Solidarity with Fearless Feminists in Iran .. A Short History of the Movement

Genealogies of the feminist fightback in Iran

It is nearly impossible to read any article about Iranian women and not spend the entire time rolling your eyes. Historically, the Western media has tended to make liberal use of Orientalist and infantilizing depictions of Iranian women as, alternatively, trapped in the harems of their turbaned overseers (a historically pre-1979 trope applied liberally to all Middle Eastern women) or militantly crazed and clad in black “traditional garb” (a post-1979 trope specific to Iranian, and later Islamist, women).
It is nearly impossible to read any article about Iranian women and not spend the entire time rolling your eyes. Historically, the Western media has tended to make liberal use of Orientalist and infantilizing depictions of Iranian women as, alternatively, trapped in the harems of their turbaned overseers (a historically pre-1979 trope applied liberally to all Middle Eastern women) or militantly crazed and clad in black “traditional garb” (a post-1979 trope specific to Iranian, and later Islamist, women).

 by GEORGINA MARÍN NOGUERAS  at La Directa, shared and translated with thanks, illustrations added

Policies that discriminate against women in Iran are one of the main factors of mobilization of the feminist movement to demand more rights. Consider this journey from the regime of the Shah until the present day…

“As I am dressed now, showing my neck without the veil-strap under the chin,  would be unthinkable ten years ago.” she says and encourages us to pay attention to the young people in Tehran who subtly or blatantly defy the ultra strict dress code required, rebel against any ideology (.a blouse that does not cover the buttocks, a handkerchief pulled back so that it shows her hair, hair cut short or shaved ..) .

I don’t want to chime in to all the Western finger pointing at Iran. but women like the one pictured do deserve full support and admiration.
I don’t want to ‘chime in’ to all the Western finger pointing at Iran. but women like the one pictured do deserve full support and admiration.

How much power and struggle we can glimpse in these symbolic gestures. For example Niloufar, 29,on Friday night, leaving her apartment in northern Tehran wearing pirate pants and a jacket with three quarters length sleeves, ready to receive looks of disapproval and weaving complicity.

The problem is not the hijab but its imposition, like so many other things, like life itself, it is subject to strict social and moral control, we have been reminded several times during a month long  trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran. As if they want to make clear from the outset what is obvious to many.

Determined to maintain their faith and culture whilst fiercely advocating for equal rights, Islamic feminists are reclaiming Islam for themselves by dismantling the edifice of religious patriarchy.
Determined to maintain their faith and culture whilst fiercely advocating for equal rights, Islamic feminists are reclaiming Islam for themselves by dismantling the edifice of religious patriarchy.

 

   Mahin refers contemptuously to the veil as ”that thing” when speaking about the political situation in Iran, with the tissue is stretched at both ends so it falls over her shoulders,  and asserts that “we women in this country have fought hard, have fought back millimeter by a millimeter.”

Recalling how they have practised subversion to imposed dress code is a familiar story women in Iran, at the end of the 1940s, on the contrary,  they had to offer resistance to the headscarf ban in public spaces decreed by the secular regime of the Shah.

Cultural imperialism is part and parcel of neocolonialism. The eradication of an indigenous culture and replacing it with a hegemonic one enables the hegemon to exert influence on the subject nation – to own it. And women are the nuclei. They hold the family together and pass on traditions. To this end, in every colonial adventure, regardless of geography, women have been the primary targets (i.e. victims of rescue). Iran has been no different. y.
Cultural imperialism is part and parcel of neo-colonialism. The eradication of an indigenous culture and replacing it with a hegemonic one enables the hegemon to exert influence on the subject nation – to own it. And women are the nuclei. They hold the family together and pass on traditions. To this end, in every colonial adventure, regardless of geography, women have been the primary targets (i.e. victims of rescue). Iran has been no different.

The capacity for action of women in Iran is clear enough to be easily visible in the public space for any new visitor. As explained by the feminist researcher Sepideh Laban in her book Los Movimientos mujeres y feministas en Iran, “since the establishment of the Islamic regime [in 1979], women have adopted various forms of resistance, from the challenge or subversion of the codes on clothing, to the interpretation of the Koran. ”

In the context of the patriarchal and authoritarian state, as defined by Laban, there are strong control mechanisms that force and coerce ” those who intend to leave these shores or develop daily practices of subversion or hide behind the door in a room to sing Verdi [singing in public is prohibited for women], paint a naked body … and talk about women’s rights. ”

Iranian university students, wearing the Islamic veil, make their way, in front of a picture of late revolutionary founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, inside the campus of Tehran University, in Iran, Sunday, Nov. 9, 2003. Iranian university students marked the first anniversary of a death sentence against one of their professors Sunday by condemning unelected hard-liners and criticizing President Mohammad Khatami's inability to fulfill promises of democratic reforms. Hashem Aghajari, a history professor at Tehran's Teachers Training University was sentenced to death by a court in western Iran last year over charges of insulting Islam and questioning the rule of hard-line clerics. The sentence prompted the biggest student protests in Iran in three years. Iran's Supreme Court lifted the death sentence in February. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian university students, wearing the Islamic veil, make their way, in front of a picture of late revolutionary founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, inside the campus of Tehran University, in Iran.

Sepideh Laban analyzes the strategies of Iranian feminists who have been   qualified as an “attack on national security” during the last four decades. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 in opposition to the authoritarian and patriarchal monarchy of the Shah -was initially a secular heterogeneous and inclusive popular movement in which different ideological currents converged together due to the need for a radical change: including Islamists communists, feminists, nationalists … various trends and social classes.

Between January 1978 and January 1979, millions of people were mobilized in demonstrations, protests and strikes demanding freedom, democracy and the end of cultural imperialism. During these months there was intensified repression, executions and torture; until January 1979  when the Shah fled.

Femicide, encouraged by religion and patriarchy is a world wide crime wave. “Good women are obedient….As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.” — Qur’an 4:34
Femicide, encouraged by religion and patriarchy is a worldwide crime wave. ….. “Good women are obedient”….”As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.” — Qur’an 4:34
The triumph, then, of the conservative Shiite opposition, with the coming to power of Ayatollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader of the new Islamic Republic of Iran, with a constitution subject to Islamic law, sent other political movements back to secrecy and repression.

Islamic feminists, says Laban, were initially granted legitimacy  due to their participation in the Revolution and their connections with

Iran is one of the Muslim countries where Islamic feminism has been developed. In fact, according to Margot Badran who is a historian and a specialist in women's studies, historically the label “Islamic feminism” was first donned by Iranians.
Iran is one of the Muslim countries where Islamic feminism has been developed. In fact, according to Margot Badran who is a historian and a specialist in women’s studies, historically the label “Islamic feminism” was first donned by Iranians.

the State, they were used as a loophole to provide a progressive interpretation of Islamic law that would improve the situation of women .

Later, during the two terms of the reformist president Muhammad Khatami (1997-2004) -already with Ayatollah Khamenei as supreme leader, I suppose there was a time of ideological opening which gave an advantage to many women to organize. Burying old differences, secular and Islamic feminists jointly formulated demands for change through institutional channels, insisting on the need to review the approach of the Revolution of 1979, placing the discussion within the framework of Islam and making the critical legal law its priority.

One of the strengths of their activism, says Laban was the revival and propagation of the feminist press, not without obstacles-, and the ability to achieve certain political legitimacy and mobilize progressive intellectuals and clergy.aaeaaqaaaaaaaafyaaaajdljmmnkzjhllwjjywetndc0zs04owi3lwvimjgwnje1ytzkzq

But as Laban insists, “the problem with the Islamic Republic feminists-whether Islamic or secular independents- rests more on the emancipatory potential of their approaches,  on the fact that they are compliant or not with the moral values of Islam “. Khatami’s reform movement did not achieve the promised transition to democracy nor implement effective reforms: a new disappointment.

In this context of disillusionment with the reformist parties, coupled with a new conservative majority in Parliament (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 2005-2013), they began to articulate a radical ,  independent and pluralist, feminism,  which does not identify with the political and religious elite and for the first time explicitly rejected its legitimacy. In June 2006 they held a demonstration in Tehran with the feminist slogan ‘We are women, we are human beings, we are citizens of this country, and we have rights’. It was severely repressed: with more than 70 arrests and physical violence on demonstrators. The Spark was already alive.

2 months later feminists launched the ‘one million signatures against discriminatory laws’ campaign in order to raise awareness of legal discrimination against women and expand the base of the movement. Dodging the prohibition and repression of demonstrations and events when spreading the campaign, they added activists through informal conversations at markets, on buses, in factories, universities …

In 2006 they created a new feminist movement categorically rejecting the traditional power and incorporating several generations of activists.

A  new popular feminist movement popular was born,  which categorically rejected traditional power and incorporated several generations of activists. Young feminists in Iran, says Laban, no longer appropriate a division between the  Islamic and secular as part of the product of acadèmia or self identity…

They share an attitude of analysis of the social reality that defines their concrete action, “which is the most effective, appropriate and feasible to achieve the demands for change for women, considering the Iranian political context”.

It is a new intergenerational feminist wave that has led to new initiatives, new spaces for activism and had to face a harsh crackdown: the intrusion of the police in meetings with arrests and interrogations. Two years after the start of the campaign ‘1 million signatures against discriminatory laws’  forty people involved.were arrested.  Since then, the list of imprisoned and exiled has continued to grow.

Along with utilizing the hijab as a form of resistance, Muslim women in Iran reinterpret the Qur’an through a feminist lens and employ it to gain more social opportunities. Due to the state’s desire to keep women in a nurturing role, “women leaders cloak their demands for women’s rights in trending future mothers to train the true Muslims. Whether they ask for sport facilities for girls, improved educational opportunities, television shows, legal rights, etc., they somehow wrap it in the flag of motherhood.” (Gerami, 145).
Along with utilizing the hijab as a form of resistance, Muslim women in Iran reinterpret the Qur’an through a feminist lens and employ it to gain more social opportunities. Due to the state’s desire to keep women in a nurturing role, “women leaders cloak their demands for women’s rights in trending future mothers to train the true Muslims. Whether they ask for sport facilities for girls, improved educational opportunities, television shows, legal rights, etc., they somehow wrap it in the flag of motherhood.” (Gerami, 145).

Sarah and Mehdi are presented with a fun question while sharing a bench in  the evening in Esfahan Imam Square. “What city is prettier Iran Shiraz or Esfahan?” They compete at comparing hometowns and laughing with each other.

After a few questions and  conventional answers , and with a little more confidence, they say that they have been together nearly three years and  just two weeks ago were married in a simple ceremony, as it is the only way to  live together in a state where “religion is not a choice, ..” So “we must be Muslim” and apostasy is punishable,  Mehdi reminds us.

Sarah explains that when they walk down the street holding hands, the police often stop and ask about her relation to Mehdi..They never speak first to her. They say that Sara should wear hijab in such a way or other. “It also happens in Tehran,” they say, to show that the capital with its more progressive nature, is not exempt from the control exercised by the moral police.

Divorce is a right only for males in the same way as are polygamy, custody of children in cases of separation and passing nationality to offspring.

During  dinner with a group of over thirty friends which we were invited to in  Tehran, the host, strongly recommended the comic and the film ‘Persepolis’ by Marjan Satrapi to understand the

Religion in general and especially Islam has created ever growing privileges which in time have developed into complex repressive webs like tentacles suffocating freedom and happiness.
Religion in general and especially Islam has created ever growing privileges which in time have developed into complex repressive webs like tentacles suffocating freedom and happiness.

disappointment of many revolutionaries with the Revolution of 1979-

They complained of legal discrimination of women and assured us that men are also adversely affected, with young girls  increasingly demanding higher skills as a condition for marriage. The campaign ‘1 million signatures against discriminatory laws’ showed up the feeling of insecurity and vulnerability generated in women by marriage.

The right of inheritance for women is half of that for men and women require permission of their father or husband to travel outside Iran.

A man can veto his wife’s  work or study if he claims that his family life is harmed. All sex outside of traditional heterosexual marriage is illegal. Lesbians and homosexuals suffer harsh repression -generally the penalty of death for men and 100 lashes for women- and transsexualism is treated as medical problems.

The criminal age of the girls is fixed at nine, at 15 for boys. And the testimony of women in trials is worth half that of men. These are just some examples of how the patriarchal authoritarian state in Iran translates into the field of law and the penal code.

How it translates at present is the same as how it has done so historically. In an institutionalized misogyny which comes from way back in time, says Laban  the discriminatory laws today in the Islamic Republic of Iran are virtually the same as 110 years ago.quote-if-any-religion-allows-the-persecution-of-the-people-of-different-faiths-if-any-religion-taslima-nasrin-130-64-60

The genealogy of the Iranian feminist movement is clear, especially as it demands: legislative change and combating discrimination as the legal priority from the Constitutional Revolution (1906), through the Pahlavi monarchy (1925-1979) and the Islamic Revolution ( 1979) until today.


original en català

Genealogies de la lluita feminista a l’Iran

Les polítiques discriminatòries envers les dones a l’Iran són un dels principals factors de mobilització del moviment feminista per reclamar més drets. Analitzem el seu recorregut des del règim del Xa fins a l’actualitat

Es refereix despectivament al hijab obligatori com a “aquesta cosa” mentre s’estira el mocador pels dos extrems que li cauen sobre les espatlles i reivindica que “les dones en aquest país han lluitat molt, lluiten mil·límetre a mil·límetre”. “Tal com el porto ara –sense lligar per sota la barbeta, mostrant el coll– seria impensable fa deu anys”, dirien que no està prou ajustat. I ens anima satisfeta a fixar-nos en les joves de Teheran, que desafiant subtilment o de manera descarada l’estricte codi de vestimenta obligatori –una brusa que no cobreixi les natges, un mocador tan tirat enrere que mostra tota la cabellera, el cabell molt curt o rapat…– es rebel·len contra tota una ideologia.

Les joves de Teheran, desafiant subtilment o de manera descarada l’estricte codi de vestimenta obligatori, es rebel·len contra tota una ideologia

Quant de poder, quanta lluita, en aquest gest simbòlic. Com el de la Niloufar, de 29 anys, que un divendres al vespre surt del seu pis al nord de Teheran vestida amb uns pantalons pirates i una caçadora de màniga tres-quarts, preparada per rebre mirades de reprovació i també per teixir complicitats.

Que el problema no és el hijab sinó la seva imposició –com tantes altres coses, la vida mateixa, subjectes a un estricte control social i moral–, ens ho han recordat diverses vegades durant un viatge a la República Islàmica de l’Iran de poc més d’un mes de durada.

Com qui vol deixar clar, d’entrada, el que és una obvietat per a moltes. Recordant com la subversió a la vestimenta imposada és una vella coneguda de les dones a l’Iran, que a finals dels anys 40 van haver d’oferir resistència a la prohibició del vel a l’espai públic decretada pel secular règim del Xa.

Escletxes de lluita

La capacitat d’acció de les dones a l’Iran és prou evident per a ser fàcilment observable a l’espai públic per a qualsevol visitant novella. Com explica la investigadora feminista Sepideh Labani en el seu llibre Los movimientos de mujeres y feministas en Irán, “des de la instauració del règim islàmic [1979] les dones han adoptat diverses formes de resistència, des del desafiament o la subversió dels codis sobre la indumentària, fins a la interpretació de l’Alcorà”.

En el context d’aquest Estat autoritari i patriarcal dur, com el defineix Labani, hi ha forts mecanismes de control i coacció que obliguen “als qui pretenen sortir d’aquests marges a desenvolupar pràctiques de subversió del quotidià o a amagar-se darrere la porta d’una habitació per poder cantar Verdi [cantar en públic està prohibit per a les dones], pintar un cos despullat… i parlar dels drets de les dones”.

Sepideh Labani analitza les estratègies de les feministes iranianes, qualificades d'”atemptat contra la seguretat nacional”, durant les darreres quatre dècades. La coneguda com a Revolució islàmica de 1979 en oposició al règim monàrquic del Xa –secular i igualment autoritari i patriarcal– va ser inicialment un moviment popular heterogeni i inclusiu en què van convergir diversos corrents ideològics units per la necessitat d’un canvi radical: islamistes, comunistes, feministes, nacionalistes… de diverses tendències i classes socials.

Entre gener de 1978 i gener de 1979 milions de persones es van mobilitzar en manifestacions, protestes i vagues reivindicant llibertat, democràcia i la fi de l’imperialisme cultural. Durant aquests mesos es van intensificar la repressió, les execucions i les tortures; fins que el gener de 1979 el Xa es va exiliar.

El triomf, llavors, de l’oposició xiïta conservadora, amb l’arribada al poder de l’aiatol·là Khomeini com a Líder Suprem de la nova República Islàmica de l’Iran, amb una Constitució condicionada a la Llei islàmica, va enviar de nou a la clandestinitat i a la repressió a la resta de moviments polítics.

Les feministes islàmiques, analitza Labani, van utilitzar inicialment la legitimitat que els atorgava la seva participació en la Revolució i les seves connexions amb l’Estat, com a escletxa per oferir una interpretació progressista de la Llei islàmica que permetés millorar la situació de les dones.

Posteriorment, els dos mandats del president reformista Muhammad Khatami (1997-2004) –ja amb l’aiatol·là Khamenei com a líder suprem—, van suposar un moment d’apertura ideològica aprofitat per a moltes dones per organitzar-se. Llimant velles diferències, feministes islàmiques i laiques formulen conjuntament demandes de canvi a través dels canals institucionals insistint en la necessitat de revisar els plantejaments de la Revolució de 1979, situant el debat dins del marc de l’Islam i fent de la crítica jurídica a la llei la seva prioritat.

Un dels punts forts del seu activisme, explica Labani, va ser el renaixement i multiplicació de la premsa feminista –no sense obstacles–, i la capacitat d’assolir certa legitimitat política i mobilitzar el clergat i intel·lectuals progressistes.

Però tal com insisteix Labani, “el problema de la República islàmica amb les feministes –siguin islàmiques, seculars o independents– descansa més sobre el potencial emancipador dels seus plantejaments que sobre el fet que estiguin conformes o no amb els valors morals de l’Islam”.

El moviment reformista de Khatami no va aconseguir la transició democràtica promesa ni va implementar reformes eficaces: una nova decepció.

Fotografia històrica d’un grup de dones jugant a futbol en una platja de l’Iran/ Matthew Winterburn

En aquest context de desengany amb els partits reformistes, sumat a una nova majoria conservadora al Parlament (Mahmud Ahmadineyad, 2005-2013), es comença a articular un moviment feminista radical, independent i plural que no s’identifica amb l’elit política i religiosa i que rebutja explícitament per primera vegada la seva legitimitat.

El juny del 2006 té lloc a Teheran una manifestació feminista amb el lema ‘Som dones, som éssers humans, som ciutadanes d’aquest país, però no tenim drets’ que és durament reprimida: més de 70 detencions i violència física sobre les manifestants. La guspira ja està encesa.

Dos mesos després les feministes llancen la campanya ‘1 milió de signatures contra les lleis discriminatòries‘ amb l’objectiu de conscienciar sobre les discriminacions legals contra les dones i ampliar la base del moviment. Esquiven la prohibició i repressió de mobilitzacions i actes difonent la campanya i sumant activistes a través de converses informals als mercats, autobusos, fàbriques, universitats…

L’any 2006 va néixer un nou moviment feminista popular que rebutjava categòricament el poder tradicional i incorporava diverses generacions d’activistes

Havia nascut un nou moviment feminista popular que rebutjava categòricament el poder tradicional i incorporava diverses generacions d’activistes.

En les joves feministes iranianes, explica Labani, ja no és pertinent la divisió entre islàmiques i laiques –en part producte de l’acadèmia–, ni a escala identitària ni en l’estratègia. I comparteixen una actitud d’anàlisi de la realitat social que va definint la seva acció concreta: “quina és la manera més eficaç, pertinent i viable per aconseguir les demandes de canvi de les dones tenint en compte el context polític iranià?”.

Es tracta d’una nova onada feminista intergeneracional que ha donat lloc a noves iniciatives, nous espais per a l’activisme i ha hagut de fer front a una repressió duríssima: amb la irrupció de la policia en reunions, amb interrogatoris i detencions.

Dos anys després de l’inici de la campanya ‘1 milió de signatures contra les lleis discriminatòries’ van ser detingudes una quarantena de persones implicades. Des de llavors, la llista d’empresonades i exiliades no ha deixat de créixer.

Només la meitat de ciutadanes

La Sara i en Mehdi es presenten amb una divertida pregunta mentre compartim banc un vespre a la plaça de l’Imam d’Esfahan. “Quina ciutat de l’Iran és més bonica: Shiraz o Esfahan?”, competeixen rialleres entre les ciutats natals d’una i l’altre.

Al cap d’unes quantes preguntes i respostes de rigor, i amb una mica més de confiança, comenten que fa prop de tres anys que són parella i tot just dues setmanes que s’han casat, en una cerimònia senzilla, perquè és l’única manera de poder anar a viure juntes en un Estat en què “la religió no és una opció, ve per família, per sang”.

Així que “nosaltres hem de ser musulmans” i l’apostasia està penada, recorda en Mehdi. La Sara explica que quan passegen pel carrer agafades de la mà, no és poc freqüent que els aturi algun policia i pregunti a en Mehdi –mai a ella– quina relació tenen, o que l’agent indiqui –altre cop a en Mehdi, i no a ella– que la Sara hauria de dur el hijab de tal manera o tal altra.

“També ens passa a Teheran”, subratlla per mostrar que la capital, de tarannà més progressista, no queda exempta del control que exerceix la policia de la moral.

Durant el sopar d’una colla d’amigues i amics vora la trentena al qual ens conviden a Teheran, l’amfitrió –que recomana ferventment el còmic i la pel·lícula ‘Persèpolis’ de Marjan Satrapi per comprendre el desengany de moltes revolucionàries amb la Revolució de 1979– es queixa de la discriminació legal a les dones i assegura que els homes també s’hi veuen perjudicats: les noies joves exigeixen cada vegada dots més elevats com a condició per al matrimoni.

La campanya ‘1 milió de signatures contra les lleis discriminatòries’ recollia precisament el 2006 aquest exemple com a mostra del sentiment d’inseguretat i de la vulnerabilitat que genera en les dones el matrimoni.

El divorci és un dret únicament masculí, de la mateixa manera que la poligàmia, la custòdia dels fills i filles en cas de separació o passar la nacionalitat a la descendència.

El dret d’herència de les dones és la meitat del dels homes i elles requereixen una autorització del seu pare o del seu marit per poder viatjar fora de l’Iran. Un home pot vetar que la seva esposa treballi o estudiï si al·lega que la vida familiar es veu perjudicada.

Totes les relacions sexuals fora del tradicional matrimoni heterosexual són il·legals. Lesbianes i homosexuals pateixen una dura repressió moral i penal –generalment, de mort en el cas dels homes i 100 fuetades en el de les dones–, i la transsexualitat es tracta com a problema mèdic.

L’edat penal de les noies està fixada als nou anys, als 15 la dels nois. I el testimoni de les dones als judicis val la meitat que el dels homes. Aquests són només alguns exemples simplificats de com es tradueix l’Estat autoritari i patriarcal iranià en l’àmbit de les lleis i el codi penal.

De com es tradueix actualment i com ho ha fet històricament. En una misogínia institucionalitzada que ve de lluny, ja que com recull Labani, les lleis discriminatòries d’avui a la República Islàmica de l’Iran són pràcticament les mateixes que fa 110 anys.

La genealogia del moviment feminista iranià és clara i especialment reivindicada actualment: el canvi legislatiu i combatre la discriminació legal és la seva prioritat des de la Revolució constitucional (1906), passant pel règim monàrquic dels Pahlavi (1925-1979) i la Revolució islàmica (1979), fins avui dia.

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