June 15, 2005 VOLUME 13


To our readers,

Just days before Iran’s unpopular presidential election, women set the tone for real change in Iran. Instead of focusing on the worthless election, women are offering a roadmap for change of the regime in Iran.

In a large protest on June 12, 2005, Iranian women declared their demand for change insisting “democracy will not be possible in Iran unless full rights of women are recognized”. The declaration outlines that the organized women’s movement in Iran will continue:

-          Until there is a ban on forced marriages

-          Until divorced women gain equal rights for child custody

-          Until polygamy is banned and all temporary marriages, legal or illegal, is totally abolished

-          Until violence against women ends and shelters are provided for run away girls and women

-          Until there are more options available to young women in their choice of life style

-          Until there is no more self-immolation of women because of their social despair and depression

-          Until there is a social safety net for poor and economically-deprived women and girls

-          Until there is democracy and freedom established in Iran

The declaration refers to Iran’s constitution and emphasizes, “Legal rights is our minimum demand”. While outlining 25 years of anti-women laws in Iran’s constitution, the declaration refers to the inherent incompatibility between women’s demand for equality and the nature of fundamentalist regime. The declaration concluded that women would continue their anti-government protests until their demands for real change in Iran are met.

 Women Forum Again Fundamentalism in Iran (WFAFI) applauds the brave women and girls of Iran who shook the misogynous system of fundamentalism in Tehran yesterday.  WFAFI calls upon all freedom loving people of the world to come to the aid of Iranian women and echo their voice of change around the world. We urge you to ask your governments and representatives to boycott the anti-women regime in Tehran and support the women of Iran.

E-Zan Featured Headlines

Iran Focus – May 18, 2005

An Iranian woman was sentenced yesterday to death by stoning in Tehran, according to a state-run daily. The young woman, only identified by her first name Fatemeh, 25 years old, was given two death sentences, for murder and having an affair. The Etemaad daily reported that a Tehran court found Fatemeh guilty of strangling to death a 22-year-old neighbour, whom she allegedly also had an affair with. The court also sentenced her husband to prison time for taking part in the murder. The first death sentence was issued for the murder, while the stoning to death sentence was issued for the alleged affair. Separately, a man, identified as Hossein Gholi, was sentenced to death by execution in Tehran, for the murder of a friend whom he suspected of having an affair with his wife. Hossein Gholi denied that he had murdered his friend; however the court ruled that he was guilty and sentenced him to execution. Late last month the European Parliament adopted a resolution, calling on Iran to end its increasing human rights violations. It condemned “the serious increase in human rights violations, particularly the increasing number of reports of public executions, and floggings”. The EP called “on the Council (of Europe) and the Commission to closely monitor the implementation of commitments made by Iran to moratoriums in the three key areas of stoning, execution of minors and amputations”. The EP resolution said that it was “very concerned that the human rights situation has deteriorated in the last two years and calls on the Iranian authorities to make a serious commitment to reversing this trend”. It expressed alarm at “the high number of executions in Iran, in particular of minors, and Iran's refusal to release official statistics on the death penalty”.


The Globe and Mail – May 21, 2005

A doctor who treated Montreal photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in the intensive care unit of a Tehran hospital has reportedly been arrested by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The doctor's life may be in jeopardy because he can testify about the severity of the head wounds and other injuries the photojournalist suffered while she was in the custody of Iranian authorities, Stephan Hachemi, Ms. Kazemi's son, said yesterday. "This is another attempt by the Iranian government to hide the facts about my mother's murder," he said. The Canadian government said it is trying to get more information about the doctor's apparent arrest. "If it is true that he has information relevant to Ms. Kazemi's case, we call upon the Iranian authorities to bring it forward and examine it in the investigation and new trial which her family and we have requested," said Marie-Christine Lilkoff, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs. The doctor, Hadi Sepherlou, was reportedly arrested at his apartment in Tehran last Sunday, just 24 hours before an Iranian court heard an appeal by the Kazemi family lawyer to reopen the case. Ms. Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian dual national, died in July of 2003 after 17 days in custody in Iran. Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew says the 54-year-old was murdered.


Agance France Presse – June 2, 2005

For the past 26 years, Iran's ruling clerics have been at pains to keep women under wraps and away from the risk of "Westoxication". Elsewhere in Tehran, trendy fashion and lingerie stores are also appearing, despite occasional raids by Islamist militiamen - who still try in vain to stop headscarves from slipping back and coats from getting too colourful. "It is a very profitable business," explained storeowner Mohammad Emami, who switched from selling kitchenware to off-the-peg fashions three years ago and hasn't looked back. "The only concern is moral clampdowns."  "I feel limited by the coat and scarf," complained Mahsa Raoofi, a 21-year-old student who spends most of her small income from a part-time job on fashion.


The Guardian – June 6, 2005

With the red, white and green tricolour of the Iranian flag draped around her shoulders, Niloofar Ardalan appeared to be in her element as she cheered on the national football team as it battled to reach next year's World Cup. As the daughter of a former international goalkeeper, football is in her blood. She is widely lauded as the best female player in Iran, and once scored 23 goals in an international Islamic women's indoor five-a-side tournament. But despite her achievements, last Friday's tie between Iran and North Korea was the first men's match Ms Ardalan, 20, had been allowed to attend. Along with around 20 other young women, Ms Ardalan - an ardent Chelsea fan - was breaching a deeply entrenched taboo of Islamic Iran that bars females from spectating at male sporting events. The only women in an otherwise all-male crowd, their presence was noticeably incongruous. Clad in black Islamic head covering and long coats, they were wedged between two groups of Koreans in a seating arrangement apparently calculated to limit their contact with Iranian male fans. Their attendance prompted a heavy presence of security officers, used to enforcing the all-male rule without challenge. "This is just the beginning of our people having a new culture and getting used to women coming into stadiums," said Elaheh Moladoast, 27, a referee in the women's league. "We are defending our rights as women to come and watch rather than sitting at home and watching on television. There should be no limitations."


Agance France Presse – June 10, 2005

Fariba Davoudi, a 41-year-old journalist and activist, credited Khatami for “preventing censorship on the press in his early years”, but added “he didn’t do anything to stop violent measures against writers and students.” She spent 40 days in solitary confinement in 2000 for “inciting dissent,” but crackdowns have failed to keep a lid on the mounting demands for greater women’s rights.“Women are frustrated by discrimination, but they have formed bonds and for the first time found a common voice which is impossible to shut up,” she said.“The women’s movement may have to go underground if conservatives are elected but it will certainly not die.”Manijeh Hekmat, director of the prize-winning film “Women’s Prison” about three generations of women in jail, knows how precious - and precarious - the new freedoms are. “We all know what these gentlemen (conservatives) are like, we were not exactly born yesterday... There will be infringements if they come to power. It will all be suffocating again. We risk losing this very little freedom of expression,” Hekmat said.

E-Zan Featured Reports


Thousands join women’s anti-government demonstration in Tehran

Iran Focus

June 12, 2005

THERAN – A protest that began with a gathering of dozens of women in downtown Tehran this afternoon drew thousands of anti-government protesters and streamrolled into one of the largest demonstrations against Iran’s clerical rulers in recent months. The protest began in front of Tehran University as a small group of women began chanting “freedom, freedom” and calling for a referendum on religious rule. The rally grew rapidly as thousands of local inhabitants and passers-by joined the protesters. Hundreds of uniformed and plain-clothed security agents quickly circled the protestors to prevent thousands more joining their ranks. Agents of the notorious secret police, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the paramilitary Bassij forces were ferried to the streets around Tehran University to disperse the demonstrators. The mainly young protesters, many in their teens, defied the security forces’ assaults and chanted slogans against the upcoming presidential elections, calling it a masquerade. Cries of “Freedom, equality, down with dictatorship” could be heard at the scene, as protestors tore down campaign posters of all election contenders and urged passers-by to boycott the polls. Protesters were able to break through police ranks in Enghelab Street and move towards Enghelab Square and then Karegar Avenue. Thousands had joined the throngs of protesters as they made their way towards Keshavarz Boulevard, destroying all election posters and placards on their way.  In a reference to gender inequality in the theocratic state, protesters chanted, “Unequal law, inhuman justice”, “human rights can only exist in a free Iran”, and “Misogyny is the root of tyranny”. Security agents and paramilitary policemen were seen hitting women with batons. In some cases, angry women protesters retaliated and beat some of the security agents before being dragged to security forces’ vans and driven away. By nightfall, sporadic clashes were still being reported in several streets near the main route of the protest.


Hundreds of Women Protest Sex Discrimination in Iran

By Nazila Fathi, The New York Times

June 12, 2005

TEHRAN - Hundreds of women staged an unauthorized demonstration in Tehran today, protesting sex discrimination under Iran's Islamic leadership just days before the June 17 presidential elections. The protest was the first public display of dissent by women since the 1979 revolution, when the new regime enforced obligatory veiling. "We are women, we are the children of this land, but we have no rights," they chanted. More than 250 marched outside Tehran University, and about 200 others demonstrated two blocks away after hundreds of riot police swarmed in and barred them from joining the main protest. There were reports that the police clubbed several women...Demonstrators said they saw some women being detained and dragged away by officers…"We will continue such protests because it shows that women are aware of their rights," said Roohi Afzal, 52, a translator who was at the protest. "It seems that our presence today really hurts the government, that it has deployed so many forces. Maybe it will react and respond to our demands." The demonstrations were part of a recent push by women's rights advocates in Iran to draw attention to their cause during a time of relative tolerance by the government as it seeks to draw more voters to the polls…many advocates now say that they have given up hopes that any president could change their status under the current constitution. And women are signaling that they are tired of being courted with promises of improved status that are quickly forgotten once the election is over. Some 89 women who had registered to run for president were rejected last month on the basis of their sex by the hard-line Guardian Council, dominated by six unelected clerics and six judges. The move was greeted with outrage, leading to at least one call for a boycott, though it was carefully worded.

"As long as half of the population is banned from being elected as president, we declare that the regime must not expect women's high turnout," one group announced in a statement last week.  Zahra Eshraghi, the granddaughter of the Islamic revolution's leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, said in an interview this week that working on women's issues has been very difficult because women did not feel safe to criticize the laws. "There are certain things that are considered as crimes although the situation is gradually changing," she said. "For example it would have been very dangerous to talk about changing the constitution, or women's right to choose their dress. There can be no progress if women don't feel they are safe to express their demands."  However, the more tolerant condition that has appeared temporarily before the election has allowed women to express their criticism like never before. The mood was reflected in a meeting with a reformist candidate, Mostafa Moin, last week and another meeting this week. 

At one of the meetings, Ms. Eshraghi said that candidates who promised to improve women's status must clarify how they could bring any changes as long as the country was ruled by Islamic law, or Shariah. Iranian law stipulates that the value of a woman's life and her testimony in court are half those of men. Iranian men can marry up to four wives and have the right to divorce any of them at will. A woman inherits half of the share her brothers receive and needs her husband's permission to work outside the home or to leave the country. Women are rarely promoted to high positions, and despite their relatively high levels of education, they make up only 14 percent of the government employees.  Mahboobeh Abbasgholizadeh, a feminist who was jailed last fall, said, "Women's rights will be fulfilled only when the constitution changes."
A group of women activists found the courage to force their way into the stadium to watch a soccer game between Iran and Bahrain on Wednesday for the first time since the Islamic Revolution banned women from watching games at the stadiums. For four hours, they carried signs that read, "My right is also human rights," and "Freedom, justice and gender equality."  "It wasn't that the security was not letting us into the stadium because of an order," said Parastoo Dokoohaki, one the women who was at the protest. "Every single one of them believed it was inappropriate for women to watch the game from up close."  Authorities were forced to allow the women in for the second half of the game after Ms. Abbasgholizadeh's leg was crushed under the gate.  Yet, candidates are aware of the role women can play in their election and have employed young, liberal women to campaign for them in a gesture that suggests they favor more freedom for women. Many of them work at the headquarters of leading presidential candidates, like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Muhammad Baqir Qalibaf, a former police chief.
One woman who introduced herself as Tahereh, 22, wore a narrow pink see-through material over her head and had a piercing in her nose. She said she received 300,000 Rials, $33, per day to drive in her car around Tehran with Mr. Rafsanjani's poster on the rear window, though she is cynical about the result. "I do it for the money," she said. "He is responsible for the situation. Why would he change it?"


Iranian women still waiting for real reform
By Parisa Hafezi, Reuters

June 13, 2005

TEHRAN- Bitter? Angry? Desperate? Mitra, an Iranian mother of two, is all those and more. "How would you feel if someone took away your children?" the 34-year-old English teacher wept, clutching to her chest a teddy bear that belonged to one of her daughters.

A Tehran court last month granted custody of Mitra's two daughters, aged eight and 10, to her ex-husband as part of their divorce settlement.

In Iran, where Islamic Sharia law is the bedrock of the legal system, divorced women can only keep their children up to the age of seven. After that, the father gets custody. Even this represents a recent, limited increase in a mother's rights; the age limit for boys used to be just two years. Eight years after reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami swept presidential elections promising, among other things, improved legal rights for women in the Islamic state, many like Mitra are still wondering when real change will come. "Iran is a man's paradise. The law, culture and tradition all back them," said Masoumeh, 30, who has unsuccessfully been trying to divorce her drug addict husband.

Elections take place on June 17 to elect a successor to Khatami, who is legally barred from standing for a third consecutive term.

Virtually all of the eight candidates, reformist and conservative alike, running in the vote have pledged to make renewed efforts to improve women's status in society. But in a country where a woman can be elected to parliament but cannot leave the country without her husband's permission, the position of women epitomises the Islamic state's constant struggle between religious values and civil rights, a struggle Khatami was unable to win.


"(Under Khatami) there have been subtle changes in the laws. But we have a long way to go," said Farzaneh Dadgostar, a women's rights activist. One example of limited progress is that men cannot divorce their wives without the ruling of a court at which a female legal observer is present, nor without paying alimony. Previously they had an absolute right to divorce without producing any justification.

Since Khatami's first election win in 1997, women have entered previously male-only jobs such as taxi driving and the police.

Women fans have penetrated the once all-male preserves of soccer stadiums and the country's top rally driver is a 28-year-old woman.

Foreign visitors to Iran often focus on dress restrictions, which oblige women to cover their heads and wear long, loose fitting clothes to hide their figure.

Under Khatami, enforcement of the dress code has relaxed and many women wear tight-fitting coats and bright scarves pushed back to reveal manes of often dyed hair. Once banned, lipstick and eyeshadow are now ubiquitous. But Iranian women's rights activists play down the importance of dress restrictions. Instead they complain of laws that openly discriminate against women. Monetary compensation for a woman's life is half that of a man's and her testimony in court is accorded half of the value. Inheritance, divorce and custody rights also need to be revised to establish gender equality, activists say.

But while many leading Iranian clerics openly support their claims, those in charge of powerful state institutions like the Guardian Council, the constitutional watchdog, have blocked most attempts by Khatami's reformist allies to boost women's rights. This year, as in previous presidential elections, the Guardian Council also barred women from running despite strong arguments by Iran's 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi that the constitution does not prevent women from standing.


In a political system where unelected religious bodies wield ultimate power, the president is incapable of bringing about fundamental changes in women's status, said rights activist Dadgostar. "The next president must be a superman to confront forces beyond his control," she said.

Still, analysts say, a reformist president such as Khatami's former Higher Education Minister Mostafa Moin, who is running third in the polls, would be far more likely to promote women's rights than a hard-liner like former Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Women parliamentarians belonging to the same conservative group as Ahmadinejad have recently spoken out in favor of a man's right to marry up to four wives. One went so far as to suggest executing 10 prostitutes in public to teach others a lesson. The idea was not implemented. Despite being excluded from a recent televised election debate merely because she was a woman, Moin campaign spokeswoman Elaheh Kulai believes that whoever wins the election will at least be unable to turn the clock back on the tentative progress made under Khatami.

"The changes are irreversible as women are determined to enjoy their rights," she said. Around 60 percent of university graduates are women, and many refuse to be constrained by a discriminatory legal system. "Legally we are still second-class citizens. But women have learned to fight for their rights," said Farideh Yaghmayi, who runs her own shipping company. "Now they have proven themselves and no power can send them back to their kitchens," said female theater director Pari Saberi.

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Volume 13, June 15, 2005

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