By Dr Gill Gillespie, UK Director and Walt Martin, US Director:
Today is one to celebrate the achievements that women have made in winning the vote, going part of the way towards equality in the work place and in the home, and fighting for their rights. It is also, Iranian Refugees Action Network believes, a day to reflect on the struggles many women around the world still face.
Even in so-called ‘civilised’ societies, women are hardest hit by economic recession, poor economic management or even the deliberate targeting of certain family types, such as lone mother families. Please do ask us, we have the supporting proof, evidence and statistics. This is, however, not the main focus of our article.
Our thoughts turn to women’s fight for human and equal rights around the world, such as the need to abolish the barbaric practices of FGM and stoning for adultery (women are even unequal in this brutal form of murder, being buried up to their shoulders, whilst men are buried up to their waist only. If you can escape, you can avoid being killed….think about it).
We remind ourselves of women in countries controlled by Islamic regimes, patriarchal societies, subject to dictators who care little for the lives of them and their children and families, such as Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Sudan and Somalia, to name (unfortunately) only some. Who can forget the case of Malala Yousefi, shot in the head at the age of 15 for asking for equal educational rights for girls in Pakistan?
What is life like for women who live under the control of the Islamic Republic of Iran, for example? Women’s lives, under the misogynistic interpretation of Ayatollah Khamenei, are ‘worth half that of men’s’. They are the ‘property’ of their husbands, or fathers, or the most senior man in the household. If their husband dies, they become the property of the next senior man in the family, and so do their children. Their children are usually taken away from them and made to live with the husband’s relatives. Divorce is extremely difficult, with domestic abuse widespread, and women seeking divorce because of it often told to return to their husbands and ‘be better wives’. They may divorce only if they can prove (and this level of proof is much higher than that which needs to be demonstrated by men) that their husbands are drunkards, drug addicts, insane or impotent. As a consequence of the facts above, many women are forced to live in unhappy and even abusive relationships.
Women (and men) are not allowed to have a same-sex relationship. If they fall in love with another woman and this is discovered, they will be hung, often in public executions watched by men, women and children who are horrified, but ordered to attend for the purposes of intimidation.
In the highly-recommend but heartbreaking film The Stoning of Soraya, another scenario which occurs is played out on the screen. Here an Iranian man wants to divorce his wife and invents a story that she has committed adultery to avoid repaying Soraya’s dowry. He persuades two of his friends and the local Mullah to lie about this and sentence this kind and gentle woman to death by stoning. We reflect on the barbarity of this act. Some will try to persuade themselves that it is no longer applicable to contemporary society, anywhere in the world. But it is. It was only enormous worldwide campaigning which stopped this happening to a woman sentenced to death for the ‘offence’ in Iran recently. Check out the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani – you can Google it. We are also meant to be appeased by the fact that her sentence was ‘reduced’ to death by hanging, after huge international publicity on her case, instead of by stoning. Of course, this is also not acceptable, but it is a function of society dictated by the patriarchal Islamic Republic of Iran.
We all know that women are forced to dress differently than men in Iran as well. The consequences of wearing nail varnish, at their mildest, can be a fine applicable for each nail on which it has been applied. Those women caught wearing make up or having their hair dyed blonde, for example, can be arrested, humiliated and even lashed, another brutal punishment which leaves them scarred for life. Women like Zeinab Jalalian, in the picture above, are imprisoned on made-up and completely false charges related to their ethnic or religious minority. If they are tortured, like Zeinab, the Islamic Regime of Iran are reluctant to release them, as they are frightened their stories will be told to the world. We therefore have to be their voices and continue to speak out against their appalling treatment.
There have recently been a spate of articles which talk about the ‘increasing freedoms’ for women inside countries such as Iran, which have received coverage in the mainstream media. It is no surprise that these are written by those supporting regimes who treat women like second-class citizens. They discuss the degree, the layers and the minor differences in discrimination which women face, rather than the discrimination itself.
The Iranian Refugees Action Network would like to encourage feminists, who achieved so much for women over the past 100 years, to unite and condemn the treatment of women in the countries discussed above. This condemnation must be consistent, damning (there is a huge amount of supporting data) and in no way ambivalent. It is ironic, for example, to claim it is a woman’s ‘right’ to be discriminated against by, for example, wearing repressive body coverings in a certain way, rather than by being forced to wear it at all.
We conclude by promising women (and men) that we will continue to fight for their human and equal rights every day, and pay testimony to those whose bravery and resolution is so strong that they are suffering as a consequence of it under repressive regimes and societies. Those who already enjoy such freedoms as equal rights – please speak out and continue to do so, until there are none of these regimes and societies left.
Dr Gill Gillespie and Walt Martin
Directors, Iranian Refugees Action Network