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EPOC Interview: Mahnaz Afkhami on How the Struggle for More Rights in Iran Has Yielded Gains (In English and Portuguese)

Tue, Nov 11, 2014

Featured, Languages, Others, Press

EPOCA/by Renato Machado
(Original article in Portuguese)

In Iran, women are still fighting for the right to see a game of volleyball.
In an interview with EPOCA (TIME), Iranian ex-minister in exile explains how the struggle for more rights in the country earned achievements over the years.


Ghoncheh Ghavami, 25, was arrested after trying to watch a volleyball game in Tehran, capital of Iran (Photo: Free Ghoncheh Campaign / AP)

It was a match valid for the Volleyball World League, in Tehran, capital of Iran, on 20 June 2014. The hosts face Italy with the advantage of having the bleachers packed Azadi Stadium. Ghoncheh Ghavami, British of Iranian origin, was one of the women headed to the gym this afternoon Friday to watch the match. However, by law enforcement in the country, only men can be in the crowd. Ghavami and over a dozen women were arrested. With her arrest, the 25 year-old explained to the world the inequality of rights between the sexes in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Libertas as a result, Ghoncheh was the only one to return the following week to the place where it had been enclosed to fetch belongings were confiscated. It was enough for the girl spend 100 days imprisoned. Currently, Ghavami follows in prison and had given his sentence: one year in prison for “propaganda against the system in place.” Prosecutors would not confirm the sentence, keeping it well in a “limbo” as their own relatives defined.

Last week, Iman, brother Ghoncheh said the lawyer began a hunger strike seeking answers for your case. Alone in their struggle, the young man does not raise flags and goes searching for a light to the darkness of judicial decisions in the Asian country.

Episodes such as Ghoncheh Ghavami help spread the constraints experienced by Iranian women. Who says this is Mahnaz Afkhami, former minister and Iranian women’s rights activist exiled in America since the 70s “Ghoncheh is one of thousands of innocent women who have struggled to secure basic rights in the Islamic Republic. Being British with her Iranian origin, his case received more attention from the international press. This, of course, leads public opinion toward the West sought dialogue with Iran, “says Mahnaz to EPOCA.

A historical problem
Iran is an Islamic Republic that goes between extremes: the subversion of the high female membership rights of women in universities. The fight that occurred some victories, such as access to education, dating from the early twentieth century.

Led by wealthy women, who saw in education a better future for the population, the first magazine aimed at a female audience came with the end of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, which ended in 1911. The first, in 1910, was Danesh – that in Persian means knowledge.

Embryos of feminism in Iran saw an opportunity to strengthen in subsequent years, when Reza Pahlavi became the Shah (king) of Iran, promising a cultural revolution in the country. In the book Women and the Political Process in Twentieth Century Iran, Parvin Paidar the writer recounts the beginning of this emancipation. “Although men continue to play a paternalistic role and pioneering women have become primary representatives of their own movement.”

The modernization process advocated by the leader directly reached the lives of Iranian women. Initiated by Reza, the measures followed in the reign of his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. First studies were released abroad, then the capital Tehran University and later the requirement of youth to participate in the educational system of the country.

The opening began integrating women into the public everyday in the country, taking them from inside their homes. Women’s participation has grown economically and politically. In the 70s, the firm hand of the Shah Mohammed, coupled with an economic crisis, generated great dissatisfaction among the population. Exhausted with the monarchy, the people took to the streets to take Pahlavi from power. The Iranian Revolution was instrumental women who, in previous years, had acquired knowledge and gained a voice in society.


Women protest during the Iranian Revolution in 1979 (Photo: Khabar / Wiki Commons)

Mohammed Pahlavi fell and, in 1979, Iran officially became an Islamic Republic – after a referendum for such consecration. The country lurched toward conservatism and the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini halted progress made in previous years.

The hijab – headscarf used by Muslim – came to be required, for example. Noncompliance with laws of conduct were enough that were made arrests. However, the fight resisted. In “Persepolis,” Marjane Satrapi the cartoonist shows how Iranian entitled “modern” used the veil with some political content.

In “Persepolis,” Marjane Satrapi shows how women dressed after the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Fundamentalists (e) wore the chador, while modern (d) wearing hijabs – a form of opposition to the regime was to leave strands of hair on display


(Photo: Playback)

In the years following the Revolution – and the hunt for regime opponents – many Iranians had to leave the country. One consequence of this movement was the strengthening of pro-democracy groups outside Iran. Today, the struggle for the rights of Iranian women also occurs in exile.

Struggle in exile
This is what happened with Mahnaz Afkhami. The activist, who in the days of the Shah was minister of policies for women (between 1975 and 1978), kept his legacy for women’s emancipation in American lands.

Even from afar, Afkhami remained attached to the guidelines required by the women of the Middle East and founded the WLP (Women’s Partnership for Education) – a union of 20 independent organizations working in developing countries, especially Muslim population.

“We believe that rights are not given, but taken. Aiming to reclaim them, we must mobilize the base of the movement, helping to form a vision of the world they want to live and the role they want for themselves in this world and empower them to participate in decisions that would lead to the achievement this vision, “she says.

In the episode of the game of volleyball, Afkhami believes the incessant media coverage may in some way, open the eyes of the regime. “We hope that the weight of condemnation from the international community to do with the Islamic Republic to reconsider their disregard for human rights, especially the rights of women,” she says. Mahnaz Afkhami advantage to exalt the greater diversification in agents of the struggle for women’s rights.


Activist since the 70s, Mahnaz Afkhami struggle for female emancipation in exile in the Middle East (Photo: Handout / WLP)

Citing the Iranian feminist movement “One Million Signatures” – which, in a petition format, demanded changes in discriminatory laws against women – Afkhami celebrates advances. “Actions from door to door awareness campaigns via email, demonstrations, seminars and conferences helped bring many women and men to move. If the State soften their reactionary attitudes towards women, the population is well prepared to move forward with energy and innovation. ”

Among many victories, greater awareness of women’s rights is a reflection of the inherited educational policies of the pre-Revolution period. According to UNESCO, in 2012, Iranian women represented 73.3% of students in higher education in the country – Brazil, for example, reaches 72.5%. The number still calls more attention is filtered by some specialties. Iranian are 68.4% of total students who follow careers in science – in Brazil, the percentage is well below 30.9%.

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About Mahnaz Afkhami

A lifetime advocate for the rights of women, Mahnaz Afkhami works with activists across the world, especially in Muslim majority societies, to help women become leaders. She is Founder and President of Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace (WLP), Executive Director of Foundation for Iranian Studies...more

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