Stop the presses

Published on MondeDiplo, by Wendy Kristianasen, April 2008.

The closure of the magazine Zanan (Women) on 28 January clearly shows that women’s rights activists in Iran face growing repression. The grounds for closure were that it endangered the spiritual, mental and intellectual health of its readers and gave them the idea of insecurity in society, disturbed public rights, weakened military and revolutionary institutes. It published articles that led people to believe that the Islamic Republic is unsafe for women.

This was just a pretext to close the magazine because the women’s rights movement was working, through the Campaign for Equality (mainly but not all female), to get a million Iranians to sign a petition calling for a change to laws that discriminate against women. The peaceful gathering of signatures has been under way since 2006, attended by online blogs and YouTube videos …

… Shadi Sadr, 34, has a BA in law and MA in international law from Tehran University; she founded Iran’s first women’s legal counselling clinic in 2004. She takes on cases pro bono, from teenage runaways to women sentenced to death by stoning for prostitution or for murdering abusive husbands. She is a key activist in the Stop Stoning Forever campaign.

That Iranian women have an active a role in public life is tribute to generations of campaigners who ensured that their rights were not forgotten during and after the 1980-88 war with Iraq. Shahla Sherkat was part of that tradition.

There have been gains. Women MPs introduced 33 new bills in the 2000-04 parliament, 16 of which became law: the minimum age for marriage for girls increased from 9 to 13; divorced mothers won custody over their sons to age seven (previously it was until two). There was even a proposal that Iran sign the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (Cedaw).

Women can now be judicial advisers, seek divorce, or refuse to let their husband take a second wife. They can stand for public office (and are beginning to do so in the city councils, notably in Tehran) and hold managerial positions in the white-collar sector. And they are 64% of Iran’s university students. In spite of the latest blow signalled by Zanan’s closure, Parvin Ardalan affirms that the women’s movement in Iran is powerful and unstoppable … (full text).

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