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Interview with Iranian Woman Activist and Campaigner: Hoda Aminian

12/06/08 Interview by: Sussan Tahmasebi, Change for Equality

Hoda, can you tell us about yourself?

I am Hoda Aminian. I am 25 years old. I have a BS in Surveying and am currently working on my Masters in City Planning. My focus is on women and the use of public spaces.

Why did you become interested in women's issues?

I believe this interest in all activists can be traced back to personal experiences. When you enter society and see how things are, then you develop sensitivities to what transpires with respect to women. You learn to question how things are. Some don't bother with these kinds of questions, but for me, I was always aware of disparities in the treatment of women and men-at the social level, at the university level and even within my own family. This sensitivity increased to the point where I felt like I needed to get involved and do something.

When I entered the University I was one of the first few female students to enter into political activity, at the Islamic Student Association. The space provided to female students for activity was very limited at that point (early 2000s), and to be fair female students weren't really pushing to be involved in this way either. Perhaps they did not see themselves in this role. So, I was chastised for my involvement in student organizations, I was told that I should be concerned with my own life-that I should be focused on finding a good husband, a good job, etc.

How did you get involved in the Campaign?

I found the Campaign on the internet. Actually, I entered the Women's movement with the Campaign. I had previously tried to join women's NGOs and to become involved in the women's movement but had not met with success in this respect. The Campaign changed all this, allowing for newer and younger activists to get involved in the women's movement. I attended a workshop organized by Campaign activists on legal rights of women in the second month after the Campaign's launch. At first I just collected signatures and I attended regular meetings set up for volunteers. When the number of volunteers increased we realized that we needed to set up a committee to follow up with them and I joined this Committee, where I am still active. In the Volunteers Committee we follow up with volunteers, set up training workshops for them like ones on violence and citizens rights and gender sensitivity, we set up group signature drives, collect the signatures they have collected, etc. The Volunteers Committee serves as a bridge between the volunteers and the activists who are more involved in the Campaign. It facilitates increased engagement of volunteers who are interested in joining the Committees of the Campaign. We currently have 480 volunteers in Tehran working with us. Some are more active and some only collect signatures. We try to share news and information with these volunteers about what is going on in the Campaign.

What impact do you think that the security pressures have had on the volunteers of the Campaign?

Well I can speak about the volunteers I follow up with. None of them have expressed concern with respect to the security pressures. From among the 50 that I follow up with, none have been dissuaded from involvement in the Campaign because of security pressures or at least they have not expressed their concerns to me. I share news and info on developments in the Campaign with the group I am responsible for. For example when I shared the news about sentences issued in the case of Campaign activists, like the sentence issued for Delaram Ali, most wrote back expressing their support and concern and asked what if anything they could do for us. Or when we shared news about Esha's Momeni's release from prison, we received a lot of supportive messages from volunteers.

What else do you do in the Campaign?

I am also a member of the Media Committee and am responsible for the face-to-face section of our Farsi website, Change for Equality. This is one of the most popular sections of the website. In this section, activists in the Campaign write about their experience of engaging in face-to-face discussions with ordinary citizens in an effort to collect signatures in support of the Campaign's petition. The activists tell the story of ordinary citizens, the story of ordinary women who have no platform for discussing their experiences with discrimination and the impact of discriminatory laws on their lives.

Do you feel that the Campaign has contributed to your empowerment as a woman and an activist?

The Campaign has been an enormously empowering experience for me. Prior to entering the Campaign, I had lost hope and had become disillusioned. I felt like I needed to do something to positively improve my society and to positively impact the lives of women in my country, but I was constantly faced with closed doors to this end. I could not find a place to go and be active on behalf of women's rights and my own concerns. When the Campaign started it changed the environment of the women's movement and younger women were afforded an opportunity to get involved. One huge point of empowerment for all of the young people involved in the Campaign has been that they have gained experience and confidence in approaching and connecting with people they don't know. Now young activists feel empowered and confident enough to approach anyone and to talk to anyone about their demands for equality of women's rights and this is a huge step in empowerment. For example, when you are sitting in a taxi or walking on the street, the fact that you are able to connect with people, to gain their trust and to hear their life stories, is truly amazing. The fact that you have gained the communication skills necessary to connect with all sorts of people, whom you do not know and can gain their trust, is truly empowering. The Campaign has also created a space where we are constantly experiencing and learning how to engage in collaborative and teamwork. The Campaign has provided me with the opportunity to learn and to test and prove myself.

Tell us about the concept of leadership in the Campaign. Has this issue posed a challenge in the Campaign?

Fortunately we have always said that there is no center or central leadership in the Campaign. Perhaps some people because of their experience and their knowledge may be consulted more often by lesser experienced activists, but the important thing is that there is no hierarchy and everyone is viewed as equal. Anyone can do whatever they want in the Campaign. Of course we have tried very hard to prevent a hierarchical system in the Campaign. Whenever there was a group of people in the Campaign who we felt were taking it upon themselves to make decisions for others, the space for providing criticism has been open. This has required courage on the part of the Campaign members especially the younger ones. To criticize older better known feminists and to press for inclusion in decision making processes is a difficult task, but has consistently happened in the Campaign. We have been able to work toward and realize to a great degree an inclusive process where collaboration and teamwork is facilitated. We have found older feminists involved in the Campaign to be receptive to this criticism. This process of dialogue has for the most part remained open in the Campaign. This has contributed to our personal and collective growth.

So you think that those activists involved in the Campaign, are working side by side, despite and regardless of the level of their experience?

In our society relations are based on a hierarchy of power. There are always people who have more power and you are aware of their power, and there is a patriarchal nature to this hierarchy, where men have the real power. The Campaign has a receptive, inclusive and feminist system that allows for criticism and for equality within the structure of our movement. There is no one sitting at the top claiming that they know everything, ordering others on how things should be. As an activist in the Campaign you have the right and the means to criticize anyone who does this, you can take them to task, even write about them, and publicly announce your position and your perspectives.

There have been a lot of pressures on Campaign activists as a whole and on the members of the Volunteers Committee in particular. Why do you remain active in the Campaign given these pressures and risks?

I believe that these pressures have worked to create unity and solidarity among the activists involved in the Campaign. If you are involved in an effort to which you are committed, these pressures will only strengthen your resolve to continue along your goals. They cannot harm your commitment to what you are doing, unless of course you think about your personal interests and withdraw. Certainly if someone is so concerned with their own personal interests then they won't enter into a collective action such as the Campaign in the first place. All the pressures that have been placed on the Volunteers Committee have never been successful in stopping us from our activities. For example security forces have repeatedly come to our homes to break up our meetings, but this has not worked to dissuade us from holding meetings. Perhaps if you are watching these developments from a distance you may be fearful about joining the Campaign, but those who are involved in the Campaign have maintained their commitment. I mean these pressures are to be expected in our society. Whenever people try to bring about change they face pressures-in all countries- this is not unique to our society. I think that these pressures indicate that in fact our movement has been very effective. When you have something of value to say and what you have to say has the power to attract people and your impact is positive, this is when the pressures increase. So for me, the pressures indicate that we are indeed involved in something positive which is having impact.

Thanks Hoda for your time.

Read some of Hoda's articles which have been translated into English:

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