacked women full-force after coming to power. The first phase
of women's movement was short-lived. It put up a brave resistance
but it was silenced after 2 years. Women's resistance continued
in individualistic fashion, against the veil, gender apartheid and
obligatory dress code. Many women have been imprisoned, tortured,
or stoned to death. This brutal oppression was not able to obliterate
the spirit of resistance. The new generation reunited this movement
in mass scale and pushed it forward. Fighting against the Islamic
veil and apartheid is one of the main battlegrounds.
When I hear
the apologists of the Islamic movement or the defenders of cultural
relativism (which, thanks to our relentless struggle has become
a marginal tendency) say: "the Islamic veil and apartheid is
their culture", I get furious and want to laugh at the same
time. If this is "their culture" then it is supposed that
they practice it voluntarily. Why then has this massive means of
oppression become necessary? Why are all these Special Forces formed
to deal with cultural disobedience, non-observance of the veil and
gender apartheid? I like to ask, are these people bunch of masochists,
who like to practice their culture by being tortured, imprisoned
and stoned? What rubbish! Thousands of women who have been executed,
stoned and tortured are the symbol of a vast movement against the
Islamic laws, gender apartheid and the Islamic veil.
may think that this is a peculiar way to demonstrate resistance.
I believe there is a straightforward equation: a complex and sophisticated
oppressive system only demonstrates that there is a vast and complex
resistance to be suppressed. When there are more than one hundred
thousand political executions, this bitter and tragic fact exposes
that the society does not accept the existing order and wants change.
In Iran there
is a special police force to deal with women, those who protest,
those who do not observe the veil and those who are innovative in
fashion. This special force was used in the July demonstration in
Tehran. It crushed the demonstration. Despite all the laws against
non-observance of the veil and dress code, despite prison sentence,
fine and lashing, women in Iran ridicule the veil and in their demonstrations
have also burned it. The new generation cannot be silenced, cannot
be forced back home. This is the resistance I am talking about.
In Iran there
is a vast secular movement and for a free and egalitarian society.
The women's liberation movement is one of the main components of
this general movement. The de facto status of women is much higher
than their official and legal status. In the eyes of the dominant
ideology and legislation, women's status is half of that of men.
A woman is the man's slave. She cannot travel or work without his
"master's" permission, does not have divorce or custody
rights, cannot become a judge or a president. But women in Iran
have not been subdued to accept this status and image. They want
to be a whole person, independent and equal.
I like to mention
a statistical figure: around 66% of university entrances are female.
This is in a country that you need to pass difficult entry exams.
There is a very high competition. You also have to take into consideration
the state's efforts to push women home. Is this statistic accidental?
No. This is a trend. Every year this figure has risen, from 30%
to 66%. The parliament tried to pass laws to reverse this trend,
to prevent women to get into university in this high number. They
argued that this is very detrimental to Islam and the institution
of family. The Islamic parliament becomes alarmed by this statistics,
I become overjoyed. This shows a resilient resistance on the part
of new generation of women in Iran. This brings hope that women's
liberation in Iran is live and kicking.
8 March has
become an established tradition in Iran. In the past few years,
8 March has been celebrated in different cities and in different
ways. I recall in 1979, we organized several 8 March celebrations
in Tehran. The society was free from monarchist dictatorship, and
we, the women's rights activists, were celebrating 8 March for the
first time. On the same day Khomeini ordered women to wear the veil.
A large demonstration took the streets in protest to this reactionary
order and demanded women's equality. This was the birth of a women's
right movement which was silenced after 2 years.
tried a propaganda tactic; it named the birthday of Mohammed's daughter
the women's day. The specialty of this regime has been to suppress
a movement not only by brutal force but by means of demagogic propaganda.
It crushed the 1979 revolution by calling its state a revolutionary
state, its brutal forces the revolutionary guards, and the revolution
itself, an Islamic revolution. It disarmed the left by taking over
the so-called anti-imperialist movement by manipulating the anti
American sentiments and taking Americans hostage at American Embassy.
Naming Prophet's daughter's birthday the women's day was a similar
tactic. However, this tactic worked only for a few years. Then it
was forced to assign a women's week. This did not work either. Last
year it was forced to admit defeat and a faction of the regime recognized
8 March as women's day. 8 March now is an established tradition
in Iran. Last year there were many different rallies and meetings
organized to commemorate 8 March. Some of them, including one in
Tehran, were suppressed. 3 months later there was a large protest
organized in Tehran, several thousand took part. This was crushed.
Couple of months later a movement was initiated to collect 1 million
signatures for changing the laws in women's favor. Women's liberation
movement is not going to resign nor silence. They try to crush it;
it rises again even stronger. It seems that all efforts to suppress
it, only makes it more resilient and stronger.
These are the
positive aspects of women's resistance. Unfortunately, there is
a dark and sad dimension to it, as well. The number of suicides
and putting fire to oneself has raised considerably among women,
especially among young women. Women in Iran have always lived under
discrimination. Forced marriages, extensive restrictions on their
life, being in a servitude status vis a vis the men has always been
the fact of life for the majority of women in Iran. It seems that
they used to accept this as a divine and natural law, and resigned
to it. However, in the past decade we are witnessing a significant
rise in suicide. This is a protest. The new generation has different
expectations and aspirations. It does not resign to its "fate".
It wants to take it into its own hands. When it cannot protest collectively,
when it cannot direct its anger and disapproval against the state,
it directs it against herself. These self-inflicting harms are a
means of protest.
It is our duty;
it is the responsibility of women's right activists to transform
this method of self-inflicting hurt into a positive resistance.
We must change this desperation into hope for change.
fact is the high number of girls who escape the restrictions and
violence in the home in search of freedom and end up in streets,
homeless, unprotected, and become victims of prostitution. They
are abused and exploited. Many of these girls wear male clothing,
hoping to be freer and less harassed. However, there is no escape.
The life of these girls is a telling story of brutality, exploitation
To my opinion,
the last two factors are new sociological phenomena in a society
undergoing profound social, cultural, political and economic changes.
Analysis of this situation takes us to a massive and deep-rooted
social resistance against the ruling order, dominant ideology and
culture, against the ancient and antiquated values of Islam.
And last but
not least, we should mention the diverse cultural and NGO organizations,
which fight for women's rights. These organizations must adapt themselves
to the suppressive state and laws. We are witnessing the coming
to birth of many different organizations, festivals, and solidarity
camps. These are the bright and hopeful aspects of women's resistance.
There is a mass resistance movement in Iran against sexual discrimination
and for gender equality. This movement needs your solidarity and
support. If we succeed to free women from oppression and misogynic
laws and values, this would open up a door to all women in the Middle
East and countries under the rule of Islam. We must lunch a vast
international movement against discrimination, violence and systematic
oppression, against gender apartheid and Islamic veil. The Organization
for Women's Liberation calls upon you to join this movement. We
have drawn a resolution against gender apartheid, I ask you to support
it. Show your support by applauding and sign our petition. Thank
was interrupted many times by audience's applaud. The resolution
was endorsed by heavy applaud and hundreds signed the petition during
Azar Majedi Site
Women's Liberation Iran (Azadi