“It takes a lot of hard work to change cultures of dictatorship to cultures of democracy. We need to develop strategies so we can work as quickly as possible…to try to avoid replacing one kind of dictatorship with another,” said Mahnaz Afkhami.
More than 2,500 women from 140 countries traveled to İstanbul on Thursday for the start of the 12th Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) Forum. Mahnaz Afkhami, a former women’s affairs minister of Iran, led a break-out session Thursday for women’s rights activists from the Middle East and North Africa to share their strides and challenges in advancing women’s rights in the midst of the democratic uprisings that have swept the region. But the hindrances Muslim women face are not so different than those of women across the globe, Afkhami told Today’s Zaman in an exclusive interview.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, is often described as an international bill of rights for women. By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to enact legal reforms and undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all its forms.
Mahnaz Afkhami knows how tenuous women's rights can be and how fragile gains in status too often are. "Women's rights and democracy activists are seriously concerned that the [Ennahda] party will act differently once in power."
She saw a generation of advances rolled back in a short time in Iran, and testified this week about the role and potential of women in the Arab spring before a Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee on democracy, human rights and women's issues.
"Egypt and Tunisia are prime examples of countries where progress towards women's equality may be undone without America's firm and increased commitment," Afkhami told the senators.
Mahnaz Afkhami noted that women have largely been left out of the post-demonstration process despite playing a large role in the protests. She drew on lessons garnered from the Iranian Revolution in 1979 by noting that rhetoric of new leaders can quickly change, and that Arab societies must be prepared for such actions.
International Museum of Women / By Clare Winterton / Listen
Mahnaz Afkhami spoke with I.M.O.W. Executive Director Clare Winterton as part of the Extraordinary Voices, Extraordinary Change Speaker Series. Together they covered a variety of subjects, including the WLP partnership goal of changing the architecture of human relations, and Mahnaz's hand in helping to create a new generation of powerful women in the Muslim World.
The Jakarta Post / By Lilian Budianto
Iran’s Mahnaz Afkhami, Russia’s Dokka Itslaev, Venezuela’s Roberto Patino and Syria’s Radwan Ziadeh will receive the John Boyce Hurford honor. Hurford was a philanthropist who helped form the World Movement for Democracy, which is meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia.
CNN / By Tom Evans
Even as votes are counted in Iraq's general election, a leading human rights activist in Baghdad said Monday that she is counting on the new parliament to defend and develop women's rights. Basma al-Khateeb, of the Iraqi Women's Network, said it was vital for Iraqi legislators of both genders to defend the Iraqi "Law of Personal Status," which protects women and families, and limits the influence of religious courts.
CNN / By Christiane Amanpour / Part 2; Part 3
Women's rights have advanced in many Muslim countries, but women still suffer from more inequality than anywhere else. Joining Christiane Amanpour are three women who've made it their mission to promote gender equality: the president and CEO of the Women's Learning Partnership, Mahnaz Afkhami, she's a former minister for women's affairs in Iran; Asma Khader, who is secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women and a former culture minister; and Lina Abou Habib, executive director of a Lebanese organization that tries to empower women.
New School for Social Research / By Mahnaz Afkhami
Mahnaz Afkhami delivers the opening remarks during a one-day conference in cooperation with the Social Research Journal, entitled "2020 Vision: Mobilizing for Women's Rights and Eliminating Violence Against Women." The conference keynote speakers were Shirin Ebadi, Thoraya Obaid, Mary Robinson, and Melanne Verveer.