March 15, 2009 VOLUME 58
E-ZAN VOICE OF WOMEN AGAINST FUNDAMENTALISM IN IRAN
To our readers, In honoring the International Women's Day, E-Zan brings you a message from President of WFAFI:
major UN theme for International Women’s Day 2009 reads “Women and men
united to end violence against women and girls.” It is noteworthy the
emphasis on the collective participation of women and men in the struggle to
eliminate violence against women. Even further, it is important to note that
the participation of men is vital in fighting the oppression of women all
together, be it physical or psychological. The Middle East, and in
particular Iran is a place in which such a message is in great need to be
encouraged. Much can be said about the relationship between the UN theme and
the experience of Iranian women over the past thirty years.
Written within Iran ’s penal codes #500, 610, and 618 which state “propaganda against the state” and/or “conspiring to commit or facilitate a non-violent offence against internal or external security of the nation” as well as “disruption of public order” are all considered punishable crimes. As our organization have noted, Iranian women were met with the results of such codes when in March of 2007 police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a rally in support of International Women’s Day. They arrested scores of women and released them only after a harsh ordeal of interrogation, solitary confinement, and physical torture.
Even more shocking is penal code #220 which states “if a father –or his male ancestors– kill their children, they will not be prosecuted for murder.” In other words that a father or paternal grandfather has the right to murders his child or grandchild in which he will not face the death penalty and may be asked to pay only blood money, which may be waved by the court all together. Our organization reported, in February of 2008, a case in which a father murdered his own daughter by way of stoning despite the pleas of her mother to keep their daughter alive. The father stoned his daughter and then shot her with four bullets because he claimed she had an illicit relationship with a man and her death would serve to “defend his honor.”
The question of how Iranian women are to assert their basic human rights when a woman’s destiny is ruled by her father in childhood and husband when she gets married, or a son when she is older is apparent. How can Iranian women achieve any rights when the un-Islamist , fundamentalist regime that claims power through religion is creating and protecting laws to keep patriarchy and oppression in place?
In Hillary Clinton’s famous speech “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” made in September 1995 in Beijing,China a line which deserves revisiting in this critical time is her statement that “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, it is that human rights are women’s rights—and women’s rights are human rights. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely – and the right to be heard.” Iranian women have the right to be heard. From their history, Iranian women have learned the problems and challenges they are facing are not without solutions.
The Women’s Day protest in 2007 was planned and attended by both men and women. Men also endured the heinous treatment as they stood with their female counterparts in order to demand basic rights for women. Human rights advocates are dragged into prison daily and yet when released continue to advocate for the rights of Iranian citizens. Political prisoners are executed, sometimes publicly, on a daily basis and yet remain undeterred in their resolve to shed light on Iran ’s appalling neglect for basic human freedoms.
While all these forms of resistance take place in Iran , it is clear that these activists cannot endue this struggle alone. As Iranian women press for their rights at home and risk their lives on daily basis, they look to Iran ’s main democratic opposition movement, the PMOI, first and foremost, who has placed women in central positions of leadership and believe that the role of women is primary in the battle against fundamentalism. It is no wonder that this movement, led by an all-women-council, is feared the most by Tehran 's regime. Now residing in Ashraf City , north west of Baghdad-Iraq, the movement is defusing threats and political plots by the Iranian regime on daily basis. If one were to study leadership skills of women, the PMOI offer a great level insight in to women's ability to successfully lead a political and social movement. For those who are serious about preventing the spread of fundamentalism and terrorism in Iraq and the Middle East , they must look to PMOI for lessons learned and guidance. This effort must start with full recognition of the group as an ally to Iraqi people and peace loving movements around the world. Such desire has been reflected in the support of 3 million Iraqi Shiite and 5.2 million Iraqis from all backgrounds and faith.
There is no doubt that women bring a new approach and hope when it comes to resolving social and political conflicts. In the case of Iran and Iraq , we must recognize the role of women, particularly those who have proven experience like the PMOI
President of WFAFI
E-Zan Featured Headlines
NCRI Website- February 17, 2009
35 nurses working for public hospitals were fired
over so-called "mal-veiling" in the work environment in Tehran, according to
human rights and democracy activists on Monday. The medical school called in
these nurses just to inform them that they have lost their jobs because of what
they wore in the work place. Simultaneous with the firing of the nurses, the
mullahs' regime announced a 25 percent job allocation in the state hospitals for
members of paramilitary Bassij force (a subsidiary of the Islamic Revolutionary
Guard Corps (IRGC)). Such actions explain the main reason behind firing of the
35 nurses. In August 2008, six hundred nurses demonstrated over their unpaid
salaries in past six months outside Sadouqi's medical center in the central city
National Public Radio - February 18, 2009
A kind of slow-motion crackdown on human rights
activists is under way in Iran. Every so often, activists will be arrested,
visitors from the U.S. will be detained and groups shut down. It's not enough to
spark protests in the streets, but it appears to be calibrated to discourage the
spread of a human rights movement in Iran.Take the case of two brothers, Arash
and Kamiar Alaei. Both are doctors who treat AIDS cases and have attended
medical conferences around the world. Last year, they were arrested and charged
with espionage. They have spent more than seven months in prison. Not long ago,
they were found guilty of working for Americans trying to overthrow the Iranian
government. Activities like these have not always prompted the heavy arm of the
state. But in recent years, it seems, Iran's leaders have become more uneasy
about what they believe are U.S. efforts to spark a soft revolution in Iran.
WFAFI News Services - February 19, 2009
Two women faced flogging because they participated in the May Day rally honoring the labor movement in Iran. Soosan Razani and Shiva Kkhairabadi, two women acitivists with labor movement in Iran, faced the punishment by flogging in the city of Sannandaj. Razani faced 70 lashes and three years prison terms. Khairabadi faced 40 lashes and three year prison terms. The prison terms for both women included more flogging punishment.
CNN International - February 19, 2009
Seven imprisoned leaders of the Baha'i faith in Iran
have been accused of espionage and will face court hearings within a week, a
judicial spokesman said Wednesday. The group denies all charges against the
seven: Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naemi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash
Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm. Sabet was arrested in March and the
others in May. The United States slammed the "Iranian government's decision to
level baseless charges of espionage against seven leaders of the Iranian Baha'i
community." Amnesty International believes the charges are "politically
motivated" and the seven are "prisoners of conscience, detained solely because
of their conscientiously held beliefs or their peaceful activities on behalf of
the Baha'i community. If convicted, they would face lengthy prison terms, or
even the death penalty."
Agence France Presse - February 20, 2009
An Iranian man who was sentenced to death by stoning after he was found guilty of having illicit relations with a teenage girl has been hanged, a newspaper reported on Saturday. Abdullah Fareivar, a 50-year-old music teacher, was hanged on Thursday in a prison in the northern town of Sari, the Etemad Melli newspaper said. It said Fareivar was sentenced to death despite his family saying his relations with the 17-year-old girl were not illicit as he had entered into a contract marriage with her and that his first wife was aware of it.Convicts are spared if they can free themselves. Five Iranians have reportedly been stoned to death in the past four years, including two men in Mashhad in December, despite a 2002 directive by judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi imposing a moratorium on such executions.
NCRI Website - February 25, 2009
A woman identified as Ashraf Kalhori, 37, who is in
prison for past seven years may soon be stoned to death according to her
attorney, on Tuesday. The mullahs' judiciary under heavy international pressures
announced last summer a stay of her execution by stoning. Last week,
Abdullah Farivar, a music teacher and father of two, sentenced to death by
stoning was finally hanged. Her mother said that she did not know of her son's
hanging until after the sentenced was carried out. Despite international
condemnation, the mullahs' regime officially announced that it had stoned two
men to death on December 26 in the holy city of Mashhad. At least there
are eight women and two men waiting their stoning in the Iranian regime's
Fox News - March 1, 2009
The father of American journalist Roxana Saberi said
he has not heard from his daughter since she was arrested and detained in Iran
almost a month ago. “Roxana called on February 10 to say that she had been
arrested on January 31,” Reza Saberi told FOX News. “She did not say why she had
been arrested or what for. She could not even say where she was when she was
calling.” Saberi said his daughter, who moved to Iran six years ago and had
previously reported for NPR, the BBC and FOX News, had her press credentials
revoked, and was not working as a journalist. "She said that she had bought a
bottle of wine and the person that sold it had reported it and then they came
and arrested her," he told NPR. Saberi said he believes his daughter was writing
a book about Iran at the time of her arrest. Roxana, 31, told her parents not to
tell anyone about what had occurred in her phone call to them 18 days ago. She
said she would be released within two to three days, Saberi said. Roxana — a
former Miss North Dakota — is an American citizen who also holds an Iranian
passport because her father is Iranian. Saberi told FOX News that he had spoken
with some of his daughter's friends in Tehran, but that no one has any
information about what happened to her.
Los Angeles Times - March 1, 2009
A ranking Iranian judiciary official defended his
country's human rights record Saturday, lashing out at a recent State Department
report that condemned the Islamic Republic's record on upholding the rights of
minorities and dissidents."Claims by America and some European countries on the
violation of human rights by certain states are not aimed at defending human
rights, and they are rather used to exert political pressure on Third World and
developing countries, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran," Ebrahim Raisi,
first deputy of Iran's judiciary branch, told journalists in Tehran, according
to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. The Obama White House has
highlighted Iran's nuclear program, support for militant groups and threats
against Israel as points of contention between Washington and Tehran, avoiding
explicit calls for the Islamic Republic to improve its human rights record. But
rights advocates say Iran's treatment of women's rights activists, political
dissidents, ethnic minorities such as Kurds, and leaders of religious groups
such as the Bahai has deteriorated dramatically as the Islamic Republic has
sought to crack down on any potential domestic opponents.
Iran Human Rights- March 2, 2009
A father killed his 16 years old daughter in Tehran reported the Iranian daily Etemaad. The girl who is identified as Nasrin was shot dead yesterday morning February 28. The father, identified as Gholam Abbas, told the police that he had been suspicious of Nasrin’s behaviour for some time. That day she left the house early morning to meet a friend and when she came back around 9’oclock I shot her twice and killed her. According to the police, the family seemed happy and some family members even thanked Gholam Abbas for killing Nasrin. According to the pragraph 220 of Iranian islamic law, if father or father’s father killes his child or grand child, he will not be punished for murder. Experts say that incidence of honor killings has been increasing i the recent years in Iran.
NCRI Website - March 4, 2009
Brig. Gen. Aziz-o-allah Rajabzadeh head of the State
Security Forces – mullahs' suppressive police – in greater Tehran said in an
interview with the state-run news agency ILNA on Monday that "salesmen are not
allowed to work at women's dress boutiques." "If the police run into such shops
will deal with them firmly," Rajabzadeh said. In a meeting with the Shop
Owners Association, the new guild lines were given, Rajabzadeh added." In
regular patrols, police will clearly inform them that there will not be any
salesmen working in the women's dress boutiques. The only male employee allowed
will be the casher. The rest have to be strictly women employees," the police
chief said. We will deal with those who violate the dress codes; "shopkeepers
and shoppers" are obliged to obey the law, Rajabzadeh commented.
"Likewise, women shoppers going to boutiques must wear in accordance with the
law. Police have instructed the shop owners to report violations," Rajabzadeh
Agenece France Presse - March 5, 2009
An adviser to Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad
has said that female engineers can serve society from home. Zahra Sajadi, who
advises Ahmadinejad on cultural and educational issues, has expressed concern at
the rise in the number of women enrolling in higher education, saying that it
has caused a crisis in the job market. She has also called on the government to
limit the admission of women in universities to decrease what she described as
social and mental pressure in society. (She didn't say women are under pressure,
but rather it seems that she means men are under pressure because if the trend
continues many of them would be less educated than women) Sajadi has also said
that the employment of women in areas other than the health and education
sectors is not necessary, arguing that women who are employed in the technical
and engineering sectors can work from home. Sajadi's comments are very
much in line with the views of President Ahmadinejad, who shortly after taking
power said that women should devote more time to raising children. He also
suggested that women could work part-time to spend more time at home. The
question is whether the Iranian government is concerned about the country's
educated women because they're pushing for more rights and becoming an
increasingly vocal force, or whether the government thinks it's just a socially
acceptable way to help alleviate the country's high unemployment.
Change for Equality Site - March 8, 2009
Iranian law enforcement forces today blocked a ceremony on the occasion of International Women’s Day, in the Varsho Park Amphitheater in Tehran, the Change for Equality website reports. According to the report, law enforcement forces locked the gates to the theater, preventing people from attending the ceremony, entitled “Women Now”. Law enforcement forces alleged that the organizers, the human rights commission of the Iran Bar Association, had not received permits to hold the ceremony, and ordered guests to leave the area. Meanwhile, the Tehran-based Center for the Defense of Human Rights, led by Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi, yesterday released a statement calling on Iranian authorities to release imprisoned women’s rights activists and drop all charges against those rights defenders.
Amnesty International - March 9, 2009
As many as eight woman are at imminent risk of being stoned to death for adultery in Iran, according to reports received by Amnesty International. The organisation is today (9 March) calling on the Iranian authorities to commute the sentences and to impose an immediate moratorium on stonings. Amnesty is urging people to support its campaign at www.amnesty.org.uk/deathpenalty Ultimately Iran should abolish death by stoning completely and should stop executing people for the crime of adultery, said Amnesty. Serious failings in the Iranian justice system, which disproportionately affect women, commonly result in unfair trials in capital and other cases.
E-Zan Featured Reports
Spotlight: Stoning a Taboo Subject
Just a few years into the union, her husband abandoned her, prompting Mokarrameh to file for divorce. When the case was still being heard, someone mistakenly told the illiterate Mokarrameh that the court ruled in her favour. She left the area and eventually met and fell for a man by the name of Jafar Kiani. They got married and had two children.
For five years, they led the life of a husband and wife, but all changed when the pair bumped into Mokarrameh's former husband's family at a function. The family had the authorities alerted and Mokarrameh and Jafar arrested and charged with adultery.
The judge would not believe their tale that they were legally bonded to each other. He ruled that the couple's marriage documents were forged.
They were to be stoned to death.
It wasn't a decade later that a date was fixed. Suspension on official stonings issued by the Ministry of Justice in Tehran in 2002 following international pressure had no bearings on the case. On July 5, 2007, Jafar was dragged to a pit in the desert. Buried up until his chest and with hands tied behind his back, he endured hurling stones the size of fist until his last breath escaped him. Mokarrameh, by then 43, escaped punishment by chance. The authorities decided that she shouldn't meet her death on Iranian Women's Day.
She was left to languish in jail until a new date was decided. It was at that moment that lawyer and women's rights activist Shadi Sadr took up Mokarrameh's case, one of the many she and others from the Network of Volunteer Lawyers represented since the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign took shape mid-2006. The group's two-month research into identifying prisoners across the country with stoning sentences unearthed 11 cases, nine of them women. Shadi, a regular face in the women's movement in Iran, says the women's stories were incredibly related to their feminist mandate. "Many of the women were forced to marry, then forced to have sex with their husbands, and they failed in filing for a divorce because of the law. "Women are discriminated not just in law, but also in situations. Because a lot of them are poor, illiterate, rural and are from the minorities, they suffer from gender discrimination, racial discrimination, class discrimination."
In the country, stoning as punishment for adultery is encoded in the Islamic Penal Code, something the campaign fought to remove.
In the last three years, six had died from stoning, with the most recent case being that of two men stoned in a cemetery in one session two months ago.
Stonings, still considered a taboo subject in many parts of the country, are often carried out in secrecy, with heavy censorship placed upon newspapers to prevent reporting because of pressure from international groups and the public's negative sentiments towards the action, says Shadi. There is a clause which makes implementation difficult -- if the stoning would cast Iran in a very bad light, it must not be carried out.
Activists harp on this loophole, publicising the issue and feeding the international community with as much information as possible via websites and documentaries. Even though the law prescribes the same penalty to both men and women, the legal procedure isn't equal.
"The Iranian law permits men the right to marry four wives and countless temporary wives.
"So in the court, men accused of committing adultery often defend themselves by saying that the women they caught having sex with are their 'temporary wives'."
Temporary marriage, says Shadi, is a marriage for a specific duration, from one hour to 99 years. "A woman who is married cannot use the same defence, because she cannot have two husbands, temporary or otherwise.
"When we argued about this, the conservative newspapers accused us of defending polygamy for women!" the 35-year-old activist erupts into laughter.
Despite the many battles faced, the campaign has charted some level of success, having saved eight women and a man from being stoned. One of them would be Mokarrameh, released March last year.
Lipstick revolution: Iran's women are taking on the mullahs
February, 26 2009
It started with a switch from hijabs to Hermès headscarves. Now, after 30 years of Sharia law, the fight for women’s rights is gathering pace. Katherine Butler meets the Iranian rally drivers, bloggers and film-makers demanding change
Zohreh Vatankhah slides into the driving seat of her BMW X3, flicks a switch to some pulsating Persian pop and we're soon zipping along the narrow lanes near her home in northern Tehran, almost in the foothills of the snow-capped Alborz mountains. Most Iranians behave in traffic as if they are in charge of dodgems, not potentially lethal vehicles: the traffic is heart-stoppingly dangerous, but with this woman I can relax. A professional racing driver, she's used to competing, and winning, at speeds of up to 180mph.
She's glamorous, too, wearing high-heeled boots over her jeans (a controversial look in the eyes of the Iranian morality police) and a Rolex on her wrist. When she's not confounding stereotypes of Iranian women by beating men on the rally circuits, she's climbing mountains (she recently conquered Mount Damavand, the highest peak in the Middle East), or, here, in the axis of evil, sworn enemy of the United States, watching US (banned but tolerated) satellite TV channels; 24 is one of her favourite shows.
"I LOVE Barack Obama," she says, "and Michelle, she's so stylish and so smart."
At 31, Vatankhah was born a year before Iran's Islamic revolution. In February 1978, Tehran had nightclubs and dancing and girls-about-town who dressed as fashionably as their counterparts in Europe. A year later, the Shah had fled from his Peacock Throne; Iran was reborn as an Islamic Republic and women, many of whom supported the overthrow, were waking up to find their lives drastically changed. Not only obliged to cover up from head to toe, and banned from singing or performing in public to conform with Ayatollah Khomeini's narrow interpretation of Sharia law, they were also, as Shirin Ebadi, Nobel prize winner and Iran's first woman judge, found to her cost, sidelined from senior jobs. Women, "too emotional", were no longer employed as judges.
The woman in the driving seat next to me looks anything but downtrodden. Yet, the tension between modernity and tradition that weighs heavily on women's lives in Iran is never far away. At one point she leans over to say: "Please, your scarf," when the bothersome piece of cloth on my head slips down.
But then something happens that could be a metaphor for the revolution that may be quietly taking place in contemporary Iran. Our drive stalls when an irate male motorist, assuming she's trying to enter a one-way road, hogs the intersection and waves at her to go back. Vatankhah doesn't budge – she knows she's in the right. She holds her ground, presses on, but when he passes he shouts an obscenity. She rolls down her window calmly and tells him whatever the Farsi equivalent is of shut up and get a life.
Iranian women, and not just the sporting queens or Nobel prize winners, are standing up to the mullahs. And some of them are experiencing a frightening political backlash.
On our journey downtown, we pass within sight of a forbidding-looking building set back from the road, framed by the mountains, a reminder that we're in a country with an extraordinary recent history. This is Evin prison, Iran's biggest and most notorious jail, where unknown numbers of political prisoners are held.
This month, a woman called Alieh Egham Doost began serving a three-year jail sentence in Evin. Her crime was to attend a peaceful women's rights protest three years ago. Dozens of other women have been arrested and sentenced on similar charges, but Egham Doost is the first to be actually put behind bars. Her jailing has caused alarm abroad and raised suspicion that a crackdown on the nascent Iranian women's movement is under way, and that more women like Egham Doost could be thrown into the high-security cells.
Parvin Ardalan, a 39 year old Tehran journalist, could be one. She helped to set up a campaign with the aim of gathering one million signatures petitioning for a fairer deal for women under the law. Despite winning Sweden's Olof Palme human rights prize last year, she has been convicted by the revolutionary courts of "acting against national security". Now, she waits at home for the knock on the door. If her appeal fails, she will be serving six months in Evin prison.
"It was awful. We were five or six to a cell" she says of a brief spell on remand in Evin when she was first arrested. Thousands of "enemies" of the revolution were incarcerated and executed in the same prison in the early 1980s; Shirin Ebadi, a human rights lawyer as well as Nobel prize winner, was jailed here, and Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian photojournalist was so badly beaten up after being taken into custody at Evin that she died of her injuries. Ardalan's passport has been confiscated to stop her travelling. "There's no point in being scared," she says, in a matter-of-fact tone.
Iranians have "a fantastic talent for waiting" wrote Ryszard Kapuscinski in Shah of Shahs, his account of the 1979 revolution. "They can turn to stone and remain motionless for ever". And Iranian women have certainly shown extraordinary forbearance. It took 27 years after the Islamic regime was installed before they staged that first public demonstration in 2006. Police reacted by beating and arresting dozens of them. So Ardalan and a few others decided to change tactics. Now they fan out in ones and twos, to small towns and villages, going into shops, beauty salons, schools and offices, or stand at bus stops explaining "face to face" how the Iranian interpretation of Sharia law is stacked against half the population. They ask men and women to sign their petition. Those who refuse are asked to take a leaflet detailing the manifold forms of legal discrimination.
It explains, how, for example, a man can divorce on a whim, while a woman has to jump through hoops – and then custody of children over seven routinely goes to the husband; a woman can to be stoned to death for committing adultery, whereas a man can have up to four wives and any number of "temporary" wives; a 13-year-old girl can be condemned as a criminal but the age of legal responsibility for a boy is 15; a woman's life is deemed to be worth only half of that of a man or a boy. No woman can stand for the presidency. A woman must cover her head and body at all times in public, and if she refuses can be punished, sometimes in seventh-century fashion, by flogging.
Sitting next to Vatankhah in her $80,000 car, as she tells me about her new penthouse, the unfair laws certainly seem academic. She enjoys a fun-filled life and seems to have everything she wants within the limitations of Iran's global isolation. But the rich, like Vatankhah, have to find ways around the curbs on their freedom. She chose motorsports partly because so many other internationally competitive sports are off-limits to women. "I wouldn't like to try for swimming competitions in Iran. There's some sort of dress you have to wear". A Manchester United fan, she can only dream about ever seeing a real match. It is another of the petty strictures on women that in football-crazy Iran, women are banned from soccer stadiums.
When South Korea played Iran for a world cup qualifying match earlier this month, a small group of Iranian women football fans stood forlornly outside Tehran's Azadi stadium and handed Korean women (who were allowed in) a letter which read. "Dear Korean sisters, Could you please shout once, just once, for us in support of IRAN? Would you do it for us, sisters? While you are screaming, shouting, clapping for your team, we are prisoners in our homes, behind a damn television screen. We have to kill the scream in our throats; we just cry, even when we are happy, because our footballers cannot hear us encouraging them."
The headscarf – compulsory from the age of nine for any woman living in Iran or visiting the country – is the most obvious manifestation of how Iranian women are kept in check. The rules demand, too, that women wear clothes to conceal the natural shape of the body. These elements combine to produce hijab – a concept of modesty as much as actual garments. However, the compulsion to wear such coverings is not the biggest worry for Iran's feminists, explains Parvin Ardalan. That is because the hijab has become, in effect, the symbol of the revolution. Attacking it could lay the women open to charges of political activism aimed at toppling the regime.
In any case, most now appear resigned to covering up. "It's like a part of your body. It feels the same as your jeans feel on your legs," Afsaneh Ahmadi, Zohreh Vatankhah's friend and navigator told me.
To the Western visitor, a compulsory scarf around your head morning to night feels like anything but a part of your body. In Iran's overheated hotels and airports it becomes especially trying. It gets in the way when speaking on a mobile phone. Even some Iranian men find it oppressive. "It makes us feel like beasts," one confided, "as if we wouldn't be able to control our urges."
There is enough repression in the system to prevent open defiance of the hijab rule, but it should perhaps be more worrying for the authorities that many women wear their scarves and modest attire with so little conviction. Two middle-aged figures in black chadors (long cloaks that include head covering), the most severe form of hijab, stood as if on guard at Mehrabad airport as we returned on a domestic flight one day during my stay. "Welcome to Tehran" they announced in Farsi. The real purpose of these sentries, I was later told, was to prevent "bad hijab" among incoming female passengers.
But out in the streets, affluent north Tehrani princesses stay just within the law, while affirming nothing about their commitment to the values of the Islamic revolution. The resulting look can be sexy, if more Fifties-housewife than Angelina Jolie. The scarf, often Hermès and in bright colours, is knotted under the chin, and tilted back at a flattering angle to show a broad band of hair. Blonde highlights, beehives and carefully coiffed fringes seem hot this season. Huge sunglasses pushed up on the head, and a short, tight-fitting belted coat over narrow jeans complete the look. "It signals that we obey the law, but nothing more than that," remarks Ardalan.
Since eyes, nose and hands are the only features on show, eye make-up is applied with scientific precision – and Tehran has become the nose-job capital of the world, with 70,000 rhinoplasty operations a year. I lost count of the numbers of women I saw with post-operative plasters stuck on their noses like starfish. Women are also having tattoos done in increasing numbers, "on the stomach and other places", as one young Tehrani told me.
Appearance, then, is every bit as important as in the West, which is not exactly what the Islamic revolutionaries had in mind back in 1979. In the early years, red lipstick was "an insult to the blood of the martyrs". For men, too, the cadres of the revolution were discouraged from wearing ties (too Western, too reminiscent of the Shah). Many took to wearing plastic sandals to demonstrate their revolutionary credentials. For women, it seems, the clerics wanted the public space free of any trace of overt femininity.
Satellite dishes have put the nail in that coffin. Upper-class Persians were always stylish, but watching shows like Sex and the City or the music videos of Lebanese superstar Nancy Ajram has given women of all backgrounds an eye for fashion and fitness. Even this has its complications.
At the vast and impressively equipped Enghelab sports complex, formerly the Imperial Country Club, a playground for the Shah and his royal entourage, Marjun Massoudi trots in front of me at a brisk pace along a superb "health road" busy with joggers and walkers. She makes a left turn, and we find ourselves at the edge of a fairway on Iran's only golf club which, despite having only 12 holes, has 3,000 members, many of them women.
Disappointingly, there's nobody teeing off, as I had been curious to see how to swing a club in a chador. But Marjun assures me golf is ideally suited to the Islamic dress code.
Huge efforts go into maintaining sexual apartheid in sport, although I notice at the rifle range two girls in headscarves and slim-fitting "manteaus" are taking lessons from a man. Marjun issues me with a swimsuit in case I want to come use one of the women-only swimming pools. Cut low on the thigh area with bulky bra pads, it's not exactly Edwardian, but still pretty modest given that there would be zero chance of being seen by a member of the opposite sex. No wonder home fitness DVDs are so popular here.
There are women who profess to be entirely happy with the status quo. A dozen or so of them spoke at a women's round table organised by the Iranian foreign ministry. "In the name of God the merciful the most compassionate..." each of the speakers began her contribution, a reminder that Iran is, first and foremost, a theocracy. Every woman in the room, apart from a member of the Jewish community, had an ankle-length chador and a head covering that blocked out every wisp of hair. All were highly educated and held senior positions: there was a judge, an agricultural scientist, several university lecturers and academics.
Far from subjugating women, the Islamic revolution elevated them in the family, they claimed, and female life expectancy has gone to 75 years from 58 before 1979. Rather, it was in "liberal democracies" that women were oppressed. "I have seen myself in some countries women are cleaning the streets," one speaker said, "They choose these jobs so that they can say they have equality. We don't think like this."
The physical punishments we found barbaric were merely "theoretical". "You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of stonings carried out in Iran in the past 10 years," said Fa'eze Bodaghi, a lawyer and judge. And floggings? "Physical punishment might look harsh, but it is immediate," she said, adding that Iranian law is quite often "misunderstood". "I don't want to say there is no problem. Inheritance laws [a widow is entitled to only one eighth of her husband's wealth], for example, are under review. But generally I think these women collecting signatures are after Western human rights standards, and we don't think that can work in Iran."
Afterwards, I share a taxi with Farzaneh Abdolmaleki, a senior civil servant. "We don't believe in gender equality, you see," she tells me, shaking her head. "The family is what matters and we all have different roles in the family."
Even if these women wanted a different set-up, they would be fairly powerless to do much about it, despite their relatively privileged positions, since it is men who make and interpret the law. There are, of course, competing factions within Iranian politics, some more secular-minded than others, and reforms have at least allowed women back into the judiciary. But there are still only eight female MPs out of 290, and real power is wielded by the Guardian Council, an unelected body of clerics who can veto any proposed legal change they deem to be unconstitutional.
In the official narrative of Iran, the self-styled superpower, there is scant room for public dissent. In this Iran, there are no disgruntled women, only fulfilled mothers, daughters, wives. "These rumours are just hoaxes got up by foreign enemies," Zahra Mostafavi Khomeini, the daughter of Ayatollah Khomeini retorted when I asked her what she thought of Alieh Egham Doost and the jailing of the activists. Her father, the man who inspired the Islamic revolution, was a champion of fairness for women, she added. "He wanted women to play a full part in society, not just as typists or nurses. At home, he never asked his wife, even once, 'give me a cup of tea', or 'close the door'. He did it himself!".
Attitudes among some Iranian men are less enlightened. One writer and his wife were horrified when they learnt that a friend whose kebab restaurant had run into financial difficulties was pressurising his wife to sell one of her kidneys.
Why the dogmatists among Iran's clerics and politicians should be so eager to gag those women who are not even challenging the Islamic system of government, but merely articulating fairly modest demands for parity within the Sharia legal code, is in some ways puzzling. They must have seen it coming. In the 30 years since the revolution, women have flocked to schools and colleges, literacy rates have rocketed and birth-control programmes have freed them from big families.
The result is that degree and PhD courses are crammed with young women who in earlier generations would have been in rural villages weaving carpets, married off at the age of 13, unable to read or write (two thirds of Iranian women were illiterate in 1979) because their fathers would not countenance them sharing classes with men. By imposing a strict dress code, the revolution opened up higher education to women. Now nearly 70 per cent of university intake is female. Millions of high-achieving Iranian women are now postponing marriage or seeking divorces from husbands they outrank intellectually, while waking up to the cultural and legal obstacles they face.
Parvin Ardalan is adamant that the signatures campaign is entirely compatible with Islam, and has no political agenda. If anything, the women want to challenge patriarchal attitudes that have nothing to do with religion. "We're not out to seize power. I don't need power to achieve what we want. We want change, but without regime change. We have no interest in being a political opposition movement."
But reformists in Iran have been pushed into the background since 2005, and the hardliners know just how potent, and ultimately dangerous, a grassroots movement, such as the women's campaign, could prove. More so, since it hasn't spawned among the usual ranks, the clergy or the merchant classes, but rather in the universities, the legal profession and the blogosphere (women run many of the 70,000 Farsi language blogs that have sprouted in Iran)If the feminists wanted to tap into a groundswell, the numbers are there: half of Iran's 34.6 million women are under 25. Many young people are more interested in flouting the strictures on dating by swapping mobile numbers with boys, or attending vodka-fuelled "gatherings" in private homes, than in fighting the women's corner. But others like Maryam and Tahminah, a devout-looking pair of students in chadors I bumped into at a museum, told me some of their friends didn't believe in God, want a lot more freedom and spend much of their time on Facebook. "Everyone has anti-filter," Tahminah laughed, when I asked about internet censorship.
After the women's conference, I take a taxi to the offices of Katayoon Shahabi, 43, who against all the odds has set up her own film production company and is a regular at the Cannes, Venice and Berlin film festivals. Over tea and dates she describes some of the battles she had to fight when she worked for the state: "I had no authority to sign letters and they fretted over whether I would have to shake a man's hand if I went on a delegation to the West." (Even touching the hand of a man you're not married to is forbidden.)
But Iran's complexities and contradictions are never-ending, as Shahabi reminds me. Its women are typically matriarchal characters, self-confident, pushy and seem uniquely ill-suited to being cowed into conformity. And its men, she pleads, are not particularly macho. That's when I recalled it was Zohreh Vatankhah, the daredevil racer, who had spoken excitedly about her forthcoming pilgrimage to Karbala, in Iraq, the holiest shrine for Shia Muslims, how she keeps a copy of the Koran in her glove compartment, and has been to Mecca twice. Go figure, as an American might say.
The film producer is pragmatic; perhaps she has to be if she is to stay within Iran's "red lines" and keep her annually renewable business licence. She praises Ardalan's campaign, but won't be signing the petition. Why not? "In Iran, direct confrontation doesn't work. I protest in my own way. All the films I work with are about the condition of women," she says, citing the furore caused by Red Card, Mahnaz Afzali's film about an Iranian sentenced to death for murdering the wife of her football coach lover.
Open criticism, meanwhile, is left to the daughters of the mullahs. Faezeh Rafsanjani, outspoken daughter of ex-president and cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has assailed the law that gives a woman's life only half the value of a man's, while a liberal granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini is open about her support for the petition.
That campaign may now be crushed if Ardalan and the other women are jailed. But Iran is also approaching a fork in the road. Economic stagnation and chronic unemployment means there is a growing impatience with the current hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Elections in June could see him replaced by the reformist Mohamed Khatami, and dialogue with the US is on the horizon.
If the thaw comes, it could intensify the internal pressure for the sexual revolution in Iran. Could that pressure in turn be the spark that ignites the one thing the mullahs dread: a velvet revolution? That fear is perhaps why they are cracking down so hard on the women. "They feel very threatened," says one analyst, "When it is just one woman, like Shirin Ebadi, they can contain it, but the idea of a mighty popular force rising up to challenge them, that is something they could not control."
But curiously, it is not only the mullahs who are fearful of insurrectionist talk. "The experience of revolution showed us that women were not necessarily the winners from violent change," says Ardalan, "We need to take one step at a time". Katayoon Shahabi agrees: "We saw the revolution and we saw war. We know that sudden change is not Iran's solution. But things are moving, like a river. And rivers, as you know, are unstoppable."
Mullah justice: Over 1,000 men, women and
children hanged in Iran over the past three years
By Lord Corbett Chairman, All-Party Parliamentary
February 28, 2009
The Mirror UK
Defiant to the end, a convicted killer - and hero to some - faces his executioners. A hooded gunman stands guard as Majid Kavousifar has the noose placed around his neck.
He gives a final wave to his family and even manages a smile before the bar stool he is standing on is suddenly kicked away. The body of rebel leader Kavousifar, 28 - found guilty of assassinating a judge - swings from a crane watched by a small, silent crowd outside Tehran's Judiciary headquarters.
This is "justice", Mullah-style.
More than 1,000 men, women and children have been hanged in Iran in the three years to last December.
In the first month of this year, 59 died, including a 35-year-old woman after 12 years in Rafsanjan prison. In December two men were stoned to death, a third being spared after he managed to clamber out of a pit where he was buried up to his shoulders.
The official 170 forms of punishment include limb amputation without anaesthetic and gouging out eyes with a spoon-like instrument. Iran has executed the highest number of children in the world since 1990. Currently 71 sentenced to death await the gallows. Since the Islamic Republic of Iran was set up 30 years ago, about 120,000 political prisoners have been hanged. About 600,000 have been tortured in the mullahs' notorious prisons. This is medieval murder on an industrial scale. Spearheading opposition to it all is Maryam Rajavi, 56, presidentelect of the coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran. One of her sisters was executed by the Shah who was exiled in 1979. A second was murdered by the mullahs while pregnant. The Council has 540 members, more than half of them women. It offers Iranians a democratic, secular coalition government through UN-supervised elections. President Obama has signalled a willingness to talk to Iran about its clandestine nuclear weapons development and its arming of terror groups killing British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there needs to be another item on the agenda - how will the mullahs respond to 54 UN condemnations of its human rights violations? The terror the mullahs use to stay in power is also exported. An estimated seven out of every 10 allied troops are killed in Iraq by roadside bombs supplied by Iran.
They also train and pay militants in their use. That government, our own and the US, were given these details by the Resistance. The mullahs also train, pay and arm Hizbollah who try to strangle the infant democracy in Lebanon as well as Hamas in Gaza. The heart of terrorism beats in Tehran. It is also where its bankers are. The mullahs are brazen in their menace.
Sir John Sawyers, Britain's ambassador to the UN, said last week: "The Iranians wanted to strike a deal whereby they stopped killing our forces in Iraq in return for them being allowed to carry on with their nuclear programme." For seven years, led by then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Britain, France and Germany tried to bribe Iran into ceasing nuclear development. The policy failed - simply giving the mullahs more time to get nearer to building the weapons. The UN's nuclear watchdog the IAEA, last week reported that Iran had enough enriched uranium to build a bomb. Despite sanctions it was expanding its nuclear plant. The world needs to tremble. The Resistance tries to alert the world to the dangers.
After a long campaign, backed by a majority of MPs, the Resistance was taken off the list of terror organisations by the Court of Appeal.
How did Jack Straw react?
In an interview with state-run news agency IRNA last week he is reported as saying: "There is an independent kind of court... and it decided that the evidence did not support what the Government was saying." As the mullahs hang and torture those who want democratic change the best Mr Straw can say is that it is "regrettable" the Resistance was unshackled.
Those millions of Iranians who oppose tyranny deserve better. Britain should stand with those seeking freedom, not siding with those who have stolen it from them.
1921: Military chief Reza Khan stages coup and names himself Shah of Persia.
1935: Khan changes name from Persia to Iran.
1941: Allies make pro-German Reza abdicate. His son Reza Pahlavi named Shah.
1963: Shah tries to modernise the country, gives women right to vote.
1966: Women can now divorce, marriage age up to 18.
1979: Shah alienates clergy, leading to riots. He goes into exile. Islamic Ayatollah Khomeini returns after 14 years in exile. Islamic Republic of Iran is declared.
1980: Women's hijabs made compulsory. Start of Iran-Iraq war.
1989: Khomeini issues fatwa on Salman Rushdie, for his Satanic Verses book.
1995: US imposes oil and trade sanctions.
2002: Construction of Iran's first nuclear reactor.
2004: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is made president.
2007: Stand-off with Britain after Iran detains 15 British sailors.
2008: Deadline for Iran to agree incentives in return for halt in nuclear activities passes.
120,000 political prisoners have been hanged since the 1979 revolution
An estimated seven out of 10 allied troops are killed in Iraq by roadside bombs exported by Iran.
Gender issues at heart of Iran’s political
March 6, 2009
Foreign Policy Association
By Nikolaj Nielsen
The political landscape and fight for equal rights of women in Iran is one that demands patience, perseverance, and strength. Indeed, this is the country that issued a fatwah against Salman Rushdie on a fateful Valentine’s Day in 1989. Shortly afterward the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was stabbed to death. The Italian translator was knifed and the novel’s Norwegian publisher was left outside his Oslo home with three bullets in his back. In those conditions and paranoid restraints, it’s a wonder that activists and grassroots movements can exist. But they do.
Since 2006, a group of Iranian women have set out on a quest to gather one million signatures to denounce and hopefully change state sanctioned discrimination. Earlier last month, Sussan Tahmasebi, one of the leaders of the campaign was detained with two others in the mountains north of Tehran. Dozens have been arrested but the signatures continue. Their grassroots action is indicative of a larger movement throughout the Persian state. And today, Iranian youth have gone so far as to launch a sexual revolution. It is a courageous act of rebellion against a bellicose Islamic Republic which has publicly executed homosexuals.
While women suffer under discriminatory laws in matters of divorce and child custody, in Iran they are far from being marginalized. Some would argue that gender rights and issues in Iran shapes its political debate. In 2003, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi arrived at Tehran airport. She was greeted by 10,000 cheering people. Ebadi’s demands for human rights and democracy have become an inspiration for young Iranian women like 30 year old Shadi Sadr who is a lawyer and advocate for women’s rights.
Iran’s struggle for gender equality and issues was already in full swing in the early to late 20th century. Under the Pahlavi shahs women were given full access to education. Reza Shah Pahlavi introduced numerous progressive reforms when he came to power in 1925. He was still a dictator though and was finally overthrown. However, the debate around gender issues continued and while progress was being made, the United States orchestrated a coup to overthrow a socially progressive and elected official Mohammed Mossaedgh in 1953. Mossaedgh made the mistake of thinking that Iran’s oil should belong to Iran, not the United States and the UK. He was quickly replaced with a pro-US dictator.
And Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is a striking account of her own experience of growing up during the Islamic Revolution. The graphic novel, later turned into a movie, describes what it’s like for a little girl to witness the overthrow of the Shah and the arrival of a new repressive regime.
Today, Iran’s youth and women are confronting the republic’s conservative and theocratic laws. They are speaking for human rights and free speech - issues that Iran’s President Ahmadinejad is unable to silence and Mossaedgh was unable to voice. Tahmasebi’s 1 million signatures for gender equality will continue. Victory will be theirs.
Female Genital Mutilation Said To Be Widespread In Iraq's, Iran's Kurdistan
March 10, 2009
By Golnaz Esfandiari
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Tahereh vividly remembers the day in her native town of Marivan in Iran when she was circumcised with a razor, leaving her with physical and psychological pain that endures nearly 45 years later.
"We were five sisters --we didn't really understand what was happening. My mother just said that someone was coming to our house," says 48-year-old Tahereh, who is one of many women who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) in Iranian Kurdistan.
"Then they took all of us -- we were 2, 3, 4 years old -- and the operation was done," says Tahereh, who asked that her real name not be used.
FGM, defined as the intentional alteration or injury of female genital organs for nonmedical reasons, is common in many northern African countries as well as some places in Asia and the Middle East.
But rights activists and NGO workers say the practice, also known as female circumcision, is also widespread in Iraq's and Iran's Kurdish regions.
Cases have also been registered in Western countries, primarily among immigrants from regions where the practice is widespread.
It is estimated that more than 100 million women and girls have been subjected to FGM, which usually entails the partial removal of the clitoris, and is usually performed by local midwives.
Long-term health consequences can result from the procedures, including infection, painful sexual intercourse, psychological trauma, and sterility.
Under the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, for example, states should not invoke any custom, tradition, or religious consideration to avoid their obligation to eliminate violence against women.
While FGM is not inherent to any nation or religion, cultural and religious traditions are among the reasons given in support of the practice.
In some societies, FGM can signify a woman's eligibility for marriage. In some instances, it is used to reduce sexual desire. In other cases, misguided medical or health beliefs are cited.
In the Kurdish areas of Iran and Iraq, supporters of the practice say it controls women's sexual desires and makes them "clean." Food prepared by uncircumcised women, for example, can be considered unacceptable.
No precise figures are available. But women's rights activists estimate the number of mutilated women in Kurdish cities and villages is high.
Parvin Zabihi, a member of a women's rights group based in Iran's Kurdistan called the Committee Against Sexual Violence, has researched female circumcision in the Kurdish-populated areas in Iran.
"One of my friends carried out some research in a classroom at a school in the Piranshahr area. Out of the 40 students, 38 were local -- and out of those 38, 36 had been circumcised. We came across many cases [of FGM] wherever we went to investigate," Zabihi says. Until then I didn't really understand; but when I understood how damaging it was, I prevented it and didn't let it happen to my younger daughters
Thomas Von Der Osten-Sacken, the director of Wadi, a German nongovernmental organization that has worked in Iraqi Kurdistan for more than a decade, says the organization's research among Iraqi Kurds and also Iranian Kurds based in northern Iraq has shown that the practice of FGM is prevalent in the region.
"I think it's not wrong to say that within the Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan the rate of the mutilated girls and women is in average about 60 percent," Sacken says.
For many people in the region, FGM is an ancient tradition while others refer to it as a religious obligation.
While there is no mention of female circumcision in the Koran, some refer to a hadith -- or narrative -- attributed to the Prophet Muhammad in which he instructs a woman performing circumcision on a young girl to "cut off only the foreskin but do not cut deeply."
It is not clear why the practice is widespread among Iranian and Iraqi Kurds. In Iran, FGM cases are also reported in southern regions including in Khuzestan.
But Von Der Osten-Sacken says that, according to the Shafii Islamic school to which most Iranian and Iraqi Kurds belong, female circumcision is obligatory for women.
"We found that wherever you have the Shaafi school of law, female genital mutilation is extremely widespread. That might be also one the reasons why you can't find it so much in Turkey or Syria's Kurdish communities -- because they're mostly Hanafi," Sacken says.
Some others, according to Zabihi, believe the practice was brought to Iran by Arabs.
"Ronak Faraj writes in her book 'The Circumcision of Girls' that the reason for its [prevalence] in Iran's and Iraq's Kurdistan is the Arab invasion of Iran," Zabihi says.
"She says in the book that the practice exists in the places where the Arab army invaded Iran -- they set circumcision as a condition for men and women."
While both Zabihi and Von Der Osten-Sacken agree that FGM is deeply anchored in Kurdistan's traditions, they believe that attitudes are slowly changing.
The Wadi director says the fight against female circumcision is gaining some support among young people, Kurdish intellectuals, and some politicians in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Women's rights activist Zabihi says education and raising awareness about women's issues is a key factor that prevents some Kurds from following the tradition of their ancestors.
"Many educated men and women -- after getting married -- they don't let their daughters be circumcised. So fortunately it is decreasing here," Zabihi says.
But even Tahereh conceded that, under pressure from her family, she had her eldest daughter circumcised. But she didn't let her two other daughters go through it. Those who support FGM, she says, do not know it creates misery for girls.
"[My eldest daughter] now complains about me for [not having prevented it]. Until then I didn't really understand; but when I understood how damaging it was, I prevented it and didn't let it happen to my [younger daughters].