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02.05.08 | politic | Jamsheed Faroughi

"We can't be Optimistic"

Not only in the West has the election of Ahmadinejad as Iranian president been a cause of concern. Many Iranian women are also asking themselves if the results of Khatami's attempt to introduce certain political and social freedoms will be swept away. By Jamsheed Faroughi

"As of today, things are going to change," said the commander of the Basijis, one of the paramilitary groups under the authority of the Revolution Guard, on 3 August as Ahmadinejad was being inaugurated president.

Many civil rights activists see this as a harbinger of a new and harder course. In addition, many Iranian women, who alongside the nation's youth made up the largest constituency of former President Khatami, are now anxiously asking themselves what the coming months and days hold in store for them.

"When we consider who has up until now supported the new government and the new president, we have no reason to be optimistic," said the sociologist and women's rights activist Nayereh Tavakkoli.

"And even though women have been invited to help form the cabinet, this won't solve their problems. The women currently sitting as members of parliament belong to a group of women who believe that men and women are not equal and that this inequality is a good thing."

If such women are included in the cabinet, continued the women's rights activist, it is clear that they won't take any positive steps in the direction of women’s rights and equality of the sexes.

Tavakkoli regards herself as non-religious. She has been active for years as a champion of women's rights and thereby stands at the absolute opposite pole of those President Ahmadinejad would like to see in parliament.

Preferred are women like Eshrat Shayegh, member of parliament for the Azerbaijani city of Tabriz. Shayegh recently suggested that ten prostitutes should be publicly executed in order to combat prostitution.

No opportunity for high-ranking posts

During Mohammed Khatami's term of office, women slowly assumed more responsibility in leadership positions in Iran. For the first time, there was a "Center for Women's Participation" and an advisor to the president on women's issues.

Shahrbanou Amani, former member of parliament and representative of more religious reform-minded women, expects that women will not have the opportunity to assume high-ranking posts during Ahmadinejad's term. "There is currently intense competition among the president's supporters for ministerial posts. The jockeying for posts is extremely hard and there is no place for women."

And it isn't only a matter of leadership positions. Since the election of this parliament at the end of 2004, the majority of its members have been fundamentalist, far-right politicians as well as many NGOs. The NGOs have been constantly brushed aside by the far-rightists for being either subgroups of political parties or for exhibiting Western influences.

Women won't let themselves be suppressed again

These politicians regard women's rights activists as a threat to the Islamic state. Yet, even they don't believe that the government will be able to send Iranian women back to the kitchen. Over the past ten years, the number of women in Iran who have received academic qualifications has increased to such a degree that discussions have time and again arose as to how women might be forced back.

According to state statistics, 60 percent of all students in the academic year 2002/2003 were women. The following year, the figure was already 65 percent. An attempt at introducing quotas for men and women was met with protest by women NGOs.

This development can no longer be reversed, said Nayaereh Tavakkoli. "Not only women, but the entire middle-class in Iran tends to be progressive and forward-looking. Women are a part of this society."

As a result of all the proposed restrictions, women have been forced to take on a more progressive stance than men, react quicker, and be twice as committed to action. "Otherwise, they would have been condemned to remain at home."

Authorities can no longer convince these women with new interpretations of religious regulations. They demand equal treatment. Nayaereh Tavakkoli is convinced of this. Although women must work twice as hard as men in order to accomplish something, they are prepared to defend their social position.

Jamsheed Faroughi

Translation from German: John Bergeron