By: Mahboubeh Hosseinzadeh
"Women? Women are the jewel of our crowns."
This was the first sentence out of Mohammad Ahmadinejad's mouth with a biting smile in response to a foreign female journalist's question about Iranian women's role in the future politics, on the afternoon of 3rd of Tir, 1384, as one of the two presidential elections. He further mentioned few more cliche sentences in regards to women that at the time proved his lack of interest or proper program in the field of women. This setting of these talks was in a small and hot automobile dealership in the East of Tehran where the pollution and smell of burned incense was intolerable!
However, after he won the presidency, his first action in women's field, on September 23rd, 2009, he changed the name of the Center for Women's Association, the only targeted womens' public sector's association under the presidency, to Center for Women and Family. This name change was a prelude to the policies in the ninth government in the field of women and an emphasis on the president's ideological thinking that women's role is only identified within the family and motherhood. Afterwards, the Plan to reduce women's required working hours as mandatory to support women, as an excuse, was introduced. Although it was totally obvious that in a country where women workforce, for the more optimistic part, is 14% whereas 64% of women are attending university, this plan is to remove more women from the workplace.
A few months later and at the beginning of the International Women's Day, a group of women's rights activists and Iranian women who have been able on the 19th of Khordad, the year before, ahead of the presidential elections, to cope with the 27 year ban of women to the sport stadiums, decided to, one more time, break this rule and enter the stadium on the 10th of Esfand for the Iran vs. Costa Rica game. But this time around, the security forces stopped the 45 women from entering the stadium and put them in buses while giving them a tour around the stadium then, dropping them off at the Azadi Square so they can go back to their homes!
On the 8th of March which coincides with the International Women's Day, the women's activists from different groups and other Iranian women gathered at the Student Park, couple of blocks from Tehran University, to tell and commemorate this day to equal rights, peace, justice and freedom to all. The peaceful women's gathering was faced, after quarter of an hour from the start, with severe assault and battery by the security forces and law enforcement officers to the point that less number of women or even men who have attended this event stayed safe from the blows of the batons. This assault also happened before Ahmadinejad's presidency on the 22nd of Khordad, in Tehran University where thousands of women gathered peacefully to "Protest against violations of women's rights in constitution". In the press releases of this gathering, the women's rights activists and human rights defenders have highlighted the follow up and achievement of equal rights in using peaceful methods while there was no mention of any changes in regards to their demands in these press releases. Holding peaceful protest by the different women's groups and NGOs in a public place were named as a turning point of women's activities and the milestone day of women's movement. The remaining pain of the baton blows by the security police were even more bitter when the Iranian State Television, on the same evening, broadcast the news about women's rallies from around the world without a word about the bad treatment and suppression that came upon the peaceful gatherings of Iranian women. There was severe encounter hand in hand with the widespread protests from some international Human rights organization (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and...) demanding through publications that the government and the security police to comment in this regard.
Not a year had passed from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency when the first group of Street Guidance Police on the 2nd of Odibehesht, 1385, took to the city streets despite the fact that Ahmadinejad had mentioned in slogans and advertising campaigns "Young people are dear to us and assets of our country regardless of their style of clothes and hair dos". However many Golden Sardars that at the time were the Commander of Tehran Police, at the time of the start of this plan emphasized "Guidance Units mission is not to manifest citizen's destiny in anyway but to do field work at the levels of educational measures, cultural ethics and attentions based on the observances of the societal norms and social values; so that purpose of implementing this plan was to hold back open issues that were damaging to the social security and has no bearing on the Hejab (Islamic Cover) and the police will not touch people's privacy". But in fact the only thing that was paid attention to by the Guidance Police, was to object and deliver notifications about styles, Hejab (Islamic Cover) and covering of Iranian women; however, after the change in command in the Police Department of Tehran, women's arrests and harsh treatments replaced the objections about the styles.
Two days after the establishment of the Guidance Police, on the 4th of Ordibehesht, 1385 and few hours before a press interview with the president, the official government news agency of Iran published that Ahmadinejad had written a letter to the Head of Physical Education Organization, ordering him to allow women's presence in Azadi Stadium to watch football freely. However, the next day, Ahmadinejad's Deputy in charge announced that women can only enter the stadium with their immediate families only if this plan gets approved and be evaluated culturally; but this letter had some harsh reactions from the like of Ayatollah Lankarani and other scholars gathering in Qom in objection to womens' presence in the stadium and the objections of newspapers such as Keyhan and Islamic Republic followed.
On the 8th of Khordad, Tabibzadeh Nouri who was a successor to Nasrin Soltankhah as the director of Women's Affairs and Family Center spoke of her policies in her first press briefing as consultancy to the President and the Center for women. Exactly a few days prior to the briefing, the investigative and focused report from the Women's Center from Khatami's presidency was read in the Parliament and one of the cases Zahra Shojaei, the management of this Center during Khatami's presidency, was charged for: "Despite the opposition of some explicit references, Friday Imams and respected members of the Guardian Council, the insistence of the Head of the Center in attachment to the Convention to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women by sending letters to the Islamic Clerics is surprising." This issue became an excuse to ask Tabibzadeh about her policies to reduce inequality and discrimination against women and change of the discriminatory laws. Tabibzadeh responded: " I can not deny the legal vacuum in securing women's rights and must reload this legal vacuum but not through joining the Convention of Discrimination against Women and the Beijing Treaty. Until I live and have the responsibility of this Center, I will not allow the joining of any Agreements and International Conventions on the women's rights because we can, through Islam and Grand Ayatollahs verses, solve these vacuums and problems and to do so, I don't see any reason to follow in the failed model of the West."
She, of course emphasized: "We have established a committee in this Center that engages in as far as possible in getting the women's rights that Islam has mandated however, the existence of wrong customs and traditions which lack in fairness are the cause of these rights." Until the end of Tabibzadeh's term, there were never any reports published of such a Committee!
After the publication of Tabibzadeh's remarks in the newspaper and news sites, the presidential Public Relations Center for Women and Families, a speech in 2948 words was released and they demanded for its release which had some correction of Tabibzadeh's words and mention of some of the solutions offered in the meeting which was never mentioned however it was claimed in this speech "Journalists have quoted lies, in some cases, distorted and completely inconsistent with what Dr. "Tabibzadeh" have objected to in the meeting". The first significant point in the speech in "Tabibzadeh's" opinion was "The best and most complete identity that a woman can achieve is within her family. We believe that consistency, coherence and internal peace within a family is a woman's responsibility and if a womans' own mental balance and physical health is in place, she can keep her family healthy and be the cause of tranquility and moral excellence for each member of her family. The counseling and preserving the family is also a woman's responsibility and our women are well aware and take these tasks seriously plus the fact that they prefer motherhood and creating mental peace and security over other jobs...If the Islamic Regime provides families with acceptable facilities, many of our women will choose to stay home certainly, rather than helping out with the family's economic conditions and go to work, of course due to lack of specific expertise and services, possible and necessary for society, and having a job, will not look into a career...". Tabibzadeh raised this issue when she was at the same time a professor of the university, a dentist and the Head of Women's Affairs and Family Center. Of course Tabibzadeh Nouri, during the 3 years of her work term, did not invite any journalist or publication for Q&A nor did she respond to any of the official correspondences sent her way so that at least the simple question of " How does she deal with her role and duties as a wife and a mother while holding 3 jobs and why isn't she keeping the same roles of a home keeper and running a household?!
Despite the closing down of social areas, Women's Movement activists, once again decided, on the anniversary of 22nd of Khordad, simulataneously with the 100th anniversary of the Constitution, to gather peacefully in order to raise the demands stated the year before in the assembly. In a published satement from a group of women's activists:
we, the women, on 22nd of Khordad, last year, , one voice and one heart expressed our objections to all the policies that violated women's rights, but all the issues stated are still unanswered. Therefore, this year, on following up the resolution from last year 22nd of Khordad, we will gather again with our specific demands such as baning polygamy, canceling unilateral right to divorce men, right to custody of children by province and both parents together, approval of equal rights in marriage ( Such as unconditional right to employment and citizenship of married women's independence ...), change the criminal age for girls to 18 years of age, right to testify and the blood money, and cancellation of the contract work and other discriminatory laws.
This gathering ended with the severe police beatings and arresting seventy of the attendees, This was an introduction to some of the women's activists to decide other peaceful ways to express their legal demands; and so the one million signature campaign to change discriminatory laws on the 5th of Shahrivar and behind the closed doors of the hall which remained closed per the command of the security and intelligence police, formally started its work. The campaign founders believed that talking with all the people in the street and giving them information about the existing legal discrimination against women, introducing women in the cities and remote villages with the existing rights and discriminatory laws and thus, presenting their demands to the government and Parliament for the change in the public law and by looking at the existing law, we can be a step forward towards Justice and equality in a society and the community development.
On the 13th of Esfand, thirty-three of the women's activists who accompanied and supported five other activists of this movement, were charged with holding gatherings and on the 2nd of Khordad were called to the Revolutionary Court, However, they were arrested in front of the Revolutionary Court and then taken to Evin Prison, thus, the Women's Movement that has always been in a peaceful manner to state their demands, entered a different dimension.