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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid

Published on Mar 08, 2010 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

It's International Women's History Month and Where is Secretary Clinton?

Fighting Gender Apartheid Laws in Iran


Madame Secretary Clinton: Where are you on this? For that matter: Christiane Amanpour, your father is Iranian, you grew up in Tehran, you are proudly "ethnic" — where are you on this? How are either of you working to free the women prisoners of Tehran?

To Secretary of State Clinton's credit, she has issued a video message which repeats the words of her 1995 speech in Beijing: "Human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights. … Women have made great progress but there is a long way to go."

Madame Secretary: Is issuing your old words enough? Is translating them into Persian (which you've done) enough? Is hosting an International Women of Courage event (which you are doing later this week), in which one awardee will be from Iran, really enough?

Secretary Clinton knows that nothing short of overthrowing Ahmadinejad and the mad mullahs will open the prison doors in Iran. And she knows that President Obama is not even sitting not on the fence on this; he is tip-toeing through the tulips, reading the lines that Stephen P. Cohen, the founder of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development, pens for him with which to address the Muslim world in Cairo. Words fail me on this one so I will remain silent.

Nah, just kidding. Dr. Cohen: Are you proud that America has fought for the right of Muslim girls and women to wear the hijab? Did you pen those words? Do you regret them — or stand by them now?

I do not believe that America can free the world. We have enough on our plate right here at home. And yet, to engage in symbolic gestures without admitting how little we are willing to do is simply not enough — actually, it is heartbreaking. America even lags behind Europe in terms of understanding and dealing with honor-related violence, including honor killings, which are mainly a Muslim-on-Muslim and male-on-female crime. But it is a crime that has landed on our shores. At least Europeans are trying to take a stand on Islamic gender apartheid on their own continent. They are wrestling with issues such as the burqa, hijab, and niqab. In America Stephen P. Cohen is proud that America has taken a stand on behalf of hijab.

Yes, I understand how tricky an issue this is and yes, I know that the European Union has just emerged from its enormous stupor to issue a statement on behalf of hijab etc. — but still. America can do better than this. At least in our speeches. At least in our understanding.

Thus, with absolutely no visible moral support from the United States, today Iranian women activists wore green overcoats and scarves in Teheran to celebrate International Women's Day. "Peacefully, quietly, without protest and chanting of slogans," they gathered at ten different shopping centers. They say they are "fighting for freedom and gender equality."

They write:

"We (a group of Iranian feminists and women's rights activists) demand an end to state-led violence and repression, as well as the immediate release of all political detainees in Iran. Iranian women have long demanded freedom and gender equality; they have employed both individual and group strategies, initiated various campaigns, and faced insults, threats, arrests and imprisonment in the process. Many of these women are currently in prison.

Over the past eight months, the protest movement that emerged following the disputed presidential elections has been suppressed by mounting violence. Physical and psychological violence—through arrest, torture, rape, extended imprisonment, and even execution – has been exercised against civil and political activists in Iran. As of now, numerous women activists from various movements—women's, workers, students, civil, and political—are detained and/or have received heavy sentences. The list of detainees grows everyday.

These circumstances, along with a new wave of arrests of women activists, have granted the authorities space enough to expedite legislations of a further gender-discriminatory nature. During these critical times, the transnational solidarity of feminists and women's rights activists with their Iranian counterparts is not only limited to the struggles of women; it also supports the broader movement for democracy in Iran. Global solidarity is crucial to giving voice to their repeated calls for freedom and equality in Iran.

Gender Equality For Iran's essay concludes, "We invite all women's rights defenders, activists, organizations, and networks worldwide to demonstrate their solidarity with the Iranian women's movement and the broader movement for democracy in Iran by organizing initiatives under the slogan 'freedom and gender equality in Iran' throughout March 2010."


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