Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Iran: Women’s Movements and the Thousand Mile Journey | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

If you ask me what the most important political issue in Iran is, my answer would be: women.

This is because the issue of women has become increasingly complicated, since it is related to other matters such as religious and political issues.

Half of Iran’s population is made up of women, whereas the other half who manage their families in accordance with laws are still associated with the issue of women.

During the past few years, demands from women have increased significantly in various general fields. Moreover and for the time being, their demands are attended to in a number of private realms.

At present, different movements have emerged to improve the status of women in Iran. These movements were founded by women, for women. The financers of these movements are non-governmental organizations, and are not political or governmental parties. These women have founded these movements for the sake of achieving certain objectives, such as the abolition of stoning, supporting peace, opposing war and calling other organizations to adopt equality to avoid discrimination. There are other movements that provide new interpretations of Islam, as well as others that work to educate people via different means such as through the publication of books, the issuance of magazines and the launching of websites.

One of these movements is a campaign to gather one million signatures. The objective of this campaign is to change laws that discriminate against women. This movement believes that laws such as determining the age of marriage, the need for the father’s consent to marriage, the absence of some women’s rights after marriage, divorce, custody of children and the age of criminal responsibility, citizenship, blood money, inheritance, testimony and similar issues are all not free of discrimination against women. It is for that reason that these movements call for changing such laws and achieving equality between genders.

The beginning of this campaign officially began in September 2006, and was then called the ‘one million signatures campaign’. With its inauguration, the campaign began its purposeful activities that aim to change unfair discriminatory laws.

Out of its belief in enlightenment, the campaign began its activities by presenting face-to-face discussions and establishing relationships with people and different groups of women, thus obtaining the assistance of educated volunteers.

This movement aims to lead people, demand change and not acknowledge any borders or limits as they are mobilized in homes, restaurants, streets and schools.

Leaders of the movement are convinced that they do not conflict with Islam in any way, but rather that they aim to provide a new interpretation of Islam which supports and believes in the rights of women.

After collecting one million signatures, this campaign will move onto the next stage which will privilege and respect the signatories and the concerned organizations.

Along this line, we should refer to similar successful movements from all over the world just as we should refer to the fact that social movements continued to depend on the culture of inauguration and launching campaigns in the same manner as other countries in past decades. The established truth is that these campaigns have yielded substantial positive results. It can be said that these movements were not founded in Western states only; rather many have been established in developing countries and Islamic countries as well.

The idea of collecting signatures was adopted from the women of Morocco, as they had succeeded in reforming laws through campaigns. Also India, Tunisia and Turkey had provided examples of other successful movements in this realm.

Recently, Bahraini women’s movements have succeeded to impose some changes to citizenship law.

On the other hand, we must refer to some problems that could hinder the performance of this campaign. Here we must admit that the following problems and obstacles with regards to the Iranian situation could stand in the way of the campaign. For example, I must state that authorities will probably clash with the campaign, cause problems for the campaigners and will resort to arresting them to limit their activities.

But we must say that collective action is essentially difficult to implement, especially when it rallies for a sensitive issue such as women’s issues and when the group is composed of women who have different ways of thinking, are from different religious groups, or are secularists.

And finally, the following question has always been posed; is it possible to reform laws relating to the status of women, bearing in mind that the Board of Trustees of the Constitution made it impossible to change any laws?

I believe that such campaign could be deemed a success even if it fails to achieve its objectives since it succeeded to attract several groups of women from different levels of society of different political and ideological affiliations. This is in addition to the fact that this campaign is an experience that was carried out by women without any assistance from men. The campaign has also increased awareness amongst women and has helped them exchange experiences and ideas with one another. There is an effective and practical admission of the campaign into homes yet in a calm manner and this in itself will lead to a change sooner or later.