Monday, March 10, 2003
As you may have noticed from the logo's at the top of the Samizdata blogroll, we officially support the The Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran (SMCCDI). There have been a few small news stories on the Women's Day march there but none gave the detail and context of the full letter. This may well all be available elsewhere. It may well be longer than anything we have ever posted here. I've done it anyway. I want to make sure it doesn't disappear into some digital gulag.
Read it and see what the current generation of young women in Iran are thinking. While it isn't libertarian, it is certainly liberal and a tremendous breath of fresh air. I sincerely wish them well.
With all that said, I yield to a young Iranian woman.
"March 8", the "International Women's Day", is here.
On this day, in most of the countries of the world, great number of women and men, by their widespread participation in various gatherings and demonstrations, observe it as the symbol of a great accomplishment along the advancement of human rights and their way of thinking. This day, which many of the freedom-lovers and forward-thinking forces in the world call March 8 as well, was officially introduced by the UN in the solar year 1355 (1977) as a day for official recognition of women's struggles to obtain their natural and socio-political rights; even though, in the same amendment, each country - such as Australia or pre-revolutionary Iran which was observing the "17th Esfand" (January 7th) - were given the right to acknowledge a different day in accordance with a historic day of theirs in regards to glorifying the efforts to vivify women's rights.
March 8, otherwise known as International Women's Day, is the inheritance of centuries of women's struggles in reaction to the fundamentalist beliefs of patriarchal or religious societies and the exploitation and prejudice that has been allowed upon their rights. Millennia-long struggles in various shapes such as the "sex boycott of men" in ancient Greece and the widespread participation in great revolutions such as in France and Russia. Incredible struggles that sometimes in reaction to the institutionalized form of sexual slavery and prejudice against women in countries such as Iran and Nigeria, takes place as suicide and, in its most explicit form, as the self-conflagration of unsheltered girls and women who have no way left to attract the world's attention to their cries and suffering.
Without doubt, the institutionalization of attention to women's plight and, especially, the intensification of their struggles must be found in the public reaction the enmity of the times of the feudal-theocratic rule in Europe and in the "period of enlightenment" following it. An age that was witness to the shaking and changing, and afterwards the gradual eradication of the leftover thought processes of the earlier establishments of thousands of years of feudalism, slavery, and Stone Age thinking. Thousands of years where due to backwards-thinking and the religiofication of those backwards societies' male deification, woman was only considered to be a creature in the service of the devil, or in its so-called more "humane" version, a half-existence creature or a creature strictly for obtaining sexual gratification and for reproduction. An age of enlightenment in which the tremendous and unprecedented socio-economic achievements that totally revolutionized the frozen millennial societies of Europe and afterwards the young but un-emancipated America as well, through sudden and bloody rebellions and in some cases through gradual change, or, which provided the necessary background for the upcoming social changes which took place as a result of the deep cracking or crumbling of the walls of belief that had been established by the feudal-theocratic powers. The breaking of this millennia-long socio-political freeze and the emergence of socio-liberal thoughts and the sudden or gradual influence of bourgeoisie and/or labor and the transformation of the "slave-peasant human", or the human as "property of the state", into "citizens", and the spreading of their desires for political participation, without doubt, created the opportunity- sooner or later- for women to also directly act upon obtaining their rights after millennia of sexual prejudice.
Yes, the daily and increasing activities of women in an urbanizing world and the development of the press machine and later the steam-engine which set the scene for the industrial revolution, and afterwards, the opening of the workplace to the "female worker" - which was mainly allowed for profiting further from her lower salary- created this opportunity for the industrial female laborer to rise for the revival of her lost rights at the beginning of the twentieth century: first in the Anglo-Saxon Oceania and almost simultaneously in US and Europe. This socio-political revolt which was performed so that the woman laborer could share the political decision-making power, with the occurrence of two nearly successive World Wars and the increasing presence of women in the workforce and her increased influence in making social decisions - especially at the family level, became ever-greater due to the presence of the men at the war-front for many years. Women's awareness of their powers and capabilities turned into organized gatherings and movements on their part, which not only moved the civilized yet prejudiced society of the past century, but also increasing awareness, economic factors, and the influence of those beliefs, desires, and actions have now - meaning at the beginning of the third millennium - have influenced other closed and prejudiced societies especially in the Middle East and Ultra Caucus regions, which have a more advanced culture compared to other third world countries; and, we are all witness daily to the activeness women's and the gradual breaking of the fundamentalist chains of these theocratic or patriarchal states.
In our country, Iran, the roots of the women's current struggle should be sought in their efforts to obtain some of the conditions of their mother's of ancient history, and afterwards, to obtain the accomplishments prior to the Islamic revolution along with the influence of the socio-cultural developments of today's modern world and the inheritance of social-liberal beliefs.
Iranian women, today, due to the gradual but accelerating break-up of some "religious taboos" and rewritings of history, which have all been done to maintain the Islamic beliefs that have entered our culture and are the main reason for the incorrect valuations of the majority of Iranians of the history of their country, now, they look with a more open and curious eye to the past, and along with their brothers and husbands they realize their historic "mothers" - from the "perspective of the genders" - had a very special status until 14 centuries ago. They gradually realize that prior to the Arab assault and the mandatory establishment of the religion of Islam in Iran women such as Artemis, 25 centuries ago, was the commander of a huge division whose cavalry units not only went to the heart of Greece, but who also designed and implemented a major canal dig so that she could send her infantry and ships to support her cavalry detachments. Also, today's women and Iranians by realizing the cultural and engineering roles of women of those days in guiding the men to construct sites such as Persepolis, and afterwards the continuation of women?s high stature until 14 centuries ago, meaning the rule of the likes of Azarmidokht and Burandokht (Known as Poorandokht) whose borders on the one side extended to India and on the other side extended to Rome, they realize how a foreign culture brought about the conditions for their decline. A tribal and patriarchal culture, which despite the claims of the religious, suddenly converted the Iranian women - whom till then were the authors of their own fate - into a "bondservant-slave" with a dreadful fate written by men for six centuries. A fate written by local men who had to adopt the ways of living of their invaders to avoid more harm. A decayed religious-orthodox culture whose continuance, this time for another seven centuries by another group of invaders, meaning the savage tribes of central Asia and their descendants. A new group of invaders who adapted the religious beliefs of the previous group of invaders in order to indoctrinate their rule for further invasions, and whom by combining the Islamic religion with their own backwards beliefs took away any kind of open thought from the majority of Iranians, especially from our women - who were less valuable than horses to them - and turned them into self-involved and "self-censoring beings". This cultural-socio-political catastrophe continued for close to 13 centuries and almost till the beginning of the "Age of thought and reason in Iran", meaning till the years leading to the "1906 Constitutionalist Revolution" and its aftermath. It was only due to the effective role of Iranian women and mothers in raising their children that, unlike other countries in the region occupied by the same invaders, the overall appreciation of reason and freedom and Iranian patriotism was not lost, and every now and then bold freedom-loving Iranians such as Papak Khoramdin- whom the Arabs and Turks call Babak- and Yaghoub Laith Saffar in reaction to the Arab hostility, the eternal Ferdowsi - the father of Persian wisdom and Iranism - and tens of world famous philosophers, poets, inventors and Astronomists, such as, Omar Khayam and humane and progressive kings and prime ministers such as Lotf-Ali Khan Zand and Amir Kabir with the limited resources of their times attempted to regain some of the ancient glory of Iran, Iranians and Iranian women.
However, the modern struggles of the Iranian women at the advent of the age of reason and modernism in our country, meaning the period that is referred to as the Constitutionalist Revolution and current period of upheaval in our country, has a direct relation with the spread of literacy and awareness which has led to the gradual fading of the religious and superstitious beliefs on the one side, and from the other side with the daily increasing declaration of their natural demands for equal participation with the men in every level of society.
These struggles and its outcomes, have produced an unprecedented commotion for the Iran of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Also, the outer rings and the results of the struggles of Iranian women will influence the entire central Asia region, and not only the fate of the Middle East and Ultra Caucus regions will be revolutionized, it will also bring about unprecedented and sometimes radical change in the cultural, social, and economic and political structures of neighboring countries. Without doubt, one of the first outcomes of the liberation of Iranian women, whom despite their difficult situation have always been a model for other women in the region, will be the cultural power boost that will be given to the Afghan women who have been released from the yoke of the Taliban but are still faced with prejudice, and this would be a great help in providing Afghanistan with major changes in its way of thinking.
To understand this claim, without doubt, a quick look at the highlights of the history of the past century of our country and the struggles of Iranian women and its outcomes, which has always affected the fate of all of Iran and all Iranians, continues to affect their fate, and will continue to do so in the future. This effect is due to the fact that on the one hand no serious modernization and democratization movement can put aside Iranian women who comprise at least half of Iranian society, or define itself without their widespread and all out participation. And, on the other hand, the Iranian woman who has always been the victim of the injustice and prejudice of backwards and stone-age religious and patriarchal thoughts is determinedly standing up to and resisting these injustices.
Along this line and in different ways, freedom-loving Iranian women such as the Parvin Etesamis, Sedigheh Dolat-Abadis, Farrokh Roo-Parsas and Parvaneh Eskandary-Foroohars and their Literary, cultural, and social efforts in destroying the deadly atmosphere of silence of the "male-deity" society, or the uprising of the armed revolutionary units of the 1906 Constitutionalist women in Tehran, Tabriz, and Isphahan, and the material and cultural support of Iranian women for anti-colonialism and anti-exploitation's movements during the Ghajar dynasty and the boycott of European goods and fabrics in those times can be mentioned, which all, despite all the various reactions of the clergy oppressors, such as the Fatwas (religious decree) of incinerating the schools for girls, the splashing of acid in women's faces, and not observing decency towards women; during various decades of the past century with the common hope of attaining better days for their own daughters they besieged the incorrect dogmatic religio-patriarchal beliefs of their times, and in reaction to the oppression that they and their mothers faced they performed a reasonable and humane, and yet unprecedented, revolt in an Islamicised society, and they continue to do so. A just revolt for attaining natural desires such as equal right to existence which was taken away from them for centuries and, after a 50 year period, has been taken away from them again for the past quarter-century.
Yes, during this hundred year period, only in the years of the rule of the Pahlavi kings has it been that Iranian women were able to possess unprecedented progressive rights in an Islamic country. These rights that mainly due to the backwards religious beliefs of the Iran of the times and the fear of the women from the religionists was mainly implemented from top-down at the request of a great many progressive and educated women, began with the unprecedented order of the "unveiling" by the late Reza Shah. An unprecedented order that for many of the women at the advent of the Constitutionalist era and their descendants meant the arrival of the nullification of "sexual slavery" and prejudice in our country, which led to many interpretations and radical changes and reactions in the years after it, and which continues to stir resistance in the Iran of today following this order, it was on "17th Dey 1314" (January 7, 1936) that suddenly half of the country that was condemned, till then, to covering their entire bodies, masking their faces and staying at home found the opportunity to tend to any education and career. Unprecedented opportunities for the entire region that until 50 years later and with the cancellation of these rights, simultaneous with the fall of the Kingdom of the departed late Mohammad Reza Shah, had continued and which even today do not exist in many countries in the region.
Yes, it was in the years following this historic decision that the Iranian woman was able to obtain the right to vote- even a year before the women of Switzerland- and reached the highest socio-political levels by attaining
positions as pilots, army commanders, engineers, physicians, Instructors, mayors, judges, consulars, ministers, and even according to the laws of the time, the ability to replace the symbol of the country. This order and afterwards the opportunities and rights arising from it, which from a socio-religious perspective on its aspect of sexuality are unprecedented achievements, was unfortunately heavily criticized by the secular political opposition who had tied their other desires and agendas to the unprecedented accomplishments of the women and by forgetting the sorrowful past of this oppressed group and the enmity of the dogmatic clergy with "all" of the achievements, they attacked the women's accomplishments. For example, many of these opposition members by forgetting the methods of terror and fear that the mullahs used and the superstitious religious atmosphere of the times, which without a strong-handed move from above would not allow any kind of change or even criticism of themselves, and also by forgetting the millennia-long desire of their mothers and sisters and even women with the same ideologies as themselves, they turned the philosophy of the "Unveiling" into one of the goals of their ideological propaganda attacks and in reality, without wanting to do so, they fortified the position of the religionists whom they themselves were in opposition with. This group among the opposition had forgotten that Abraham Lincoln, in America, had no choice but to use force in order to deal an effective blow to the culture of slavery that was "only" 300 years old despite it having a source other than religious roots in order to liberate the Black Americans.
Without doubt, the actions and accomplishments of the Pahlavi regime in regards to the Iranian women and the removal of various prejudices against them provoked the daily increasing anger and enmity of the Shiite clergy and religious fundamentalists and therefore they fought with the royal order and caused its base to weaken. The mullahs with the cultural influence that they had upon millions of religious Iranians made public dissent and demonized the policy of the Pahlavis in regards to women as "Westernization of society" and especially as "spreading prostitution among women". Without doubt, these religious decrees in a country where the majority were Shiite and the provocation of the "male honor" of many Iranian fathers and brothers and husbands, and the outcomes of such beliefs, such as the murder of women on some occasions by their own family members, or the increased feeling of seclusion among women of religious families whom despite the support of women's rights could not join the wave of modernism, all in their own way played an important role in the loss of legitimacy of the regime among the traditional masses, and this point is noteworthy that many of the schoolgirls and educated women who had positions as attorneys and judges, which the canons of the Islamic religion would prevents them from such activities or positions, or ladies whom until yesterday had been trying to wear fashionable outfits, suddenly and because they lacked a real understanding of why, themselves put on headscarves and in practice they combined their criticism of the regime with the sacrificing of the freedoms that their prior generation had achieved.
Thus, the anti-woman, anti-modernity, anti-democracy forces of the religionists that were the remnants the beliefs of fundamentalist mullahs such as Bagher Majlisi, Fazl o'lah Nouri, and Bohlul, along with the lack of insight of the masses and their simplistic religious beliefs, and ultimately with the dogmatic confrontation of the secular opposition to the Pahlavi regime, the created the requisite conditions for a fundamentalist and "sick" mullah by the name of Ruhollah Khomeini, in a historic about-face, to take over the country and nullify all the rights that had been attained by the Iranian women that was the inheritance of years of struggle and sacrifice by them. In this unprecedented historic attainment of political power by the mullahs, the Iranian women were victimized more than the Iranian men, for not only were they deprived of all the rights of a citizen and any right to state their beliefs, but also due to the religious beliefs in Islam and the patriarchal-tribal roots of the Arabs, 14 centuries ago when they put together the true fundaments of Islam, the women were turned into second rate creatures under the stewardship of men. All the rules that had changed or were changing during the previous regime to the benefit of women were also suddenly nullified, and new laws, which all derive from Islamic "sharia law", replaced them. Laws that allowed men to have many wives as in the stone ages and as many additional "temporary" wives and sole custodianship of children and the right to divorce at will, and also the right to grant or withhold travel permission to their wives. Women were deprived of the right to equal inheritance and the general right to request a divorce and to participate in many fields of endeavor and study, and their legal age for marriage was reduced to 8 years and 9 months (9 years by the Arab year which is 11 days shorter than a solar year).
Without doubt, if the struggles of the women and the order of "Dey 17th" in Iran, despite its current nullification, had not left a heritage behind, Iranian women today would not have had a fate better than that of Afghan women during the Taliban's rule; for, a number of the new and backwards rulers in Iran, considering them to be "minors", wanted the overall removal of women from any kind of wage-earning job and higher education, and wanted to clothe them in the ridiculing "black coffin" known as the "chador". It was only this leftover heritage from more than 70 years of women's struggles and efforts and the increased awareness of many of them that made the newly formed and backwards regime of the Islamic Republic and its fundamentalist leaders face unexpected resistance from that group of progressive women. Reactions and resistance that led to suppressive acts on the part of the religious establishment; yet, they never succeeded in a full scale suppression of the women and their demands due to the continued resistance by women who were willing to pay the high price of resistance. Bold moves such as the widespread demonstration of women in protest of the "Enforced Veil" and the historic slogan of "Na roosari, Na too Sari" (No to the Veil, No to Persecution), which these days is echoed all over Iran anew, is testimony to the fact that the regime and its religious-ideological roots are shaky and lack legitimacy.
Yes, Iranian women, due to their identity and their actions have certainly always been at the forefront of the opponents of the Islamic Republic and have been the volunteers for attaining true modernization and democratization in Iran and continue to be so. During the past quarter-century, Iranian women have continuously on their own and through various ways stated their opposition to the religio-patriarchal belief system despite all the threats and dangers that they have faced from the regime and their dependent zealots, and have performed many acts of "civil disobedience" and "negative resistance" in confronting the orders of the mullahs and their "doctrine of sharia". These acts of protest, many of which may seem minor or laughable to Westerners, in reality by understanding the degree of brutality of the mullahs, are actually very bold and heroic acts that in many cases have resulted in the death, disfigurement of the face, and the mutilation of many women in Iran. Acts such as the burning of the chadors and veils, wearing cosmetics and nail polish, which have mostly been confronted by whippings and knife slashes or the tossing of acid in their faces by the lackeys of the regime. Among other forms of effective resistance by women, in addition to the proper upbringing of their own children in order to cancel the brainwashing of children and youth performed in the schools under the control of the mullahs, their cultural and literary efforts should be mentioned which have constantly shaken the foundations of the regime. Cultural and literary works that are mainly spread underground and away from the eyes of the regime's censorists, and that are transferred hand-to-hand while being transported under the cover of the "enforced veil". Protests of reason that are informative and critical in the cultural, literary, and social fields that due to the pressures of the Islamic Republic, they tear apart the horrid veils of government censorship and mostly win the acclaim of men and women in the free world. A long resistance that has turned the universities of Iran , which were supposed to be closed to women, into their primary gathering spot and into a place for learning all the more in order to attain more knowledge and modernity, such that now the number of women have exceeded the men in the universities. Daily on the rise struggles and protests that have turned the Iranian women into the main body of the anti-regime demonstrators.
Yes, these are just a small part of the glorious history of the "Iranian Women's Movement for Freedom and Modernity" that has, practically, today, due to the common goals of its members, turned into one of the largest and most difficult politico-ideological opponents of the regime and because of naturally being located in the axis of modernity and secularism, happen to be one of the main moving forces of the "Third Force of Iran" that want a free election in order to determine the type of non-theocratic and non-ideological regime of our country's future.
Without doubt, Iranian women, whom currently form the majority of Iranian society, are major opponents and combatants that due to the roots of their demands -to attain freedom and equality and to abolish sexual prejudice and discrimination- will play a larger role in the process of liberating Iran and separating religion from state; and, since democracy means the rule of majority's vote by the majority and for the majority while maintaining the rights of the individual and minorities, it is not at all unlikely that as in ancient times in Iran, some of the executive and symbolic leaders of Iran, in the not-so-distant future, will be elected from among them. It is in such a day that we can call our country a democratic, modern, and progressive country that has discarded the tribal-patriarchal beliefs into the graveyard of history.
Yes, Iranian Women will never be tread upon!
The Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran (SMCCDI) / Komite e Hamahangui e Jonbesh e Daneshjoo-i Baraye Democracy dar Iran. Go here for their web site.