IRAN: Iranian Women's Rights Activists Tell Rohani What They Want

Saturday, July 13, 2013
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security

A group of prominent Iranian women's rights activists and intellectuals have outlined some of their main demands for Iran's President-elect Hassan Rohani, who spoke against gender discrimination during his campaign and said women and men should enjoy the same rights and opportunities.

The group is among many Iranians who will be closely watching the new president -- who has promised to establish a Ministry for Women's Affairs -- to see whether he can deliver on his campaign promise of moderation.

The activists expressed their demands and concerns in a July 10 meeting in Tehran at which two of Rohani's representatives were present, according to a report by the Focus on Iranian Women website. The group included several well-known figures who have come under state pressure for advocating change.

Participants said the situation of Iranian women deteriorated under outgoing President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and some of their modest gains were rolled back.

To improve the circumstances of women, they said, Rohani should take a number of steps, including ending the country's "security atmosphere," removing restrictions on women's public life, and eliminating censorship on women's issues.

Among those who spoke was Narges Mohammadi, the deputy head of the Defenders of Human Rights Centers, which was co-founded by Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. Mohammadi has been sentenced to six years in prison on charges that include acting against national security.

She said the prevailing security atmosphere is the main obstacle preventing activists from seriously pursuing their causes.

"...A female rights activist or a children's rights activist... [who] takes action, [cannot be sure] whether within two days [he or she] will not be summoned to the judiciary. [Even] if there is no judicial problem, the individual [could still] face security problems,” said Mohammadi, who is currently out of prison on medical leave.

Paternalistic Government

The activists said Iran's next government should remove all the "obstacles" that were created during the eight years of Ahmadinejad's presidency.

Sociologist and university professor Shahla Ezazzi claimed these obstacles included measures and policies aimed at limiting women's public and social lives.

"Apparently, [the authorities] had come to the conclusion that if men don't want to control their women and force them to stay at home, the government should act as father and grandfather and control women,” she said.

Ezazzi said that this way of thinking has led to restrictions on women's access to higher education, prohibitions on their studying certain disciplines at universities, and encouragement to stay at home and have babies.

Another participant pointed to the increased enforcement of Islamic dress as something that has restricted women's public lives.

Two well-known lawyers at the meeting, Farideh Gheyrat and Giti Pourfazel, suggested that Rohani should pave the way toward removing laws that discriminate against women.

“This is not a new [demand],” Gheyrat said.

Under Islamic laws enforced in Iran, women face difficulties in getting divorces; a woman's testimony in court is worth half that of a man's. Many of the women who have been campaigning against these laws have been summoned, threatened, jailed, or forced to leave the country.

Feminism Is 'Taboo'

Other participants at the meeting maintained that Rohani should remove the censorship of issues that concern women.

"The women's [body], or form, is being eliminated in society. At least let us have content," said actress Marzieh Vafamehr, arguing that women should be allowed to make movies or write books about their own issues. "Today, feminism has become a taboo in society," she said.

The actress was detained in Iran in 2011 after appearing in an Australian movie critical of the Islamic republic.

Journalist Farideh Ghaeb also called on Rohani to eliminate censorship.

She said the majority of websites that cover women's issues are filtered inside Iran and that removing the filters would be a positive step in increasing awareness about the problems Iranian women are facing.

Another participant, Maryam Nourayinejad, said the least Rohani could do was to select cabinet ministers who support gender equality. She cited reports that a politician being considered for the post of culture minister supports polygamy.