From a World to Win News Service

European March for Women’s Liberation in Iran

Revolution #038, March 12, 2006, posted at

30 January 2006. A World to Win News Service. On the occasion of 8 March, International Women’s Day, the women of the Campaign for the Abolition of All Misogynist, Gender-Based Legislation & Islamic Punitive Laws in Iran have planned a march to start 4 March in Frankfurt (Germany) and end 8 March in The Hague (the Netherlands). The organisers hope that people of many different nationalities, including Kurds, Germans, Turks, Iranians, East Europeans and others, will join it in the cities along the way. The marchers will move on foot through city centres and then travel by car caravan to the next stop. They will hold marches and demonstrations on successive days in Frankfurt, Mainz, Cologne and Dusseldorf before arriving in The Hague, where welcoming rallies are being prepared. There they will march through the city, focusing their protest on the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the International Criminal Court, the end point of the march, chosen as a symbolic site to bring out the support the world’s imperialist powers have given, some openly and some in other ways, to prop up the criminal regime in Iran.

The call for this march begins like this: "If you are against death by stoning! If you are against forced veiling! If you are against the prosecution and imprisonment of women! If you are against lashing a woman’s body! If you are against any form of patriarchy! If you are against the medieval laws of Iran’s Islamic Republic of Iran imposing inequality on women! – Join the great walk against anti-women laws in Iran’s Islamic Republic on 8 March 2006!"

This campaign was launched in March 2005 when women activists and militants issued a statement declaring: "These slavery laws are an important pillar of the religious regime. These laws and all the repressive organs that enforce them are imposing total inferiority on women. Any talk about the separation of religion and the state is meaningless without the abolition of such laws… The struggle for abolishing them is the struggle for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic regime and moving in the direction of the establishing a system that would recognize and ensure the equality of women in all spheres."

Since then, it has united a core group of hundreds of Iranian and international women activists and personalities who have long been fighting for women’s rights, including some who have spent many years in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic. More than a hundred women and men fighting for women’s right in Europe and elsewhere in the world have signed the call. Iranian women’s groups and individual activists, academicians and artists in exile, among them the 8 March Women’s Organization (Iran-Afghanistan), have been the backbone of this effort. So far it has been able to unite a broad array of Iranian opposition movement in exile, from communist and labour movement activists to progressive democrats.

On the Islamic Laws

This legislation criminalizes women on the grounds of such simple normal habits of life as going out in public with uncovered hair and or wearing un-Islamic clothing (anything except a head-to-toe cover), or strolling in public with men who are not their husbands or blood relations. The Islamic Republic’s laws make death by hanging or stoning the punishment for unfaithful wives and "un-virtuous" women; they allow a father to marry off daughters as young as nine years old; and give men a free hand to kill their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters for violating their "honour". Women have to obtain their husband’s officially signed permission to travel. Their worth is considered half of that of men in matters such as bearing witness in court. They can be divorced unilaterally or denied divorce depending on the man’s wishes. Abortion is a crime. Islamic judges can interpret all other matters not spelled in these civil laws by relying on Sharia (Islamic law) and their own interpretations and referring to books written by any ayatollah (high ranking priest in the Islamic hierarchy).

For the last 27 years these Islamic laws have deprived women of their most basic rights as human beings and intensified the marginalization of women, creating a gender segregation that has made society a hell for all and forcing many women into suicide, prostitution and drug addiction. Women are setting fire to themselves in increasing numbers. These laws represent and impose a state of semi-slave social relations on women. They have strengthened the already brutal patriarchal and male-supremacist relations in the country. A vast apparatus of morality police has been set up to keep an eye on women and punish them if they violate these medieval moral codes of conduct. This is the dark ages in the 21st century.

The Development of the Struggle against Discrimination

After the overthrow of the Shah’s regime and its replacement by the Islamic regime in 1979, women soon realised they would have to prepare for a vigorous fight against the Islamic Republic because it was serious about making women’s lives unbearable. Iranian women’s struggle for liberation entered a new phase. On 8 March 8, 1979 the slogan was launched: "We Did Not Make Revolution to Go Backwards!" This was in defiance to Ayatollah Khomeini’s call for mandatory veiling of women. Out of that outpouring several women’s organisations were formed. Revolutionary communists led some of them, including Jamiat-e-Zanan-e Mobarez (Association of Militant Women). Islamic Republic thugs repeatedly attacked this group. In 1981, when Khomeini launched a bloody suppression of revolutionaries and progressives, a large number of the association’s members were arrested. Many of them were executed. Many others who escaped arrest and death were destroyed in the clutches of brutal patriarchal social relations and traditions which did not tolerate strong and independent women. A number of those who survived imprisonment are now activists in the women’s movement in Iran as well as in exile.

Despite severe repression over the last quarter century, women in Iran have been resisting the many forms of inequality in any way they could. In the streets in the struggle against the compulsory veil, in prisons and under savage torture where young girls are raped so that they supposedly can’t go to "heaven", women have fought in different ways and refused to accept these laws and the anti-women culture they are part of.

Over the last decades women have been at the core of the struggle against the Islamic Republic. Their resistance has played an important role in developing the political awareness of the masses and the political struggle against the regime. It has been a source of concern for the rulers. So the role of the women in Iran is not secondary. Not only are women half the population, but even more basically, the freedom and democratic rights of the whole country are inextricably bound up with their liberation.

In the recent years their struggles brought the murder of Zahra Kazemi (the Iranian-Canadian reporter killed while in the regime’s custody) before the court of public opinion on a world scale. They forced the regime to free Afsaneh Nourouzi, a woman condemned to death by the courts. They have fought around many other successful and unsuccessful cases. And finally during the last few years the struggle of women has taken the form of organized protest, such as the one in Tehran University in last June.

What Makes This Campaign Important

The development of the general situation in Iran has made it possible and necessary for the struggle of women take a higher form and become more united, more on the offensive and more organized, so that, first of all, the Islamic Republic will not be able to get away with this oppression, and secondly, so that reactionary forces inside the country as well as abroad will not be able to take advantage of the women’s movement. The campaign’s call for the abolition of these laws and its overall stand has the potential to unite the majority of the women while at the same time targeting the heart of the religious regime. The success of this campaign can be a strong blow to the IRI since it targets the very foundations of this theocratic state. Furthermore, since these laws have their roots in centuries-old traditions, the struggle against them is a struggle against these traditions and the prevailing social relations they are based on. And this would encourage women and the whole society to fight for higher goals.

The other important aspect of this campaign is that it calls for the unity of the masses of women, relying on themselves and on the people and not on the imperialists and reactionary powers and forces.

It appeals to all people, especially women from all over the world, to express their solidarity and see this struggle as theirs. As the campaign explains in one of its leaflets: "The American government… has declared that it seeks to liberate the women of the Middle East from the yoke of Islamic fundamentalism. This is a ridiculous claim that makes a mockery of real liberation and is an insult to the women of the Middle East. The march of events in Afghanistan and Iraq should have helped those who were taken in by these self-styled liberators of Middle Eastern women to realize how badly they were fooled. If anyone still believes that George Bush and his ilk are liberators of women, please talk to American women fighting to prevent him from taking away their right to abortion as well as against the efforts of the Christian fascists to dominate every aspect of the lives of women in the U.S. What George Bush is taking away from the women in the USA he will not deliver to women in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or any other country."

In Iraq under US occupation women have seen an enormous deterioration in their status as compared to the pre-occupation period. Religious fundamentalists have written women’s oppression into law and insecurity has imprisoned many women at home. The situation for most women in American-occupied Afghanistan still resembles slavery, sanctioned by a Sharia-inspired constitution. The fundamentalist warlords are once again a pillar of the government. Only a few months ago, in a region controlled by German troops and not the Taleban, a woman was stoned to death. And Afghanistan’s women are raising their voices louder and louder.

Women’s struggle is global. In today’s situation when the US and other Western powers are trying to pose as liberators of women against medieval regimes (most of which the Western powers set up in the first place and keep alive today, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan), it is vital that all progressive forces, especially women in those Western countries, support women in Iran in their fight against their brutal reactionary regime as well as the equally brutal and cynically hypocritical imperialist powers. Further, this would show the women of Iran that their real backers outside of the country are the people and not Bush and those like him.

A section of progressive people in the West who are against the US-led occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq are hesitant to actively promote the struggle of the peoples of Iran and specifically women’s struggle against the Islamic regime for fear of helping the US build a case for invading Iran. This is exactly the trap that the US government has laid for these progressive forces. The oppressed women of Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, along with women everywhere, are fighting to liberate themselves from the injustices of this world. And the people of the world should stand with them in their fight against the reactionary Islamic Republic of Iran. Surely they would learn a lot from each other in the process of advancing such a struggle, and in this way become more united, experienced and clear about the cause of women’s liberation not only in Iran but all over the world.

The U.S.’s drive for global hegemony and the challenges that it has faced have moved Iran toward the centre of the world situation. In this context, the position that this women’s movement is putting forward could play an important role in helping to make the international line-up in relation to Iran and in Iran itself more favourable to the people’s interests and a revolutionary solution, instead of one imposed by imperialism.

As this efforts’ appeal concludes, "We call upon you to support our campaign and the march that has been organized for 8 March 2006, and join us to make it a resounding victory. We call upon all progressive individuals and forces in the global anti-war movement not to hesitate to strengthen the genuine voice of the people’s movement in Iran.

"Celebrate 8 March 2006 with us and help us to build the independent ranks of women against US imperialism as well as the reactionary states governing these countries."

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