Through the pretext of defending Islamic values, it has been claimed for the last thirty six years that relying on international provisions and documents will not correct the gender discriminations that exist against women in Iran’s traditional society. It is only through reforming religion, the claim goes, that violence against women at the minimum can be ended. Since the 1979 revolution in Iran, our beliefs were shaped with this view, and we were desperate to keep the light of hope alive in ourselves through any means and avoid falling into despair. In addition, we did not want to easily end up in the prisons of stay, live and work. All of that even before winning international prizes was turned into a dirty word. We had not even experienced it to become addicted to a desire for it and victimize ourselves even faster. In our sincere and idealistic lives, even a day was important to remain free and outside the claws of the rulers and not succumb to religious or anti-Western censorship. But the further we get from those days and times, the more we realize how right our strategy had been. But a strategy is not eternal and can become obsolete.
In those days, some foreign and extremist groups jumped on the bandwagon of this strategy and claimed that there actually existed “Islamic feminism” in Islamic texts. They argued that it was possible to rely on Islam and cultural relativism and successfully fight gender discrimination while accepting some discrimination. And while the notion of religious modernism existed among less than a handful of senior clerics, naive and ideal activists persistently pointed to traditional Muslims and Arab Muslims as their models even while there was not a single such religious model in the land that housed the Shiites of the world. We on our part seized the colorful Islamic feminist arguments made by these clerics and repeated them, getting the very clerics into trouble because they were then accused of being in cahoots with us, the loose and Westernized women. The special clerical court, an illegal entity by itself, would then summon the clerics and make them pledge to not repeat the Islamic feminism nonsense. The court is there precisely to suppress any new Islamic notions. So we were left alone and gradually found a refuge somewhere, anywhere.
Now a new vice-president wants to revive that conversation with topics that have become taboos. And while we continue to refer and rely on universal human rights, Ms Molaverdi wants to pour the burnt ashes on these documents and conventions.
For years reliance on local and domestic models was the fodder in the debates for “religious modernism,” “Islamic feminism,” and, “cultural relativism.” Some believed that the advocates of those ideas were going to include them in the government’s policies and economic programs, including legislature. We have moved thirty six years forward from those initial attacks and have thus become used to attacks on women and their rights and we have not seen any benefits from the asserted local/domestic “models.” But the new woman vice-president is now again preaching to women activists that “international documents have little yield in reducing violence against women and the solution lies in local/domestic solutions.”
Such words carry no weight because they have been said for many years and remain only slogans and claims and not a single cleric or their supporters have had the courage to speak about gender equality in a religious government. Clerics have not presented any theories or solutions to address the many studies they have produced on women’s poverty. All they have done is refer to newspaper articles about the potentials in Islam to expand women’s rights. Friday prayer clerics and the cleric spokesmen of the national state-run broadcasting organization (radio and television) have, with the blessing of the supreme leader, said the most derogatory things against women in the name of Islam. It is now proven to Iranian women that the emphasis on Islamic feminism and reliance on local/domestic models is the translation of “cultural relativism,” which is nothing but another lie and deceit. It is another pretext and not a solution. This is a ploy against women. But what is appalling is that it this pacifying medicine prescribed to control the anger of women against religious government is being repeated by Ms Molaverdi and its failure is attributed to ex-president Ahmadinejad. The issue has a much longer history and Rouhani’s administration should not resort to blaming the previous administration every time it is thwarted from solving a problem, and thus present itself irresponsible. It cannot use the views and remarks of the supreme leader and his claims to improve the conditions of women and at the same time blame the previous administration for the problems facing women, because that administration operated 100 percent under the command of the very same leader. Women members of the Majlis with help from the anti-woman Ms Dastjerdi in 1998 and 1999 passed a law that banned the utilitarian use of men and women in the media. That law created a barrier for us to write in the media during Khatami’s period. If a woman’s rights activist published a story in the media and prosecutor Mortezavi deemed it to be covered by this law, the woman writer would be flogged and the media outlet shut.
We expect the regime to respect the very international documents which it has signed and whose provisions it has pledged to respect and implement.
It is destructive for women to participate in political affairs with the views that the new vice-president has about international documents. If women took a passive approach when entering professions and government posts and relegated themselves to the ways that officials use to control women, the suppressed women of this land will not gain anything even in those posts.
Ms Molaverdi who claims to desire to improve the condition of Iranian women and wants to do it through reliance on local/domestic models, should first define what she means by “domestic.” She should list the shortcomings that she mentions exist in international documents which are targeted to help women improve their conditions. She should bring in those clerics and spokesmen who have been imprisoned, humiliated and tortured and have lost their clerical status because of their promotion of the notion that Islam has the inherent ability to remove the discrimination against women.
If she takes these measures, then her remarks may be taken seriously. She will be listened to her words will be discussed and she will establish a dialog with Iranian women.
Specifically these are the questions that are asked of vice-president on women’s affairs, Ms Molaverdi:
1-Which specific provisions of the universal declaration of human rights which are founded on the principle of gender equality and the negation of violence are not productive?
2-Which provisions of the international covenant on political and civil rights, a document that Iran has adhered to, and which contains provisions against gender discrimination that have been incorporated into Iranian laws, have not been productive?
3-Which provisions of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights to which Iran has adhered and which provides for the negation of gender inequalities that have been incorporated into Iranian laws, have not been productive?
4-Which domestic laws have been passed to control home violence, which make international documents against the discrimination of women ineffective?
The problems that Ms Molaverdi has are understandable by an important section of civil activists inside and outside Iran and so it is unfair for them to ignore you so that you can deny their rights to question the government regarding its international commitments. Currently there are three laws in the Majlis that would kill women’s rights. These laws could be passed through the very “local models” that are used for justification but note that these will remain stories so long as no constructive definition of “local models” is presented, and Iranian women have heard many such stories.
Iranian women have given up on this government for a long time. These days they have to protect their faces from acid throwers, who are domestic and locals. Why should they put their hopes in the new claims of domestic/local solutions that the vice-president on women’s affairs presents?
About the author:
Mehrangiz Kar is a prominent Iranian lawyer, human rights activist and author of the book Crossing the Red Line: The Struggle for Human Rights in Iran, as well as many articles.
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