Iran: Technology Used to Bolster Women’s Movement
Given the strict censorship the Islamic Republic government places on state television, print, and radio, Iranians are using nuanced techniques for spreading information, and the women’s movement is no exception. Years ago, women’s activists were among the first to use the power of the internet to spread their message of gender equality. In response, the government placed extensive internet filters on any sites featuring dissent and critiques of the Islamic Republic, as well as on pornography and other “immoral and anti-religious” material.
However, these limitations may have catalyzed the emergence of an even farther reaching network of technology-based information sharing for social and political movements. Last year, the official in charge of internet matters in the Tehran city prosecutor’s office announced that the state’s extensive filtering of internet sites had had the unintended consequence of increasing SMS message traffic, as texting less vulnerable to government control.
Most recently, the use of Bluetooth wireless technology—which allows individuals to exchange music, pictures, and video between computers and phones—has provided the Iranian women’s movement with an even more powerful tool to communicate with one another and the public at large. Bluetooth technology is almost impossible to track and control, so it provides a relatively safe and private sphere in which activists can communicate. For now, it is almost impossible for the government to monitor, allowing a kind of freedom of speech rarely seen either during the Shah or since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. And in Iran, anonymity is power. Women’s movement activists are becoming increasingly clever with their usage of such technology. For example, they will send a Bluetooth message to any Tehran metro passengers, often carry a subject line labelling the message as pornographic, a creative advertising tool to entice acceptance of the message. While passengers think they are about to view an image of a naked woman or sex act, they will often be surprised to find themselves viewing the latest news on the Iranian women’s movement.
And it does not end there. GoogleMaps are used to geographically plan protests and rallies in order to find the safest escape route in case of a police crackdown. Twitter sends minute by minute updates on clandestine Parliament sessions discussing the latest proposed Family Law. Even families who are without internet can now participate in the movement if they have access to a cell phone, which millions of Iranians do. The latest project is building a wiki for a new, democratically written Family Law and Women’s Charter. Almost anyone can add their perspectives without fear of government reprisal.
All of these tools have served to make the Iranian women’s movement stronger than ever. With technology changing at lightning speed, Iranian activists are not only keeping up, but utilizing these techniques in creative and unseen ways to bolster their movement.
The only question remains is: Can the government keep up? While the Iranian authorities scurry to find ways to monitor and censor such activities, the network is growing too fast for their efforts—currently there are an estimated twenty-four million members of the cell phone community—and there are no signs of slowing down.
08 April 2009
By Rochelle Terman