Iran: Identity, women and Islam: Iran’s case

Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh
A presentation from the Asia Pacific NGO Forum of Beijing +10.
When I was leaving Iran some of the Islamist women of my country asked me to remind the world of the following: How they have combated world imperialism empty handedly and with limited resources and the high price they have paid in achieving this task.
Although, they support peace and human dignity, they will never remain silent in the face of violators attacking their national integrity and personal identity. They are not concerned about economic globalization owing to Iran’s anit-imperialistic policies as spiritualism and religious beliefs, particularly respect for the position of motherhood and the necessity of equal education for men and women has facilitated access to human development. Facilities consisting of reproductive health, population control, free education for everyone and elimination of all violence against women.

When I was leaving Iran, some of the Muslim women reformist asked me to remind the world how they have striven to develop civil rights for women, to promote democracy, to advance fundamental freedoms, to strengthen the “Republic” portion of the Islamic Republic and women’s human rights. They emphasize how their every effort and movement in the legislative procedures has been confronted by men who regard the Islamic Shariat from the one sided angle of their own Fat’was; how women’s issues have been ignored in the parliament amidst the internal and factional bkickering of traditional Islamists, Modern Islamists and the fundamentalists; and finally, how they have been defeated in their struggle to convince Iran to CDEAW.

When I was leaving Iran, the secular women of my country, who are in favour of separation religion and state asked me to tell the world how they are considered as third class citizens and how they have been marginalized; how they are denied political participation and candidacy for the parliament and the city councils; how they are denied legal status even in acquiring permits for publishing any print media.

When I was leaving Iran, I searched relentlessly for the voice of the young girls of my country, which I finally found in internet chat rooms, websites, student meetings, youth NGOs and long unemployment lines. They told me that they didn’t know where I was going, but asked me to tell anyone who would listen that the ideological stereotyping labelling and partisan games, which have become a trend in Iran does not belong to our generation. They asked me to tell them that they are the real victims of fundamentalism, be it Islamic or American. Tell them that although they struggled to achieve a reformist government they were, nevertheless, ignored as the countries major constituents and their demands were not met. They said that they want to have the right to make decisions regarding their future and their private lives, their equal civil rights with men, the right of participation in public spheres, the right of clothing, the right to love, the right to enjoy life and other natural human rights.

Ladies and gentlemen this is only a portion of voices and pictures that can be heard and seen in my country Iran. Pictures and voices, diverse in their nature, can only be seen and heard through the openings provided in the civil society, but there is no diversity in the sufferings women undergo: “The shadow, of a patriarchal system cast in public and private lives, which is guarded by apparently religious related beliefs and traditions as watchful force in all spheres of our lives.”

Consequently women’s issues in Iran, like women’s issues in other countries, is considered to be a historical and cultural issue. During the last years, however, owing to interming gling of politicization of Islam with women’s issues the problem is placed in a more complex scenario. Consequently, women’s issues has become one of the major indicators of evaluating modern and fundamentalist Islamic functions. This may be the main reason that superficial indicators such as the dress code determine the average power of reformists and fundamentalists and leniency in this area is not necessarily indicative of advancement of women, nor does it mean that the ruling parties are heeding to any of the important critical concerns for women such as their social, economic, political, civil and legal rights. This has caused much concern among women, as they are always promised and never delivered to and have to go through the most complicated maze of the political and social arena to have their voices heard and even that is often in vein. Ladies and gentlemen, The women’s movement in Iran, although diversified and varied is nonetheless extremely alive owing to challenges in obtaining women’s human rights and achieving gender equity and equality. The women’s movement in Iran is confronted by two types of the “others” in order to obtain their independent identity, “internal” and “external”, the former being Islamic fundamentalism and the latter beign western fundamentalism. Modern Muslim women in describing their identity, believe that being Muslim is part of their identity, they say “we do not intend to fight Islam, we are only in search of the same Islamic and human justice granted us in the Koran, only a modern from of justice in criteria with modern day needs.”

All of the above struggles and challenges has strengthened women’s movement in Iran and we have come out of it much stronger and more resistant.

Ladies and gentlemen, to sum up, I think it is crucial to include women from Islamic countries as active members of the Asia Pacific Forum. Countires amidst constant struggles between fundamentalism and militarism, whose women have relentlessly fought to maintain their identity and achieve their rights. This I ask of this Forum not merely to diversify women’s movement and stay within the structure of the objectives of the Beijing Platform for Action, but to benefit from our experience and bring new blood into a movement, which thanks to the struggles and endeavours endured by all of you has become an ancient podium of wisdom and strength.

Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh is a research of women’s issues, editor-in-chief of Farzaneh Journal, a bi-lingual journal on women’s studies, and also the director of Iranian Non-governmental organizations training center - that works as a resource center for non-governmental organizations in Iran.