Wednesday, October 31, 2007
1 Million Sisters= U.S. feminists rally in support of women’s rights in Iran1 Million Sisters
U.S. feminists rally in support of women’s rights in Iran
Ms. Magazine, Fall 2007, P. 18http://www.feminist.org/
ON AUGUST 27, IRANIAN feminists and advocates of women’s rights marked the first anniversary of the One MillionSignatures Demanding Change to Discriminatory Laws campaign in Iran. Iran’s conservative Islamist authorities refused to issue permits for public anniversary celebrations, yet women managed to organize a week of press conferences, art exhibitions and panel discussions at private houses, art galleries and the offices of a progressive journal.
A few days later, a victory for Iranian and U.S. feminists: Iranian American scholar Haleh Esfandiari was released from almost four months of solitary confinement in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison. A scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and an expert on women’s issues in the Middle East, Esfandiari had gone to Iran to visit her elderly mother but was charged there with endangering Iranian national security.
It seems almost paradoxical that at a time when there’s growing U.S. government saber-rattling over Iran—and within Iran a paranoia against Western influence—that human and women’s-rights activists from both countries have joined forces. In fact, most Iranian feminists and advocates of human rights are saying no to both the internal Islamist patriarchy and the external Western militarism that pretends to be on the side of women’s rights.
U.S. feminists have been eager to lend support: The Feminist Majority Foundation, the Nobel Women’s Initiative and the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies have been among the groups that waged campaigns in support of Esfandiari. Now, the fire generated by her case can spread to other issues of concern for Iranian women.
The One Million Signatures campaign is the next stage of a new wave of feminist activism in the country, highlighted by street protests in 2005 and 2006—demonstrations that were violently suppressed by the Iranian police. But that isn’t enough to stop the women’s movement in Iran, which can be traced back over a hundred years. Women have made significant achievements since then, especially in education where they make up 65 percent of entering university students. But despite social and legal gains, Iran’s legal system—even at the most progressive points in the country’s history—has remained blatantly biased against women.
The inception of Iran’s Islamist regime in 1979 expanded the role of sharia (Islamic) law with a much more conservative and patriarchal interpretation. The focus of the One Million Signatures campaign is these discriminatory and oppressive laws, involving such things as divorce, child custody, inheritance, blood money (compensation for injury or death) and polygamy.
Despite continuous harassment and repression by conservative authorities, more than 1,000 volunteers have joined the effort in Iran, and the campaign has active branches in 15 provinces. The plan is to collect 1 million signatures within two years. Signatures from international supporters will not be counted toward the 1 million, but U.S. feminists can express their solidarity through the online international petition at: www.wechange.info/english/.
U.S. women help our sisters in Iran by echoing their voices for human rights, justice and peace. Pressing the U.S. government toward peaceful diplomacy, rather than another war, will better serve the cause of women’s rights and democracy in Iran, the Middle East and here at home.