Tuesday, September 7, 2010

IRAN - ONE Million Signaturs Campaign - 4th Anniversary Analysis



Introduction to a series of articles published to mark our 4th anniversary*

29 August 2010

Change for Equality: Four years have passed since the start of our struggle for equality. Four years filled with major changes and upheavals for the people of Iran. A Campaign which started with the goal of changing ten laws, from numerous discriminatory laws in Iran’s legal code, is today facing both encouragement and criticism. The milieu of social, political and economic conditions along with the tensions and shock that were injected into Iranian society over the last year and following the disputed presidential elections, have posed many questions for Iranian women’s rights activists, including activists involved in the Campaign. These questions, within the social and political context of Iranian society prior to the election unrests, may have yielded another set of answers. The pressures and crackdown on civil society, the closure and constriction of public space, the increase in migration of social and women’s rights activists and other similar challenges have left the social fabric of Iranian society in a bewildered state. To reconstruct the women’s movements, and its strategies and struggles in a manner similar to what existed prior to these developments, would be as if one were were recreating previous choices in a context that had experienced significant change.
There were those who felt that the Campaign had not yet achieved its goals. They believe that the Campaign should continue with its efforts. There were others who believed that the Campaign should directly and concretely coalesce itself with the Green Movement and even accept the supremacy of the Green Movements demands over its own. Some believed that the Campaign had lost its position and status, and had to come up with a different plan for its survival. Some believed the Campaign strategies and structure were innovative and novel, while others spoke of the multiplicity of ideas, and Campaign’s inability to define a new strategy because of its confused structure and lack of defined leadership. What is the Campaign and where is it going? What are the criticism of the Campaign and what aspects of the Campaign are to be commended? How much has the legitimacy of signature collection for a petition been undermined given the new developments in Iranian society? How should the demands of the women’s movement been prioritized vis-à-vis the larger movement for democracy? These were the questions and challenges that Campaign activists faced. In order to devise an appropriate response to these questions, time and opportunity was needed. The fourth anniversary of the Campaign however has served as an excuse to tackle some of these lingering questions.
The need for efforts intent on eliminating discrimination, or in other words the struggle to prevent the creation of further discriminations, becomes more meaningful for women’s rights activists when government officials—men and women alike—intensify their pressures and pursue further discrimination in the law in the form of the Family Support Bill. This is a bill which even the staunchest of the Campaign’s critics, the most conservative groups of women, view to be anti-woman and anti-family. Introspective questioning has resulted in the illuminating of the special circumstances with which Iranian society is currently grappling. It serves as an exercise in the examination of the challenges and strengths, opportunities for praise and criticism, of equal rights movements, such as the Campaign.
The benefits to this introspective questioning and the invitation to Iranian society at large, analysts and civil society and women’s rights activists to provide their analysis of the situation of the Campaign and the women’s movement in these new and difficult times, especially at a time when women’s accomplishments, such as their high numbers in university, are under sever attack and being relentlessly undermined are many. They include the opportunity to hear new ideas, the ability to devise new strategies, the purposeful attempt at safeguarding and nurturing a constructive feminist critique of our current situation, and the ability to reconstruct social networks for the purpose of agency and for the purpose of reaction and resistance.
This time, instead of reading the critiques of the Campaign in other media, we have sought them out ourselves. But we have not limited ourselves to analysts and activists alone, we have gone to where the legitimacy of the Campaign lies, to where it aims to have the most impact—we have gone to the people on the streets and in the alleys as well. We have collected these ideas and suggestions, these critiques and are publishing them on our site then in electronic format as a collection. With the hope that equality is not a futile cause and that prison is not where equal rights activists are condemned to spend their days.
**It should be noted that for June 12, 2010, the anniversary of Day of Solidarity of Iranian women a similar volume entitled: “Again from those Same Streets” was published in Farsi on our website. This collection included essay, interviews and writings by Campaign and women’s rights activists, who examined the situation of the women’s movement in general and the Campaign in particular vis-à-vis the green movement and provided analysis on the future of the Campaign given the changed political and social climate of Iran following the protests to the disputed presidential elections in June 2009. This latest volume seeks the perspectives of those who follow the Campaign from a distance. Select articles from both volumes will be translated and made available on the English website of Change for Equality in the weeks that follow.

Violence Against Women Is No Rationale For Military Violence


Kavita N. Ramdas
President and CEO, Global Fund for Women, Human Rights Advocate, Mom

August 5, 2010


The picture tears into you. Her eyes are haunting and courageous, her face brutally butchered. This is the face of an Afghan girl named Aisha who was attacked by her family that was supported by the local Taliban commander, according to the August 8th TIME magazine.
I wish that I could say such pictures are shocking or unfamiliar, that I have never seen such violence inflicted on a human being. As someone who has spent 14 years leading a grant-making foundation that advances women's rights, however, I cannot say that.
I have met with women with faces like Aisha's in Bangladesh, where lovers or jealous husbands have thrown acid on their faces to scar them for life. I have spoken with women missing limbs because pimps mutilated them in Cambodia. I have heard from Bosnian women whose vaginas have been shredded by soldiers who inserted pointed objects and guns into them. I know women in India whose faces and bodies are a mass of burned flesh because they did not bring enough dowry. And, you don't have to leave the United States to see such brutality. Last November I met a woman from Tennessee whose ex-husband beat her with an iron rod within an inch of her life -- her jaw is shattered, her nose is broken, her left eye does not see.
I have seen their suffering and am inspired by their resilience. I am awed by their determined use of non-violent strategies as they struggle to ensure a different future for us all. I hope someday to see their smiling faces and their triumphs on a TIME cover...
The TIME article suggests that the United States must maintain its military forces in Afghanistan to protect Afghan women from the Taliban. I am painfully aware of the conditions facing Afghans who live on less than $2 per day in midst of violence, yet I am unable to stomach this flimsy justification for more war, occupation, and militarization. Guns, soldiers and military presence do not increase security. To the contrary, they lead to less personal and bodily freedom for women and girls.
This is clear to the parents of the 12-year-old Okinawan girl who was raped by a navy seaman and two U.S. marines in 1995. It is clear to women survivors of rape by UN "peacekeepers." Closer to home, it is clear to the families of the three female soldiers who were murdered by their military husbands or boyfriends in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The North Carolina Observer editorial put it squarely: "It's an old argument. We train men, and now women, to wage war, then we are baffled when they do that to each other."
Aisha's suffering is not simply related to the Taliban. There are women in countries on every continent who have been beaten, sold, raped, and mutilated in the name of honor, religion, and tradition. Aisha's noseless face should not be used as a symbol of Taliban resurgence -- instead, it is the face of modern day patriarchy, which continues to dominate social and cultural systems in most parts of the world. It is deeply woven into the fabric of societies that extol violence and patriotism.
Aisha was brutally abused in 2003. U.S. soldiers were already in Afghanistan. Their presence did not prevent her abuse. Last year, the U.S. government supported an initiative that tripled the number of soldiers in the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo to 60,000. Rapes of women tripled in the areas soldiers were deployed. There is an obvious connection between violence against women and militarization.
If the intent of TIME magazine and organizations like Women for Afghan Women was to illuminate the taboo topic of violence against women with this picture -- I am all for it. If it ignites a public debate about the silent ongoing war that patriarchy wages against girls and women in their homes, at work places, on the streets, and on army bases -- bring it on. If this cover helps us advocate for a U.S. foreign policy that places the dignity and humanity of women at its core -- I will be the first to celebrate.
If this country is serious about addressing the root causes of Aisha's disfigurement -- let it make a commitment to non-violence and respect for women a key component of its domestic and foreign policy. Let it help train armies of nurses, teachers, and agricultural workers in Afghanistan. Let it invest in diplomacy and decrease its unmatched military expenditure -- currently more than the rest of the world combined. Let it say to its client states, whether Israel, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia, "we will stop providing military aid, if we do not see clear evidence that you are moving to address gender violence and discrimination in your societies." Let the Senate immediately ratify Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) -- the UN Bill of Rights for women. Let the U.S. lead by realizing women's rights at home before it invades other nations where it can moralize about "tribal" practices.
Aisha has just arrived in the US to receive medical treatment that I hope is a success. I wish there were medical interventions that could change the mindsets of those who continue to believe violence is the only answer to violence

Kavita N. Ramdas is the President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women.