Afkhami writes in Beyond Equality: A Manual for Human Rights Defenders “Women are now in a position to consider that our demands should evolve along with our evolving consciousness and the growing awareness around the world that women’s rights are human rights. We are now ready to accept full responsibility as citizens of the world to think about a new vision for all citizens of that world – men and women. We will not forget the oppressions and continuing abuses suffered by many women across the world. But we realize that an equal share of the ruling 50 percent is not enough for us. We want to think about “The World We Seek.”
Grassroots educational endeavors must help communities fully grasp the extent of violence and the short- and long-term harm done not only to victims but also to the society at large.
What is political participation? What is politics? Why are politics and participation important to women? Why have women everywhere, especially in developing countries, been denied equal opportunity in politics, as in almost all other fields, even when they have not been denied equal rights? What rewards are there for women if they become politically effective? How can women become politically effective?
We achieved an incredible capacity for doing good or evil in the past hundred years. How do we go from here to a compassionate society? Will the society of tomorrow be anything like our idea of what a caring society should be– a society based on fairness, equity, help to the needy, community, family, an ethical system that stresses the value of the “other?” In a world of instant communication and interconnection, in a world of diverse cultures and standards, how do we uphold common values and how do we live those values? Is a compassionate society possible if we barricade ourselves in or others out by erecting economic, political, psychological, or moral walls that in simple language translate as jails, ghettos, borders, and institutional discrimination? Can a compassionate society be constructed on the notion of exclusivity? If not, how is it possible to overcome the odds?
Most of us live in societies that are hierarchically organized and command-oriented. The structure of command nurtures and is nurtured by a culture of obedience that at once sustains and camouflages a pecking order by producing a system of authority. Rather, we look to a different kind of society where men and women turn to one another not as objects in social functions, where one commands and the other obeys, but as genuine communicating beings. We look at leadership in a learning society as a means of nurturing genuine beings who look to one another for community and meaning. A major function of this handbook is to invite us to look attentively and creatively at leadership as learning and the possibilities the concept produces for women. This concept of leadership in relation to learning is weaved into our sessions throughout the handbook.
After the Beijing conference, concern with women’s rights and the advancement of women shifted from debating and formulating policies to finding practical ways to transform plans and commitments into action. To this end, Sisterhood Is Global Institute called a conference, Beijing and Beyond: Implementing the Platform for Action in Muslim Societies, focusing on political decision making and leadership. The enthusiastic response to the conference and many inquiries about it prompted the creation of this book. To the best of the authors’ knowledge this is the first book devoted entirely to the discussion of these problems, of the ways, means, and possibilities for the implementation of the Platform for Action in Muslim societies.
The purpose of this human rights education manual is to facilitate transmission of the universal human rights concepts inscribed in the major international documents to grass roots populations in Muslim societies. The manual seeks to enable grass roots populations to convey universal concepts in association with indigenous ideas, traditions, myths, and texts rendered in local idiom. It aims to empower grassroots women to articulate and demand their human rights through interactive communication at home and through the political process in the community and society.
Part I of this two-part volume addresses the patriarchal structures and processes that present women’s human rights as contradictory to Islam. It examines how social and cultural segregation of women, contradictory and conflicting legal codes, and the monopoly held by a select group of male theologians on interpretation of religious texts result in domestic and political violence against women and in suppression of their rights. It also focuses on ways and means of empowering Muslim women to participate in the general socialization process as well as in making, implementing, and evaluating public policy. In Part II the book presents concrete examples to demonstrate the kind, nature, and intensity of problems women face in contemporary Muslim societies. The stories generally corroborate Anne Mayer’s thesis that Muslim women’s predicament is significantly exacerbated by government hypocrisy.
Along with the loss of our culture and home comes the loss of the traditional patriarchal structures that flouted our lives in our own land. The pain of breaking out of our cultural cocoon brings with it the possibility of an expanded universe and a freer, more independent self. We are all “damaged,” but we repair ourselves into larger, deeper, more humane personalities. Indeed, the similarities between our lives as women and as women in exiles supersede every other experience we have encountered as members of different countries, classes, cultures, professions, and religions. We echo each other when we say the world is our home and repeat wistfully that it means we have no home. We talk of having gained identification with a more universal cause. We have also learned firsthand that nothing is worth the suffering, death, and destruction brought about by ideologies that in their fervor uproot so much and destroy so many and then fade away, blow up, or self-destruct.
Chapter 1 of In The Eye of The Storm: Women in Post-revolutionary Iran
What is to be understood from this brief history? First, traditional societies oppress women everywhere. Second, Iranian women achieved the rights they possessed at the beginning of the Islamic revolution through their own hard and persistent effort. Third, without the support of the modernizing state and its political organs, women’s rights are unattainable in an Islamic society. Fourth, women achieved these rights outside the sphere of traditional Shii Islam and against the will of the Shii religious leaders. Fifth, once rights have been achieved, they settle into the society’s collective psyche creating a new set of historical conditions and thereafter cannot be easily dislodged. In the final analysis, therefore, achieving women’s rights in Iran depends on achieving and dispensing political power.