Abbasgholizadeh: Suppression Has Changed Iranian Women’s Priorities
In an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, women’s rights activist, researcher, and documentary filmmaker Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, analyzes the condition of the Iranian women’s movement and civil society activists in Iran after the 12 June 2009 elections. Abbasgholizadeh who formerly headed the nonprofit Center for Training in Iran, at one point was the editor of Farzaneh, a women’s periodical.
“The suppression caused the network of women’s movement, which was built around campaigns, to break into smaller groups,” Abbasgholizadeh states. “From the very first night after the election coup, the suppressors have implemented a far-reaching project to destroy civil society which they believed to be the real organizers of the Green Movement, and their efforts continue to date.”
Describing the crackdown, Abbasgholizadeh says that, “Surveillance of the comings and goings and relationships of civil activists has caused many of them to go into hiding. Over 50 known women’s activists have been detained so far and about 600 arrests were made after the elections from among those active in Iranian women’s movement.”
The interview follows:
Campaign: Considering the post-election pressure put on Iranian civil society activists, journalists, political activists, and especially anyone who has advocated changes in existing laws within legal frameworks, what is the biggest issue facing women’s rights activists and what tools do you see available for pursuing women’s rights?
Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh: The ever-present issue for the women’s movement in Iran continues to be their pursuit of equality and elimination of gender discrimination. This issue has an inseparable connection to the realization of a democratic society. Iranian women’s struggles for equality over the past years have disseminated a culture to pursue democracy amongst people with a feminist influence. In reality, women’s demands for the right to control their own lives will automatically lead to the realization of a democratic society and a change of lifestyle and gender-related behavior in families and society, and this phenomenon promotes democratic behavior in society and enters the realm of political demands. With this preface, I would like to say that the Iranian women’s issue at this point is “the right to choose” and legal recognition of that “right.” This right spans the right to choose a president and members of the parliament, and the right to choose a lifestyle, clothing, partners in life, jobs, education, etc. This is why women consider the Green Movement to be consistent with their own goals, because the Green Movement’s first protest was about the right to choose a president and to protest the elections coup. Everyone shared in the process of this struggle, everone has paid a price, and right now we have activists in a critical situation. They are either in prison or have been forced to relocate; some of them are in refugee camps or banned from traveling abroad or have been dismissed from their jobs or universities where they were studying.
Campaign: What effects have the post-election events and the pressure by intelligence organizations on human rights and social activists had on civil society activities, especially the women’s movement, in their pursuit of their legal rights?
Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh: Three important characteristics that were developed after the elections have seriously affected the women’s movement. These three characteristics include the suppression by paramilitary and intelligence organizations, the Green Movement, and relations between Iranians inside and outside Iran. In fact the suppression caused the network of the women’s movement, which was built around campaigns to break into smaller groups. From the very first night after the elections coup, the suppressors have implemented a far-reaching project to destroy civil society, which they believed to be the real organizers of the Green Movement, and their efforts continue to date. Surveillance of the comings and goings and relationships of civil activists has caused many of them to go into hiding. Over fifty known women’s activists have been detained so far and about 600 arrests after the elections were made from among those active in Iranian women’s movement. Unfortunately, I believe that the project to destroy Iran’s civil society has been highly successful. I believe that the women’s movement has faced a crisis of operation and so long as women’s rights activists have not had a chance to reconsider the structure, strategies, and statements of the movement, this crisis will continue.
Campaign: What are the existing priorities of women’s rights activists for pursuing their rights at this time?
Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh: Up until the elections coup, women’s priorities were issues such as realization of equality for family law. Those demands continue, especially in Ahmadinejad’s new cabinet which has increased the severity with which women’s rights are violated. The “Family Protection Law,” important parts of which such as polygamy had been eliminated through women’s struggles, is being presented again. Or gender discrimination in universities, limitations on choices of fields of study and location of studies, or limitations on choice of jobs has intensified. But in my opinion women’s first priority at this time, especially in face of the severe suppression of people and Green Movement activists, is that many people have abandoned their efforts to change the laws and have moved toward fighting the politically violent confrontations, causing a large number of women’s rights activists to become active in human rights organizations.
Campaign: What would be the consequences of such a shift?
Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh: Fighting the political violence has strengthened the dialogue of citizen’s rights among women’s rights activists, but it has also made the women’s movement demands more political, tying it more closely with the Green Movement. Specifically, these demands include demands for justice against murderers of their children and trials of those who have raped women or who have committed sexual abuse through psychological torture. Efforts to free political prisoners and to confront those who have unleashed violence during street protests were some of the most important activities of women during the past few months. Even so, the biggest problem facing this approach is that a human rights dialogue has overcome the feminist dialogue, marginalizing women’s specific demands in the areas of social and economic change.