The current winds of change in the
Middle East for equality, freedom and democracy must be part of the
dreams of every Iranian woman and girl.
Neda Agha Soltan has become a symbol
of Iran’s long history, culture and principled people. Her murder
by regime militia on June 20, 2009 still haunts the world. This talk
is dedicated to the memory of Neda and all other victims of Tehran misogyny.
Another martyr is Zahra Kazemi, the
Iranian-Canadian journalist who was arrested in Tehran while photographing
regime thugs beating up young protesters in 2003. She was found dead
in a hospital a few days later, but the mullahs buried her and would
not allow her body to be examined by the Canadian embassy. Dr. Shahram
Azam, after obtaining asylum in Canada, later related what he and a
nurse observed when Zahra was admitted to his hospital: a skull fracture,
bruises everywhere, two broken fingers, missing fingernails, a smashed
nose and evidence of both flogging and rape.
I’ll focus on points made by Zohreh
Arshadi, a lawyer in Iran until her forced exile in Europe. Little has
changed since Arshadi described the institutionalized suppression of
females in 2000. The Iranian penal system, she noted, is a principal
means of sustaining inequality of genders. Its ludicrous premise is
that women are deficient in abilities. ( http://www.iranbulletin.org/political_islam/punishmnt.html).
Arshadi stresses that Iranian women ''
have managed to achieve equality in one field only: equal right to imprisonment,
exile, torture, being killed, and now being slaughtered…Iranian women
have the unenviable distinction of having a greater share of punishment.’’
Article 49 of Iran’s penal code exempts
children before puberty from punishment. ‘’But'', she adds, '' in
the civil law puberty for boys is 15 and for girls 9… (W)hen it comes
to being punished, suddenly they are more mature and responsible for
their actions. Less rights, more punishment. One can imagine a situation
where a boy of 14 and a girl of 9 steal. According to the law, she would
lose four fingers of her right hand for the first offence, her left
foot for the second offence, prison for the third and execution for
the fourth! He would go scot free.”
Women face similar discrimination as
witnesses. For adultery, if the category of it brings lashes upon conviction
under the code, it “can be proven by the testimony of two just men
and four just women (article 75)’’. A woman is thus here worth half
The world knows Sakineh Ashtiani, a
mother of Turkic descent (a minority known to be targeted for human-rights
abuses, especially in Tehran) who did not speak Farsi or understand
her charge of alleged adultery. She was illegally incarcerated and beaten,
then humiliated in front of her family by public lashing. Her plight
and narrow escape from death by stoning became a successful test case
for the global community’s response to the regime’s misogyny.
How did Tehran respond to the international
call for mercy here? It forced Mrs. Ashtiani to confess her “crimes”
on television. The case is the tip of a dangerous iceberg - the plight
of thousands of women unjustly imprisoned, tortured and often sentenced
to death for crimes they did not commit.
Other “crimes” --- and the list
that follows is comprised entirely of acts that should not be crimes
in any free and democratic society --- such as accusing someone of some
adulterous or homosexual acts, drinking alcohol, and opposition to the
clerical regime, are only provable on the testimony of men. That of
women, even if corroborated by men, is worthless.
When Arshadi’s analysis was done,
Iran’s newspapers were “full of accounts of wives, sisters, daughters
and children murdered and its inevitable corollary: the killing of husbands.
The family has become an institution of violence. The psychological
effects of these laws, reflecting the constant degradation women face
wherever they come face to face with officialdom, is profound. Perhaps
the increasing suicide rates of women is a window to the despair.”
Iran’s penal laws are contrary to
the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (not ratified by Iran), the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Significantly
they have also drawn protests from many Islamic legal experts – both
Shi’ite and Sunni.
At a time when most countries are banning
the death penalty, the regime maintains punishments such as cutting
off hands and feet, stoning to death, cutting off tongues and gouging
Because gender equality is a central
tenet to the Baha’i Faith, its adherents have faced continuous problems.
In a research study with former female prisoners, Donna Hakimian of
the Women and Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto, concluded
that “despite various accusations, it was the women’s adherence
to Baha’i teachings which ultimately led to their persecution.”
One of her interviewees reported that
in 1980, “...every day they would proceed to execute seven to ten
Baha’is” and that “there were many more Baha’is in prison.”
Another said, “...the imprisoned women were accused of either sex
work or drug and alcohol abuse. This was a tactic deliberately used
by the government to humiliate Baha’is.”
Hakimian notes, however, “among Iranian
women of all walks of life an incredible resilience and development,
despite systemic and social oppression, is taking shape. From brave
young women at university campuses, to women farmers in all regions
of the country, to artists and musicians, there is a new identity being
formed, and women are coming to the table to engage in a discussion
about rights with exemplary fortitude and courage. It is this new consciousness
around the importance of women's equality that will no doubt take ascendancy
in the hearts and minds of the people in years to come.”
Since Ahmadinejad took office as president
in 2005, he has crushed dissent, imprisoned protesters, tortured prisoners
and in recent months escalated the execution rate. In February 2010,
Amnesty International released a paper ahead of a review of Iran by
the U.N. Human Rights Council, saying “(The regime)...discriminates
against women from top to bottom. Women are absent in any of the senior,
Irwin Cotler, a Canadian Member of
Parliament, former law professor and chair of the International Responsibility
to Protect Coalition, warned recently that Iran is on an “execution
binge”, a “wholesale assault on the rights of its own people.”
In 2011 alone, the regime has executed at least 120 people. “It now
leads the world in per capita executions, many of which are in secret,
taking place after arrests, detentions, beatings, torture, kidnappings,
disappearances, and brief trials in which no evidence is presented”.
International sanctions to have any
effect must be enforced and internationalized. Russia and China, which
initially supported the UN sanctions resolution, are instead increasing
business with Iran. Brazil, Turkey, Germany, Austria and Switzerland
have increased bilateral trade.
We cannot engage in negotiations with
Iran to suspend uraniun enrichment and combat the nuclear threat, but
ignore all its other threats. This runs the risk of ignoring, marginalizing
and sanitizing other threats dangerous to world peace.
In the matter of Tehran’s incitement
to genocide against Israelis, it is astonishing that not one state party
to the Genocide convention of 1948 has to date initiated any of the
mandated legal remedies under international law against Ahmadinejad.
Let all of us here today:
• call for the creation of a special
tribunal by the Security Council to deal with atrocities by Tehran officials.
This request has already been sent to all of the 192 member countries
of the International Bar Association.
• recommend that the issue of women’s
and girls’ rights in Iran be raised in every international forum by
urging the U.N. to adopt a resolution in this regard.
• call for the Commission on the
Status of Women (CSW) to:
convene a special session to discuss women’s rights in Iran
- send a special rapporteur, and
- act in its capacity to stop the repression
• call for the disqualification of
Iran’s membership at the CSW.
In short, the international community
must acknowledge that there are countless other Nedas in Iran. It is
our responsibility to stand in robust solidarity with the struggle for
women’s rights everywhere across Iran.
*Coalition Iran 2011: All Rights Reserved?
includes following NGOs: Neda for a Free Iran, Truth and Justice, Human
Rights for Iran, Cyber Dissidents.org, Stop Child Executions, Human
Chain Project, UNPO and Iran 180.
Arshadi, Z. (2000). “Islamic Republic
of Iran and Penal Code.” Iran Bulletin: Laws of Islamic Punishment.
Canadian House of Commons. (February
16, 2011). Hansard #132 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. Debates.
Cheverton, S., (December 14, 2010).
“Women’s Rights in Iran - Sign EDM.”
posted at: www.womensviewsonnews.org/wvon/2010/12/womens-rights-in-iransign-edm-11
Chitsaz, S., & Samsami, S. (1999).
“Iranian Women and Girls – Victims of Exploitation and Violence.”
published by: The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (February 1999).
Donna M. Hughes & Claire M. Roche, Editors. www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes
Hakimian, D. (2009). “Resistance,
Resilience and the Role of Narrative: Lessons from the Experiences of
Iranian Baha’i Women Prisoners.” ENQUIRE, Issue 3, June 2009.