May 15, 2007 VOLUME 36


To our readers,

In recent weeks, the Iranian regime have launched an extensive wave of crackdown on women, student, labor and teachers union. Tehran's officials are calling the  student and the women's movement "elements of subversion" against the regime. Iranian security forces have openly beaten, arrested and tortured thousands throughout the country. Such suppressive reactions have not deterred the daily uprisings and protests in Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz, Mazandaran and many other cities in the country. 

The voice of change is become louder but the silence from Washington and Europe is deafening. In fact, Washington is still seeking to engage Tehran. During the Iraq summit in Egyptian resort, Sharlm-el-Sheik, much focus was on creating an encounter between Iran’s foreign minister and US Secretary of State. From the seating arrangement to the timing of key players’ appearances, the hope for a new beginning of Iran-US relation was in the air until the lady in red, the Ukrainian violinist, began performing her usual repertoire of classic pop songs. The Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, seated across from the Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice walked out of a dinner reception because the violinist’s red dress was too revealing. The lady in red showcased another example of Tehran's misogynous and fundamentalist ideology on spotlight for the world leaders. They still fail acknowledge the true nature of this regime. Never mind the thousands who have been arrested in recent weeks, never mind the 30-year-woman who was executed in city of Bandar-Abas on May 7, 2007, never mind the 9 Iranian women who are facing execution by stoning, and never mind how the Iran's fundamentalism is now targeting Iraqi women, it had to take the lady in red to break up the chance for diplomatic opening between Tehran and Washington. It is time to be sincere about protection of human rights and women's right. Tehran's regime must be held responsible for its crimes against women. Engagement is no longer justifiable and will bear no results except more embarrassment for the west. It is time to respond to the voice of change that is coming from Iran.

E-Zan Featured Headlines

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - April 16, 2007

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says two journalists -- Mahbubeh Hosseinzadeh and Nahid Keshavarz -- have been arrested and held for nearly two weeks after covering a demonstration calling for the repeal of laws that discriminate against women. The Paris-based organization says five women journalists -- Asieh Amini, Jila Bani Yaghoub, Jelveh Javaheri, Nushine Ahmadi Khorasani, and Sussan Tahmassebi -- have been summoned before the Tehran Revolutionary Court and charged with "attacking national security," "publicity against the Islamic Republic," and "participating in an unauthorized demonstration." Parnaz Azima, a broadcaster with Radio Farda, the Persian-language service run jointly by RFE/RL and Voice of America, has also been barred from leaving the country. Azima told Radio Farda today that all efforts to get her Iranian passport back have failed. "It's my right [to travel to Iran]," Azima said. "Anyone has the right to go to his country and not be harassed unless it's a criminal who has committed a crime and been convicted. I'm really surprised that [officials] behave like this without any reason." Azima had her passport seized when she arrived in Tehran nearly three months ago to visit a sick relative.

The AKI Italian News Agency - April 18, 2007

Iranian women who do not respect the Islamic dress code are instruments of the enemy, Iran's police chief, Gen. Ahmad Moghaddam, said on Wednesday, the country's Army Day. "Women who do not wear the veil and don't abide by the Muslim dress code are tools of the enemy, who tries to destroy the system by spreading a cuture which goes against Islamic values," he said. The general slammed recent criticism of a police measure which will become effective starting on 21 April under which women who do not respect the Islamic dress code will be arrested.
"The police must solve this problem because it is intolerable to accept the challenge posed by some women to the Islamic principles on which our system is based and which the enemy would like to overthrow," said General Moghaddam.  The police chief also spoke about growing alcohol consumption banned by Sharia law and Iranian laws: "In the past 12 months, security officials have seized four million litres of alcohol which represent less than 25 percent of alcoholic beverages being produced illegally in the country."

The Scotsman - April 19, 2007

An Iranian court has given prison sentences to two female activists for attending a banned rally last June to demand greater women's rights. About 100 women protested in Tehran against unequal inheritance laws, the difficulties women in Iran face getting a divorce and the fact that their court testimony is worth only half that of men. Fariba Davoudi Mohajer received a four-year jail term, with three years suspended, while co-accused Sousan Tahmaseb was sentenced to two years, with 18 months suspended, it was reported. About 70 women were detained during the protest, but it was not immediately clear whether others had also been convicted. Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the intelligence minister, was quoted in a newspaper last week as saying "the enemy's new conspiracy" was to plan a "soft revolution" led by women and student movements.

The AKI Italian News Agency - April 19, 2007

Female students at Tehran Polytechnic University, where students protested against Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a visit last December crying 'dictator go away' and throwing firecrackers, are staging a major protest against new regulations enabling police as of 21 April to arrest women who do not abide by the Islamic dress code. A group of 700 female students organized a rally on campus and signed a letter to the dean calling the new rules "an offence to the dignity of women" and accusing him of "wanting to extend to academia the sexual apartheid imposed by the government on Iranian society." Authorities immediately reacted on Thursday withdrawing the students' university ID cards which are mandatory to access campus and classes. The students will now have to face a disciplinary commission which will decide whether they will be allowed to continue their studies or be expelled. On Wednesday, Iran's police chief, Gen. Ahmad Moghaddam, said that women who do not wear the veil and don't abide by the Muslim dress code "are tools of the enemy, who tries to destroy the system by spreading a couture which goes against Islamic values."

NCRI Website - April 19, 2007

Last night, chief of the State Security Forces (SSF) in Greater Tehran, Brig. Gen. Ahmad-Reza Radan, said, “[Street] mannequins are stooges for others,” the state television reported. He brazenly continued, “If you are planning not to obey the declared dress codes, you must be afraid of the Police. We have publicly announced the official dress codes [for women]. The following are forbidden to wear: short pants, tight dress, headbands in place of scarves, and tight and short garments…Presence of street mannequins are against the code of ethics of the society. After we dealt with the women mannequins then we will turn to young men and what they wear…The police will be swift when it comes to securing the society.” Last week, in a clear insult to Tehran residents that their loved ones had been arrested by the SSF units on the charges of “mal-veiling,” Radan said, “Bring some pants for your children to put on and take them home.”  To combat the increasing uprisings and protests, the mullahs’ regime has been using the Revolutionary Guards against the women and youths in the society; the same hooligans who have been suppressing the Iranian people for past quarter of a century. The Iranian Resistance calls on all international human rights organizations to condemn the systematic suppression by the regime under various pretexts such as “mal-veiling” in Iran.

Reuters News Agency - April 23, 2007

Iranian police have launched a crackdown on women's dress before the summer season when soaring temperatures typically tempt many to flout the strict Islamic dress code, witnesses and Iranian state media said on Sunday.Such crackdowns have become a regular feature of Iranian life in the summer as police confront growing numbers of young women testing the limits of the law with shorter, brighter and skimpier clothing. Under Iran's Islamic Sharia law, imposed after the 1979 revolution, women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their figures and protect their modesty. Violators can receive lashes, fines or imprisonment. "Police have started from Saturday to confront those women who appear in public in an inappropriate way," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Mehdi Ahmadi, a spokesman of the capital's police force, as saying. Many young women, particularly in wealthier urban areas, shun the traditional head-to-toe black chador, wearing calf-length Capri pants, tight-fitting, thigh-length coats and brightly colored scarves pushed back to expose plenty of hair. The Islamic dress code is less commonly challenged in poor suburbs and rural regions. Police in Iran's capital, Tehran, have so far stopped more than 1,300 women and warned them against breaching the dress code, Ahmadi said, adding "the cases of 59 women have been referred to the court." The fate of women who police decide are "badly veiled" depends on the officers concerned. They may be released with a caution, or taken to a police station and freed on bail, said the Kargozaran daily. "Those women who resist the guidance of police may be detained," it quoted a senior police official as saying.  Since hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidency in 2005 after promising a return to the values of the revolution, hardliners have pressed for tighter controls on "immoral behavior."


Iran Focus - April 23, 2007

Two men and a woman were flogged by authorities in the town of Ashkaneh, north-eastern Iran, state media reported on Monday. The three unnamed individuals were accused of "moral corruption", the state-run news agency ISNA said, adding that all three were given 100 lashes. Both the men were lashed in a town square in public, a local prosecutor was quoted as saying, while the woman was lashed in a different location. Under Iran's Islamic Penal Code, adultery by a married woman is punishable by flogging and stoning. The law is very specific about the manner of execution and types of stones which should be used. Article 102 states that men will be buried up to their waists and women up to their breasts for the purpose of execution by stoning. Article 104 states, with reference to the penalty for adultery, that the stones used should "not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes, nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones".

The Associated Press - May 4, 2007

Iran's foreign minister walked out of a dinner of diplomats where he was seated directly across from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on the pretext that the female violinist entertaining the gathering was dressed too revealingly."I don't know which woman he was afraid of, the woman in the red dress or the secretary of state,'' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday, regarding the actions of Iran's Manouchehr Mottaki. The dinner episode Thursday night amid a major regional conference on Iraq perfectly revealed how hard it was to bring together the top diplomats of the two rival nations.


The AKI Italian News Agency - May 7, 2007

Female public employees in Iran will soon have to wear a uniform abiding by new Islamic dress code rules. The measure, under which all female employees will be given two uniforms, is part of a new "moralisation" campaign that kicked off last month under which Iranians who do not abide by Islamic dress rules can be jailed, said Fereshteh Sasani, a top official at the office for women's affairs of the presidency. Sasani said the measure will cost Iran the equivalent of two million euros. The government has also ordered all public institutions to abolish open space offices as they do not guarantee an effective separation from female and male employees.

The AKI Italian News Agency - May 8, 2007

Zeinab Peighambarzadeh, a young women's rights activist, was arrested on Monday evening. She had been summoned by a judge for questioning over her participation in a rally in March in support of other activists who were standing trial for taking part in a demonstration demanding equal rights for women last June. The activist was arrested at the court after questioning. Peighambarzadeh, who is currently detained at Tehran's Evin prison, is also a leading member of the campaign demanding legislation promoting equal opportunities for women.
Another two women's rights activists, Fatemeh Ghovaraii and Maryam Hosseikhah, will be questioned Tuesday on the initiative. All 31 women who took part in the March rally were arrested and later released.

Agence France Presse - May 8, 2007

Iran's conservative government is encouraging doctors and nurses to treat patients only of the same gender in a bid to bring healthcare in line with its Islamic laws, press reports said Tuesday. Health minister Kamran Bagheri Lankarani said that hospitals should implement a 1998 parliament bill that stipulates segregation of sexes known as the "initiative to conform medical care with Sharia law." "A council has been formed with two parliament members as observers to facilitate the enforcement of this law," the centrist Kargozaran newspaper quoted him as saying. "We have to respect patients' rights in health centers. A person with any kind of belief should be provided with service.  "Respecting patients' dignity and the 'conformity initiative' should be considered when building new hospitals," he said, adding that old health centers needed to be "corrected" as well. It is not clear whether sexual segregation in hospitals would become mandatory under the initiative, which appears aimed at encouraging hospitals to keep unrelated men and women apart wherever possible.  Unrelated men and women are not allowed to touch each other under Islamic law. But the 1998 bill drew strong criticism and opposition from health workers who considered it impractical. Many also saw it as an insult to their professional values.The initiative was shelved at the time partly due to insufficient numbers of qualified staff from each sex. The strongest protest came from male gynecologists who said that segregation would put them out of business.
Since the Islamic revolution, Iranian male medical students have been barred from specializing in Obstetrics and Gynecology, meaning that the only men practicing in these branches earned their qualifications abroad or before 1979.  The plan essentially targeted women seeking treatment in Iran's male-dominated healthcare service. However, Lankarani said that in future it could be men who would need an alternative as "67 percent of medical students are women."

The New York Times - May 9, 2007

Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American academic who is prominent in Washington, was imprisoned yesterday in the Iranian capital of Tehran after being barred from leaving the country four months ago, said the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Ms. Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East program at the Wilson center, in Washington, D.C., had endured repeated interrogations since December about her work there and was taken to Evin prison yesterday, where she was allowed one call to inform relatives that she had been jailed.


NCRI Website - May 9, 2007

A 30 year old women identified as Zahra Nazari was hanged on Monday afternoon, May 7, in the main prison of southern city of Bandar-Abbas.
The judge ordered that she be executed in public. But, other judicial authorities opposed the public execution due to extensive public discontent and pressures on Iran by international humanitarian organizations to stop executions. Hence, most executions in Iran are carried out in secret.According to reliable reports, 50 other prisoners are on death row in Bandar-Abbas's main prison. Ten people have been executed in Bandar-Abbass during the past twenty days alone.

Agence France Presse - May 13, 2007

Iranian police have prevented 50 women from boarding flights in their ongoing crackdown on dress styles deemed to be out of line with Islamic dress rules, officials said on Sunday. "Fifty badly-veiled women were prevented from boarding domestic and international flights for failing to respect Islamic dress rules," said the head of airport police Mamoud Bot-Shekane, according to the Fars news agency. He said that the airport police have handed out "17,135 warnings to women who are not fully respecting the Islamic veil and 850 of them have had to make a written pledge to respect the veil more." Out of these, the cases of 80 women as well as 50 men have been sent to the judicial authorities, he added. Iran's police have been enforcing a nationwide crackdown on slack dressing for the past three weeks -- a regular pre-summer event that has been pursued with increased vehemence this year. Women in Iran are obliged to cover all bodily contours and their heads but in recent years many have pushed the boundaries by showing off naked ankles and fashionably styled hair beneath their headscarves. Some conservatives have applauded the crackdown as important to protect the security of society but moderates have publicly questioned whether Iran would be better off tackling poverty and crime rather than slack dressing. Iran's police chief Esmaeeli Ahmadi Moghadam has insisted that the crackdown is not temporary and will continue.

E-Zan Featured Reports

Violence Against Women and Girls in Iran


April 2007

He slapped her face, as she imagined the warmth of her father’s kisses on her cheeks. He hit her with a stick on her lower back, and she no longer had sensation in her legs. She became paralyzed forever. He hit her on every part of her body, and she ached.
She asked, “Why do I need to beg for love and get your kicks and your fist? What have I done to you for you to paralyze me forever, Father? In my small world I was looking for your warm hands, and I did not know they can be painful. I did not expect much from you. I needed your warmth, you gave me a wheelchair. Why?”
These are the questions 16-year-old Maryam is asking her angry father in the court of Bethat. Her mother said, “Saeed, Maryam’s father, is a very angry man. He does not give us money. We ask for money but he hits us. He hit me to death so many times. Because of him we live under terror.
“The day of the accident, Maryam asked her father for pocket money. He got angry, Maryam began to scream, and he hit her on her back and legs to the point where she passed out . . . . She said, ‘I was scared.’ I took her to the hospital. She recovered but lost sensation in her legs. Doctors could not do anything for her. She became paralyzed.”
When asked, Saeed said, “I have hit my daughter. I had asked my family not to make me angry. My wife paid no attention to this. She would do worse. Maryam asked for money. I told her that I didn’t have any. She insisted, so I screamed at her. My wife backed her up. I did not know what I was doing. I hit her until she became paralyzed. I am saddened too. After she lost feeling her legs, I tried everything to save her but nothing worked.”
Saeed was sent to prison for more investigation.

Recent reports on violence against women have been received by WFAFI Research Committee

- Woman burns herself in 'Saqez' City, April 17, 2007- A 38 year old woman identified as 'Fahimeh' and from 'Saqez' City, burns herself to death for unknown reasons.
- Fetus found in front of a girls' school,  April 16, 2007- Reza Jafari, deputy of Tehran's public prosecutor stated: "Based on public information reported to police station 106, a six-month fetus was found in front of a girls' school.
- A 20 year old girl hangs herself,  April 9, 2007 - A young 20 year old girl named Bahareh Kh., from 'Kukhan' Village in 'Baneh' City hangs herself to death. This young girl has probably committed suicide due to public pressures and violence imposed on her by the family. 
- 40% of women and children suffer from malnutrition, April 8, 2007 - Head of the Hygiene Center in 'Manoojan' City, 'Kerman' Province, said: "40% of the mothers and children in this city are suffering from malnutrition and need urgent medical attention.

A Dress-coded Message
By Simon Tisdall

The Guardian

April 23, 2007

Women in Iran face arrest if they don't strictly observe rules on hijab, but this tightening-up of the rules cannot cover up some bald realities. The demonstrators had worked themselves up into a fine pitch of fury. Marching past Tehran University towards Revolution Square, they chanted slogans, waved the green and yellow banners of Imam Hussein and Hizbullah, and brandished clenched fists in the sunlit air.
In total the protesters numbered only perhaps three or four thousand. But if the authorities of the Islamic Republic are to be believed, they reflect the true feelings of tens of millions of Muslim men. For the demonstration was an almost exclusively male affair. It was officially approved. And its target was women.
Unchaste, licentious and un-godly women, that is, as very broadly defined by the guardians of Iran's social and religious mores. For, as of Saturday, the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is pursuing a new obsession. It's not Israel. It's not nuclear energy. It's female fashion.
All women, but especially younger girls, have been warned that if, from now on, they do not strictly observe the pre-existing but often loosely interpreted rules on Islamic dress code, they face arrest and punishment in the courts.
The result has been confrontations with police in some of the capital's main squares where young people gather to socialise at dusk. Some women have reportedly been pushed about, detained and then released with a warning of worse to come if they re-offend.
The authorities are literally splitting hairs. At issue, in theory at least, is the way some women allow their headscarves to ride up to the top of their heads, exposing their hair at the front and sometimes the back, too. As matters stand, no Iranian woman would dare go completely bare-headed in public.
But even the occasional wayward tress or languid lock seems to be too much to bear for the fundamentalist clergy and their pervasive, muscular street enforcers, the Basij militiamen. "Disciplinary forces, you should implement the law. And we support you!" the Revolution Square demonstrators chanted. "Hijab is a necessity for our religion. Those who deny it are our enemy."
According to Esmaeel Ahmadi-Moqaddam, Tehran's police chief brigadier, the enforcement action is part of a grander strategy to curb anti-social behaviour. "In the social security plan, those groups, including those who do not observe social norms and create insecurity for families, as well as hooligans, will be strongly confronted," he told ISNA news agency.
Under the plan, "women wearing short manteaus, tight outer garments and headscarves that do not conceal hair would be notified by police patrol officers. Those who refuse to correct their appearance will be arrested and handed over to judicial officials," the Iran Daily newspaper reported.
Hardline interior minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi has added his support to this hair-raising drive to "clean up" Tehran's streets. He said the government was acting because the people demanded an end to social, psychological and moral insecurities.
Yet for all such fatuities, the "bad hijab" campaign cannot cover up some bald realities. One is that, according to some residents at least, Tehran is experiencing rising levels of serious crime in which skimpy scarves do not remotely figure. Another is the government's failure to effectively tackle more damaging social problems such as unemployment, inflation and corruption.
The hijab huffing and puffing also illustrates, at a very basic level, the authorities' obsession with control - and the sense that, for all their secret policemen and all their rules and regulations, control is nevertheless lacking. This insecurity was plainly on view in Revolution Square where demonstrators claimed those who bent the dress codes "sold out" to the west.
The hijab campaign reflects a deep-rooted official paranoia. And thus is state-sanctioned harassment merely part of the bigger battle for Iran's future.



Iran police crack down on slipping headscarves
By Farhad Pouladi
The Agence France Presse

April 24, 2007

The police bus screeches to a halt at a Tehran square packed with traffic. The officers leap out and begin spot checks on passing pedestrians and cars.  Police work apparently like any other place in the world.
But here in the Iranian capital their targets are women deemed to have infringed the Islamic republic's strict dress rules.
"For God's sake no pictures!" yells a mother whose daughter has just been stopped by the male officers for her Islamic headscarf (hijab) being pushed too far back and revealing an excessive amount of hair.
The dusk patrol in Tehran's western quarter of Shahrak-e Gharb is part of a nationwide crackdown aimed at "guiding" women to adhere to the Islamic dress code, which since the 1979 revolution requires women in Iran to cover their heads and bodily contours.
The authorities insist that the drive is more aimed at encouragement and Islamic guidance than coercion, with arrest a last resort if women show a reluctance to change their ways.
"When we stop a vehicle, we politely tell them to correct their hijab. If our advice is carried out, then we leave it at that," police Corporal Habib Mohammad told an AFP reporter who was taken on the patrol.
"If not and the female passenger or driver shouts back, then we will ask her for her car's document, and we will stop her car and take her case to the police station."
The crackdown is a regular event in late spring in Tehran ahead of the hot summer but appears to have been flagged with more prominence in the media and is being pursued with more vigor by authorities this year, as hem lines become higher and headscarves ever skimpier.
The boldness of some women in Tehran in showing fashionably styled hair peeking out from beneath their headscarves, wearing trousers that reveal naked ankles and figure hugging mantos (coats) has infuriated conservatives.
Hardline sections of the press and conservative MPs have vehemently backed the police's decision to enforce a "combatting and guidance drive" against the wishes of those who preferred a more softly-softly approach.
"The current situation is shameful for an Islamic government. A man who sees these models on the streets will pay no attention to his wife at home, destroying the foundation of the family," said Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, a member of the culture committee of the Iranian parliament.
When the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in June 2005 there were expectations that the authorities would clamp down firmly on women's dress in public. But fashions on the streets show nothing has changed.
A media advisor to Ahmadinejad issued a statement thanking Iran's police chief Esmaeel Ahmadi Moghadam for "promoting virtues and combatting vice" with the new crackdown.
"I see that your force has entered combat with this cultural invasion and, in its dirtier form, 'cultural NATO' through scientific means and I sincerely thank you and your colleagues," said Mehdi Kalhor.
However the exchanges between police and public on the street showed that the approach has not won universal popularity. "This is a not good plan, the way they carry it out," said a young woman who would only identify herself as a clerk.
"Why should they bother themselves with what people wear? Their presence increases one's level of stress. Our parents are okay with what we wear, why should they care?" she said.
"If they want to stop vice, then why are these clothes imported? If they really want to deal with the problem then they should prevent the merchants from importing these mantos, pants, and scarves," said a shopkeeper.
A bearded man who identified himself as Mr Mohammadian, a civil servant approached reporters to complain: "They arrested my daughter last night on Jordan street. She was sitting in her friend's car."
"They were stopped for a few strands of hair, her friend's car was impounded. Students should be treated with care. If they are bothered they will leave Iran, we need to keep these people at home," he told a police officer.
"I am a war veteran, I paid my dues for the revolution, please, I plead with you, go and check, there was a car impounded last night on Jordan Street with two girls in it. This is not the way to treat our youth."
The head of Tehran's police information centre, Colonel Mehdi Ahmadi replied: "Certainly, in carrying out a large scale operation, there can be some degree of error. We will look into it."


Inside Iran: The Changing Face of Iranian Women

By Manal Lutfi
Asharq Al-Awsat

April 24, 2007

Tehran- Standing behind her hotel desk, Sepideh, a hotel receptionist in Tehran, expressed her wish to travel abroad to see the countries that the foreign tourists speak about when they visit Iran. Sepideh is 25 years old, unmarried and has no desire to do so, while her mother at the same age was already married with two children.
Sepideh said she would not agree to marriage unless her prospective husband grants her written consent in the marriage contract that he will not forbid her from working. But she is no exception; the average marrying age among Iranian women has currently risen to be between the ages of 25 and 30.
Girls are no longer anxious to get married at a young age; the majority of them choosing to complete their university degrees and secure work before seeking marriage. And yet the problem lies in the fact that Iranian law gives men the right to forbid their wives from working after marriage ¬– which is why a lot of young women either postpone marriage or sometimes even marry foreigners.
A young, ambitious woman, Sepideh taught herself English and said that her family has no objections to her job as a hotel receptionist because the salary is good. However, many Iranian men would rather not get married to a receptionist because the job demands daily interaction with a multitude of people and may even require working late hours, until 11pm on some days of the week.
“I don’t want to get married now. I have been educated and currently have a job and will be unhappy if I was forced to stay after all this. I want to travel abroad, I have friends in Netherlands. I asked my father if I could visit them over the summer but he refused,” she said.
Since the 1990s, Iranian women have been striving to change a number of laws that are discriminatory against them – however amending laws will not suffice as Eastern cultural traditions are entrenched in Iranian society.
Sociopolitical expert and women’s rights activist, Zahra Nejad-Bahram affirms that fact and added that despite the recent amendments granting women the right to divorce if it abides to the conditions stipulated in the marriage contracts, many women do not exercise their right out of timidity.
“An Iranian man has the right to divorce his wife at any given time – no restrictions are placed on that right. Many women have sought the right to divorce and the authorities have changed the laws, allowing women the right to stipulate the right to divorce in their marriage contracts,” Nejad-Bahram told Asharq Al-Awsat. “And yet the vast majority of women are reluctant to exercise that right out of timidity. They say that it’s a bad omen for the marriage contract to include a divorce clause on it. These are the prevalent social beliefs that the law cannot change,” she continued.
But the economic conditions are changing the dominant culture, even if that change is gradual. Despite polygamy being religiously and legally permitted in Iran, the phenomenon is not a widespread one as a result of the tight economic conditions. Additionally, there is an increasing number of women who are working to financially assist their husbands. This is contrary to the new generation and its beliefs who not only want to work, they also want to respected and treated equally in the house.
According to 30-year-old Ilham, who is a student, “When I get married I want my husband to help me with the chores around the house. I don’t want to come back from work and have to cook and clean while he does nothing,” she said.
“Perhaps that is the reason behind the rise in divorce rates in Iran, 1.3 percent during the last year only,” said Nejad-Bahram. Notwithstanding that the Iranian revolution led to women’s involvement in politics, motivating them to engage in public affairs and activities, there still exist various laws and procedures that were endorsed following the revolution, such as not allowing women to study certain specialties. In the private Islamic Azad University (IAU), which has branches spread over most Iranian cities and has a total of 1.6 million students, women are not allowed to study mechanical engineering in some of its branches. And yet 70 percent of students who graduate with an applied physics degree are women – a figure that indicates that women do not only study literature, languages and the arts, but also the natural sciences.
But this ban on some specializations has not prevented women from studying some of the sciences – Iranian women are fast progressing. Today, 30 percent of the labor force in Iran is female, a figure that is expected to rise considerably in the coming few years. A percentage of 62-65 percent of university students are women who quickly become part of the labor market upon graduation.
Gilda, a senior student at the faculty of foreign languages at the University of Tehran said that the majority of university students were female. “At the faculty of foreign languages I can say that 95 percent are young women, while only 5 percent are young men. We sit together but the men are barely noticed because they are a minority,” she explained. And yet the labor market is not open to Iranian women; there are certain disciplines that are difficult to access. Although Iranian women can study the subjects of energy, petroleum and natural gas at university, it remains extremely difficult for them to secure jobs in oil or gas companies. In light of the Iranian economic crisis, high unemployment rates and inflation, some conservatives in the Iranian parliament have attributed these problems to the fact that women earn universities degrees and are thus able to access jobs in the market “that could have belonged to the men”.
A number of MPs, including female members, presented a draft law to the Iranian parliament that proposed that the share of Iranian females in university should not exceed 50 percent – which is a 15 percent decrease in the number of female students currently studying at universities.
“They are punishing Iranian young women for their high merit. Instead of encouraging us, they hinder our progress with obstacles,” Ilham told Asharq Al-Awsat. She added: “They will not be capable of passing this law… They do not have the necessary power to do it since many people in society are adamantly against it – even among the conservative circles. Many Iranian women believe that a number of Iranian laws must change because they violate women’s rights, even in the cases where these laws are not actually implemented. Among these laws is one that sets the marrying age for girls to be nine years of age. Although the law is only implemented in some remote rural areas, still Iranian women believe it is obsolete and are striving to have it abolished. But there is hope for change, Iranian women are graduating from universities in large numbers and have particularly benefited from the men’s departure to fight in Iraq. The women have charged into the labor market and have the ability to elicit social change in Iran. According to Iranian women: This has already started to happen.


Iran Women's Hell
By Scheherzad Faramarzi
The Associated Press
April 29, 2007
Iranian police shoved and kicked them, loaded them into a curtained minibus and drove them away. Hours later, at the gates of Evin prison, they were blindfolded and forced to wear all-enveloping chadors, and then were interrogated through the night. All 31 were women - activists accused of receiving foreign funds to stir up dissent in Iran. But their real crime, says Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, was gathering peacefully outside Tehran's Revolutionary Court in support of five fellow activists on trial for demanding changes in laws that discriminate against women.
During her 15 days in prison, "I tried to convince them that asking for our rights had nothing to do with the enemy," Abbasgholizadeh said by phone from Tehran. "But they insisted that foreign governments were exploiting our cause."
The March 4 arrests highlight how women's rights, which were making some advances under the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, are being rolled back by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who succeeded him in August 2005.
Activists say that while world attention has focused on the West's standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, the abuses of women's rights have intensified, using fear of a U.S. attack as a pretext.
Over the past 10 months, security forces have "become more and more aggressive even as women's actions have become more peaceful and tame," said Jila Baniyaghoub, an activist who has also spent time in jail. Iranian authorities are reluctant to answer specific questions about the treatment of women.
But Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei recently pointed a finger at women activists when he claimed that "the enemy's new strategy is to finance and organize various groups under the cover of women's or student movements." The aim, he told a state news agency, is to depict the government as incompetent and to turn people against it. Abbasgholizadeh is a 48-year-old mother of two daughters, a matronly divorcée with a fringe of chestnut hair peeking from under her shawl, and her story highlights her change of fortune since the days when Khatami was president and reformists were gaining influence in Iran.
Then, she had Khatami's ear through the Center for Women's Participation, a government office set up to promote women's rights, and wrote a report for the president on the state of women in Iran. Under Ahmadinejad, Web access has been curbed, almost all liberal newspapers have been shut, and activists say they are under closer surveillance and often summoned for questioning.
The women say they have borne the brunt of the onslaught.
Abbasgholizadeh and other reformists have waged a lengthy battle against laws that permit death by stoning for women accused of adultery, the practice of polygamy, employment laws that favor men, and family laws that deny divorcées full custody of their children and entitle them to only half the inheritance a man can receive. Ahmadinejad's government is now drafting a law to limit women students to half the places in college, instead of the 65 percent they now occupy. It is also restricting women's entry to medical schools.
Women working for the government must leave work by 6 p.m. to get home and tend to their families.
And, once again, with the arrival of summer, authorities are cracking down on women for not covering up enough. Police say more than 200 women have been arrested this year and released only after promising to dress more conservatively.
It was during their court hearing that Abbasgholizadeh and the other 30 women were detained. All were soon released except Abbasgholizadeh and her lawyer, Shadi Sadr.
She was never physically abused, she said, but had to endure what she called "white tortures" - no bed or mattress in her 6-by-9-foot cell, just blankets; a fluorescent light that was never turned off; a tiny, barred window near the ceiling that admitted a thin ray of light. And always, a deathly silence.
She had to visit the bathroom blindfolded. Denied TV or radio, she was given only a Koran to read, and she couldn't call home until a day or two before her release on March 19.
She endured five interrogations, always by the same Intelligence Ministry man who has handled her case for years.
An educated man, he sat before her in a small soundproofed room and always asked the same questions: How many trips had she made, and why? Who paid for them? How much money had she received from overseas? What did she spend it on? Who attended her women's-rights workshops?
Abbasgholizadeh confirmed making trips abroad and said her organization received money from a Dutch foundation, described how it was spent, and said her workshops were held in small towns and villages with six to 12 participants at a time.
After days of solitude and silence, Abbasgholizadeh heard a friendly voice: her lawyer, calling out from Cell No. 24. "Mahboubeh, are you here? Are you OK?" Sadr asked. "Yes, I am well," Abbasgholizadeh replied through the metal, windowless door of her Cell No. 12.
It was the first time they had spoken since their arrest. Immediately, a female warden stormed into her cell, telling her she was disturbing other inmates.

Abbasgholizadeh said she exploded at the guard. "I can't talk, I can't walk, I can't look," she shouted. "Why don't you tell me not to breathe, too?"


Seized - for showing their hair
The Guardian
May 2, 2007

In the past few days hundreds of Iranian women have been bundled off the streets and arrested. Officially, they were breaking the 'correct' Islamic dress code. But, as Simon Tisdall reports, the real aim is to keep women second-class citizens
The Iranian government's latest act of oppression against the nation's women has taken the form of a high-profile police drive to enforce "correct" Islamic dress codes. In its first few days, last week, the "bad hijab" crackdown netted several thousand young women on the streets of Tehran, with many receiving a warning and several hundred being arrested. Policewomen dressed in black chadors bundled detainees into buses that had been stationed on street corners in advance, before carting them off to police stations. The women were accused of presenting an immodest appearance - allowing their hair to show beneath the obligatory headscarves, wearing manteaus too short to conceal their hips, or wearing tight, revealing jeans and heels.

Those arrested face possible trials and jail sentences. There have even been suggestions that women may be exiled from the city if they reoffend. And it is not only in Tehran that this is happening - the crackdown is being pursued nationwide.
At issue are alleged offences against Islam and sharia law. But the reality is somewhat more complicated. In Iran, the comfort of women is a source of male discomfort.
Sae'ed Mortazavi, Tehran's public prosecutor, made this clear when he told the Etemad newspaper: "These women who appear in public like decadent models, endanger the security and dignity of young men". Mohammad Taqi Rahbar, a fundamentalist MP, agreed, saying, "Men see models in the streets and ignore their own wives at home. This weakens the pillars of family."
A spokesman for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has tried to distance his boss from this politically embarrassing controversy. And the fashion purge has not gone entirely unchallenged. Some academics have been arguing that hijab standards should be maintained by persuasion rather than force. But, as usual in Iran, the police, like other arms of the pervasive security apparatus, do not appear to have taken any notice.
The "bad hijab" crackdown has happened in a country where the historical tendency to treat women as the property of their fathers and husbands has never really gone away. Iranian women's lack of equality is written into law, and, in a thousand customary ways too, they face daily, crushing discrimination.
Bring up the inequalities that Iranian women face, and many Iranians will point out that in some Arab Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, treatment of women is comparatively worse. In Iran women can vote, stand for most public offices, drive, even smoke in public. It is also argued that social boundaries, (relaxed during the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami from 1997 to 2005), have not assumed their former rigour despite fears that they would do so following the fundamentalist victory of two years ago, when Ahmadinejad was elected president.
In pre-Khatami times, and especially during the latter years of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founding father of the Islamic republic and Supreme Leader of Iran between 1979 and 1989, modern western dress was not tolerated at all, fewer women's sports were allowed, and sentences of stoning to death for adultery were more common.
Life is better for women in Iran now, but inequalities persist. For example, their inheritance and divorce rights are inferior to those of men, so, when a family legacy is divided, the women get less than the men. Women need written authorisation from their father or husband to get a passport; their court testimony is considered half as weighty as a man's; and they may be forced to submit to male polygamous relationships, which are allowable (although increasingly rare) under sharia law.
Women are encouraged to go to university and stay on to do higher degrees, but not, it is widely believed, to actually join the workforce (where, it is claimed, they are often omitted from official unemployment figures). While professional jobs are scarce for men and women alike, there is cultural and social pressure on girls to stay at home or get married once they finish full-time education. A fully qualified female civil engineer, for example, said she had a choice of teaching or getting married when she graduated. The idea of her actually being allowed to go out and build a dam or a bridge was laughable. In the event, she emigrated to the US and got divorced.
And, just in case a woman should forget her place, if she travels on public transport, she must go to the back of the bus. Even on the hottest, busiest days in Tehran, women of all ages can be seen crammed into the back, many wearing full black chadors, mostly standing shoulder to shoulder, burdened with shopping bags, while the less crowded front of the vehicle is occupied by men, apparently oblivious to the situation behind them.
Social rules also demand that a woman must not shake hands with a male acquaintance, in public at least. And, to avoid offence, or worse, she is well advised to look demure and keep her eyes down. To behave differently is to invite disrespect or even harassment and arrest by the ubiquitous Basiji militiamen, a several million-strong officially approved vigilante force that styles itself as the guardian of Islamic mores.
Many women bravely defy these rules where they can. And many Iranian men, especially the younger ones, are aware of the injustices and absurdities and do what they can to forge relationships based on equality. Talking to Jina (not her real name), a 24-year-old student of English literature at a Tehran university, it is difficult to be optimistic about the prospects for young women. Jina says she loves her studies. She would like to pursue an MA, then a PhD, and her father is supportive. But her face clouds as she speaks. "I don't know what job I can do, what job they [the government] will allow me to do. There are so few chances for women and so many people are out of work ... But it's no use protesting. All my friends feel the same."
She would like to travel to the west, she says, to visit London and the US, to see for herself where Jane Austen and F Scott Fitzgerald lived. The Great Gatsby is a familiar text for Iranian students, but it is taught not for the beauty of its language but to demonstrate the decadence of western society and morals.
The chances of Jina and most of her generation making such a journey, symbolic or otherwise, are slim to non-existent under the present political dispensation. More enlightened senior clerics, such as Grand Ayatollah Yusef Sa'anei, whose fatwas (religious rulings) argue the case for gender equality, are ignored by the ruling fundamentalists. (In one of his most significant fatwas, Ayatollah Sa'anei ruled that competence and piety outweighed masculinity as criteria in considering appointments. "Islamic law does not allow any discrimination on the basis of race, nor does it condone discrimination on the grounds of sex and ethnicity," he declared.)
Iranian women are still a long way from equality, and fighting for their rights is a perilous task. Last June an estimated 100 women staged an equal rights demonstration in central Tehran. Several dozen were arrested and some were recently jailed, provoking protests from international human rights organisations. They and other activists are being supported by the One Million Signatures Campaign, which was launched last August. Apart from highlighting the plight of those in jail, the campaign seeks to advance the cause of equal legal rights for women in Iran.
"Iranian law considers women to be second class citizens and promotes discrimination against them," say campaign organisers. "Women of lower socio-economic status or women from religious and ethnic minority groups suffer disproportionately from legal discrimination. These unjust laws have promoted unhealthy and unbalanced relationships between men and women and have had negative consequences on the lives of men as well."
Jina's assessment is blunter. Iranians, she says, are living in a "society of lies" where most people, female and male, are disempowered and constantly afraid - afraid to say what they think, wear what they want, and be who they really are. "I can't do anything," she says. "I just try not to let them hurt me".

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Volume 36, May 15, 2007

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