August 15, 2005VOLUME 15
E-ZAN VOICE OF WOMEN AGAINST FUNDAMENTALISM IN
To our readers,
Last year on August 15th,
the fundamentalist rulers of
Yet, women of
E-Zan Featured Headlines
The head of
Globe and Mail –
The family of slain
Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi
suffered a setback in a
A 30-year-old woman set herself on
fire outside a justice department office in southern
The following are
excerpts from a speech by Iranian President-Elect Mahmoud
Ahmadi-Nejad, which aired
State Security Forces
crashed in on a mixed-sex party in the oil-rich city of
A prominent women’s
rights activist in Iranian Kurdistan was arrested during a gathering organized
in protest against the murder of a young Kurd by
Iran Focus –
Women will not be included in the cabinet of Iran’s new hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a leading ultra-conservative figure said on Sunday. Hamid-Reza Taraghi, a central committee member of the Motalefeh Party, told a state-run news agency, “The circumstances for women to be ministers in the cabinet do not exist, but probably they can become deputies”. Motalefeh is short for Jamiat’haye Motalefeh Islami, or Unified Islamic Associations. It came into existence in the 1960s as a clandestine radical Islamic fundamentalist group supporting Ayatollah Khomeini. Its members assassinated the Shah’s Prime Minister Ali Mansour and several other political figures. Its leaders, who hailed from Tehran’s Bazaar, became multi-billionaire entrepreneurs after the Islamic Revolution. They strongly oppose foreign investment and integration of Iran in the global economy. “Until now, we have had several cases of trial and error, but our country is in a state where one cannot tolerate experimenting with new administrations”, Taraghi said. “When people come and accept the responsibility to act, they must be able to turn their decisions into practice using their past experiences without creating chaos in the country’s administration or harming their relevant departments with their inexperience”, the hard-line official added. Taraghi went on to say that inexperienced individuals given leading posts in government ministries would hold back that department’s work by at least six months leading to an inability to make appropriate decisions. The Motalefeh Party central committee member added that Ahmadinejad would not negotiate with ethnic minorities for their members to join his cabinet. In July, Habibollah Asgar-Owladi, a leading ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that Ahmadinejad’s forthcoming cabinet would be made up entirely of Islamic “fundamentalists”. “There will be no outsiders”, he said.
Agance France Presse
Tehran court has barred a young woman from working after her estranged husband complained she was only allowed to be a housewife, local media reported. According to AFP, the female half of the unnamed couple left her husband and started working two years ago because he "deceived me and treated me badly", she told the court. But her husband charged that "she started working without my permission and I want her to be barred from having a job," the court heard. "Although their marriage certificate defines the wife's profession as 'housewife', she left her husband two years ago and worked in a private company without his permission," the court ruled. When there is no clause in the marriage certificate allowing the wife to work outside, the husband can bar her, the verdict said. Iranian women face a number of legal restrictions in Iran's male-dominated society. They receive half the inheritance and blood money given to men, and they are also not allowed to be court judges. If married, a woman needs her husband's permission to travel abroad or work outside home.
Iran Focus –
Supreme Court upheld a death by hanging sentence for a young woman accused of
killing a man as a teenager, a state-owned daily reported on Thursday. The
young woman, only identified by her first name Fakhteh,
will be hanged in the coming days, according to a judiciary spokesman. Fakhteh was accused of murdering a man in December 2001 and
then fleeing the scene, according to the daily Sharq.
The young woman professed her innocence throughout the proceedings and appealed
the original verdict that was handed down by Judge Mohammad-Sultan Hemmatyar. Elsewhere, an Iranian man accused of fatally
shooting a member of Iran’s paramilitary State Security Forces was hanged in
the Iranian capital in the early hours of Wednesday, the state-owned daily Iran
reported on Thursday.
Iran’s official media have reported that at least 18 people have been executed and a further seven have been sentenced to death in the country since the election of the new hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
E-Zan Featured Reports
Special Feature: Iranian women speak out against Iran's Constitution. See the petition below.
Our Protest Against Violations of Women's Rights in the Iranian Constitution
After years of protesting against discriminations between women and men in different spheres (such as unequal legal rights), we, women are still deprived of our fundamental rights. Among us, we may locate the roots of the violations of our rights differently: In the laws, in sexist interpretations, in customs and traditions, or in hierarchical and dominant structures in Iran and throughout the world. However, without a doubt, one of the standing obstacles to changing women's current status and a major factor in reaching a dead-end in our efforts are the ruling laws and their foundation, the Constitution.
Principle 20 of the Constitution states: "All citizens of the country, whether men or women, equally enjoy the protection of the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, in conformity with Islamic criteria." It is important to note that in this principle "all citizens, whether men or women," are considered equal not in terms of their "rights" but in terms of the "protection" that the law provides, based on Islamic criteria. Those who are endowed with the power to interpret maintain that they pursue a "balance" of differing rights and not "equal rights" between women and men. And this can be seen throughout the Constitution.
Principle 21 views women strictly as mothers or women without household heads. And the right they reserve under this definition of womanhood (motherhood) is the granting of child custody to deserving women in the absence of the "Sharia-ordained guardian" (men of the family).
The Constitution views women in no role other than mother, and as such, presupposes male leaders at the highest levels of political and social management. To run as a Presidential candidate, the qualification of being a political "rejal" is stipulated, which has been interpreted by higher authorities as being a male person.
Another problem with the existing Constitution as it relates to women (especially from the perspective of those who view violations of women's rights as a problem of sexist interpretations) is that all of its provisions are conditioned by dominant interpretations of Islamic principles. It has been the case that those who hold power are able to offer dominant interpretations and women, who are amongst the weakest social strata, can never offer alternative interpretations of any weight and influence. Needless to say, the depth and breadth of any interpretation is contingent upon the powers, opportunities, and institutions available to various groups in society. It is obvious that groups which hold exclusive military and security power, control culture and information and countless other resources, including the media, can impose their own interpretations on society.
The Constitution has reached a dead-end as it concerns women because the laws are not self-derived but rather, are open to official interpretation and dependent upon power-holders within the political structure and powerful official religious institutions. Women, who are considered the weakest link in society's power chain, cannot affect the necessary changes in the laws because the will of the citizenry (especially third-class citizens like women) is overshadowed by un-elected institutions, which hold interpretative power, as provided in the Constitution.
Even if the interpretation of official laws and individual and group rights were in the hands of elected institutions (as is the case in democratic countries), women, as a group with less access to power, would have great difficulty offering their own interpretations of women's rights to elected officials, let alone to un-elected appointed bodies. The more the relationship between un-elected state institutions and the citizenry is pyramid-structured and vertical, the more women and their rights are sidelined. And the more women will face an uphill battle to change conditions and laws to their favor in comparison to men.
The women's movement in Iran has endeavored to use all available civil avenues and opportunities to gain their rights as citizens and human beings. However, the current historically sensitive period and the potential for reactionary movements and/or political extremism requires the women's movement to face the reality that under the current state of affairs, seeking civil justice from the Constitution and protesting the breach of women's rights of citizenship can be an effective step towards achieving democracy and peace and self-determination of the citizenry.
Although though the women's movement encompasses a wide and diverse spectrum of social, cultural, and political activists, at the current juncture, they suffer a common injury: belittlement of the citizen. The least of which was witnessed with the elimination of women candidates for the presidency. More gravely, the Constitution's belittlement of women as active social participants has blocked their ability to secure their rights. We are forced to seek justice and show our civil opposition at the current sensitive juncture by fulfilling our social and gendered responsibility. Undoubtedly, we need each other's assistance to make our voices clearer and our protests more effective.
Identifying warning signs of fundamentalisms;
How gender equality advocates can spot the rise of fundamentalism before it enters the political mainstream
By Kathambi Kinoti, AWID
In August 2004 a 16 year-old Iranian girl was executed after being found guilty of committing adultery. At her trial she is said to have expressed outrage at the misogyny and injustice in her country. It is reported that this so angered the judge who sentenced her to death that he personally put the noose around her neck, accusing her of un-Islamic behavior. Iran and parts of Nigeria are just some of the places where there has been a return to a conservative, narrower interpretation of the rights of women and what their place in society should be. In Kenya, cultural fundamentalism has seen the reintroduction of female genital mutilation in communities that had abolished the practice almost a century ago, when European missionaries introduced Christianity into those communities.
At the end of the Second World War, when the United Nations was formed and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed, the countries of the world began moving towards some consensus on certain key concepts underlying human existence and co-existence. For instance, the inalienable human rights of every person were identified and articulated in international instruments. Debate around the right to life led to countries moving away from the death penalty as a punishment for crimes. Legal controls over sexual behavior began to diminish. Democracy and gender equality generally came to be seen as universal standards to which society should aspire. In the recent past, however, there appears to have been a re-assessment of these standards. The examples of a rethinking of international human rights norms are numerous. Are gender equality advocates doing enough to secure the advances they have already made?
The rise of religious and cultural fundamentalisms poses a major threat to the gains made towards the realization of women's human rights. These fundamentalisms usually reinforce women's disadvantaged position in the society and there is a very real danger of them entering the political mainstream. Often the erosion of women's rights by fundamentalisms begins in a very insidious way. There is a need for "early warning systems" that would allow the identification of certain trends that are likely to develop into threats to women's rights. Early identification will enable the countering of these threats. Kathleen McNeil writing for Women's Human Rights Network gives some early indicators of the possible rise of fundamentalist forces gaining political power:
How is it, in the first place, that fundamentalism is able to take root in the society? Are the links between poverty and fundamentalisms being adequately explored? In many poor countries people turn to religion out of desperation, looking for solutions to their problems. Poor countries are a fertile ground for the planting of extremist ideas, as poor people feel that the mainstream ideas are not serving them well and are disenchanted with the current world order. It is not only those who are looking for a spiritual escape from their problems who come into contact with extremist policies. In return for financial reward, young people from Africa and Asia are recruited into terrorist organizations that espouse religious fundamentalist ideas. Cultural fundamentalism also takes place in the context of poverty. Given that the poorest of the poor are women, there is the danger that women will become the foot soldiers of the forces of fundamentalism.
This article first appeared on AWID Resource Net, Friday File, January 28, 2005. For more information on AWID and the Resource Net list please visit www.awid.org.
Tokenism or real participation?
Media Monitors Network, Haleh Esfandiari
In the last few months, Iraqi women have witnessed with dismay the erosion of Iraq's secular family law. There is serious pressure to replace it with a law based on Islam and religious law--a change that will impact negatively on all spheres of women's lives. If this occurs, Iraqi women will replicate the experience of Iranian women who lost most of their rights after the Islamic Revolution of 1978, when the family law of 1967 was replaced by a law based on the sharia. It has taken Iranian women 27 years to regain some of those rights. The experience of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban, in Iran under the Islamic Republic, and now in Iraq, is a reminder that while considerable progress has been achieved in the area of women's rights in the Middle East and North Africa, reverses are always possible. The reversion to religiously-based personal law in the new Iraqi constitution could encourage Islamic forces across the region to pressure governments to slow down measures to expand women's rights. But the last few decades have witnessed a palpable transformation in the role of women in Middle Eastern societies. Today, except for Saudi Arabia, women have the right to vote and to be elected to parliament or to local councils in all the countries in the region--from Afghanistan to Morocco. Kuwaiti women, among the last to secure suffrage, were enfranchised in 2005, and Afghani women will be voting in the parliamentary elections in September 2005. Participation of women in elected bodies across the region is roughly around seven percent. The number of women parliamentarians varies from one in Yemen to 13 in Iran, and 87 in the current Iraqi parliament. Today, in most countries in the region, a handful of women also serve as ministers, ambassadors, deputy ministers, and even judges. Women still constitute a low nine percent of cabinet ministers in the region. Iraq has six women ministers, Jordan three, Bahrain two, Kuwait one, and Iran none… In Iran, women still cannot become judges, but they act as advisors to the clerics presiding over family courts. The award of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize to Iran's Shirin Ebadi, a judge in pre-revolution Iran, for her work on behalf of women's rights and human rights focused international attention on the achievements of women in the region. Governments in the region, ready to open educational opportunities to women at all levels and to allow women to work as long as they remain in gender-specific jobs like teaching and health services, were surprised to discover that educated women, like their uneducated predecessors, were no longer satisfied to remain at home, be good homemakers and mothers, or to confine themselves to "women's" work. It is primarily women themselves who have pushed for wider access to education and employment, for changes in the personal status laws, and for political participation and general empowerment. Advances in women's role and rights are also due to enlightened leaders who provided support, international conventions that obligate governments to specific practices, and a multitude of conferences focusing on improvement of the status of women around the world. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is the most important vehicle provided to women activists. Seventeen Arab countries have ratified CEDAW, though usually with reservations, especially regarding compatibility with the sharia. Education, employment, and political participation have focused attention on personal status laws. Some women activists argue that women can be fully integrated and enjoy equal rights as citizens in Islamic societies even under existing personal and family laws. Others believe that these laws must be changed, or reinterpreted, if women are to be fully integrated into society and enjoy equal rights. This debate continues in all Islamic countries in the Middle East. While advances are undeniable, much work remains to be done. Despite the opening up of the job market, for example, women in the region account for only 32 percent of the labor force--a low figure even among developing countries. Besides, women in the Middle East are no longer satisfied with what they regard as tokenism: an ambassador or a deputy minister here, a handful of women parliamentarians there. Women are seeking representation and participation based on merit and qualification. Until that is achieved, a number of women activists have been pushing for a quota system. They note that without it, we would not have 87 women in the Iraqi parliament and 35 women in the Moroccan parliament. The quota system is not perfect, but women activists feel it can be an important instrument for breaking down barriers and furthering women's political participation and integration.
Unrest continues in Iran’s Kurdish region
Iran Focus –
Tehran, Iran, Aug. 10 – Sixty Iranian women activists made a public appeal on Thursday for the release of a Kurdish feminist campaigner who has been held incommunicado for more than a week after she protested against the Islamic government’s repressive measures in Kurdish areas of Iran. “More than a week after the arrest of Dr. Roya Toloui, who is a founding member of Kurdish Women for Human Rights group, she has not been allowed to receive any visits from her two children and her lawyer”, the women wrote in an open letter to Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi. The letter comes in the wake of continuing unrest and clashes in Iran’s Kurdish region between the restive Kurds and government forces. The names of 17 Iranian Kurds shot dead by the security forces since late July have been released. They included three anti-government protesters shot dead in Oshnavieh on July 26, two killed in Baneh on July 30, one shot dead in Sardasht on August 2, and 11 killed in Saqqez on August 3. Hundreds of residents of the town of Javanroud clashed with security forces on Saturday. Young people chanted anti-government slogans and condemned the brutal crackdown on protesters in the town of Saqqez. Several government buildings were attacked during the protests. Fresh demonstrations broke out on Monday in the town of Kamyaran, where hundreds of residents chanted anti-government slogans and clashed with the security forces. Clashes continued well past midnight and young protesters attacked government buildings, including state-owned banks. Dozens of protesters were arrested. On the same day, protesters and government forces fought hit-and-run battles in the districts of Ghafour and 25 Shahrivar in the city of Sanandaj. A 13-year-old demonstrator was shot and wounded during the clashes. The death under torture of a young man, Shahou Amjadi, who had been detained in a previous demonstration, inflamed the already tense situation in the city. On Saturday, another Sanandaj resident, Zanyar Ashyan, was shot dead at point blank by the paramilitary police. On the same day, plainclothes intelligence agents arrested another activist, Jalal Bahmani, in his office in Sanandaj. The government’s response to the ongoing unrest in Kurdistan has been to step up the repression and make more arrests. In the early hours of Tuesday, two Kurdish human rights activists, Saman Rasoulpour and Zeynab Bayazidi, were arrested by the security forces in the town of Mahabad. More arrests were reported in Saqqez, Bukan, Dehgolan and Ghorveh.
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