Monday, March 7, 2011

Khiaban No. 86: Women's March for Liberation

Translation of lead article of latest Khiaban, #86 (Sunday, March 6, 2011). Khiaban's online archive is available (in Persian) here.

March 8: Women's Great March for Liberation
Khiaban, #86 / Sunday, March 6, 2011

1. A majority of Iranian women and girls in private gatherings, in casual settings, and in any space that is bereft of state power -- with its police and the morality patrols and the detentions -- take off their hejab [Islamic cover]. In private parties, in their profile pictures on Facebook, out in the nature in mountains, etc., few girls or women would be seen wearing hejab voluntarily. For Iranian girls and women, to be free is predominantly equated with not having to wear hejab. Hejab is something that is forced, an unpleasant necessity. In those spaces where the state has power and presence, hejab is obeyed; however, in any space that is not thick with state presence or empty of it completely, women let their jehab slip or throw it off entirely.

It is only the rule of the Islamic Republic that is forcing and obligating women to keep their cover over their heads. However, wherever girls and women are free and can choose their own clothing, they take the cover off their heads. In the depths of the society, fundamental events have taken place. Girls and women do not want the hejab; hejab for them is a prison, from which they must free themselves. This prison however has ferociously murderous wardens, called the Islamic Republic. The ruling state power is the first and most immediate form of violence that is forced on women on a daily basis. Each day, before leaving the house they must check their hejab before going to school, university, place of work, to buy groceries or go shopping, [visit a sick family member] or to do anything else. Any unintended fault or shortcoming can expose them to verbal, actual or legal violence, directed at them by morality police agents, school principals, police officers, ethics patrols, Basiji's and on and on. Women don't want the hejab, but the system imposes it forcefully and violently.

2. Unwanted pregnancies, whether among couples not married officially or those officially married, are known to occur often. In many cases, for a variety of reasons, women may decide not to carry the pregnancy all the way to birth. Among girls who are not officially married, it is usually because of the social, legal and psychological hell they would face that they choose abortion; while at the same time, some of them would opt to keep their babies if the society provided a supportive attitude that guaranteed the mother and the child physical and psychological security [and peace of mind]. As well, among officially married couples, there are various causes, such as economic or personal reasons, that would push people to such a decision. However, in a society that has made abortion illegal, such a decision would put women and girls through horrendous experiences: unhygienic environments, unsanitary conditions, exorbitant costs, inhumane behavior and actions of some of the profiteers and on and on, have all struck and been experienced by numerous women in Iran. The story of this dark aspect of the feminine experience in Iran has not yet been written. But, its wounds are there for all. A Woman has no right of choice regarding her own body and has no support system [in that struggle]. The Islamic regime has already made all the decisions for her. Therefore, if a woman does not obey, which she usually does not, she'd have to be wandering the banned back alleys. Iranian women do not want such wanderings. They want to end this pain they are suffering. In order to have an abortion, they need medical health facilities that are free, have some standards and are protected. The ruling regime, however, has banned all those things.

3. Women constitute a substantial part of the unemployed. They have the proper education and they want to participate in the building of their society in whatever fields their university disciplines have trained them for, and want to gain their independence. However, clerical/secretarial office work and working as sales clerks [as well as teaching] are the only large labor markets for them. In their [mostly] temporary places of employment, they daily face sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and they make the lowest wages. They are employed in the least stable jobs, have the least rights, and work the most temporary jobs in the labor market. They are exploited much more generously than men are, and they do not have any [legal] means of pursuing their rights and demands. Women want and demand a fundamental change of the [social] relations of the workplace, but the state is the armed protector of the current situation.
This list could continue for a long time, and is very long; it will need the voices of all Iranian women for it to be written down.

Women in Streets
It is therefore not without reason that in these two years women have been standing at the forefront of the fight against the regime in the streets. No matter who may retreat, women will not. Collectively, and without exchanging thoughts and ideas in a big conference or gathering, women have realized the importance of defeating this regime. Decades of struggling over their most basic rights have raised Iranian women into unbeatable warriors.

International Women's Day and the Struggle in Streets
International Women's Day, March 8, is [at least] as old as the history of women's fight for achieving freedom and equality. It is a day to organize the struggle; so that through the joining up and connecting of disparate places through time, women can organize the struggle for their liberation. This day has also shaped a particular history of battles and struggles in Iran. March 8 is an innovation in the direction of going beyond women's spontaneous and daily resistances and struggles against oppression, and to elevating them to an organized and equipped level so that this movement can change the society. At different important junctures of history, whether in Iran or elsewhere in the world, it has been in the streets where women's voices of protest have been heard.

The first March 8 after the 1979 revolution, with the announcement of the slogan, "We didn't revolt to go back in history!" turned into a confrontation and a battle between women, people fighting for freedom and communists on one side, and on the other side the reactionary Khomeini's and other religionists' forces who were issuing fatwas against women. This year, too, March 8 is going to re-engage that historical battle in the streets, and attempt to bring an end to this misogynistic system.

Women's Issues Are Political Issues
In order for women to grow, they must break up the current [political] superstructures. That which is official, legal and legitimate, is in complete conflict with the growing vitality of girls and women in Iran. Those spaces that are unofficial, concealed, secret, illegal, black and invisible must become visible, uncovered and official. A fundamental transformation, a complete overhaul, a revolution: that is what girls and women take to the streets for.

The Green Party and Women
We know that the Green Party has also issued a statement for March 8 this year; this and that political figure, this party and such organization [have all done so]. Many are preparing and organizing for women's protests, and trying to connect them up with the general nationwide protests. However, March 8 and women's issues have exposed the true nature of many of the reformists, especially the Green Party. One of the most important criteria for judging any political formation created after the birth of the Islamic Republic is the status of women in such organizations.

By looking at the kind of future promised to women [in their platform/charter/etc.], we can better understand the more general plans of any party or organization. Which one of women's demands and social needs does the Green Party recognize and would fight for? How about, for the elimination of hejab and the freedom of choice for clothing? For the legalization of abortion? For the freedom of choice of who to pick as a spouse? For the unconditional freedom of speech for women? For the freedom of organization among women?

It is enough to take a look at their published statements. Nothing! On March 8, they [reformists] just want women to take to the streets for the freedom of Green leaders. And not even the freedom of all political prisoners, a lot of whom are women. They do not point to any issue of any particular interest to women. They do not paint a picture of future with any particular hopes for women. They only need women's forces to repair their hardly-holding structure. They escape from engaging with any of women's issues since they know that women's problems will not be solved by merely changing a few faces [in the government]. To really solve women's problems in Iran would require a vast and deep-rooted transformation, and the Green Party is against any such thing.

However, the women who will come to the streets will do so armed with stones and a voice. Stones to break the ruling system, and the voice to shape the society into something, the dreams of which they have been nurturing for years in secret. A free and equal society. Freed from organized religion and tyranny, and equal in ownership over social wealth.

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