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The importance of civil participation of women in the current election campaign

Translated by the Women’s Coalition Translation Team

Thursday 21 May 2009, by admin

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

feminist school:The coalition of Iranian women has entered the debate pertaining to the tenth presidential election campaign with these two specific and pivotal demands:

1. Making Iran a state-party to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

2. The elimination of the discriminatory laws against women, specifically through the revision of articles 19, 20, 21, and 115 of the Constitution, so that these would unconditionally address the principle of gender equality.

The following are excerpts from two articles written by Iranian women’s rights activists, which emphasize the importance of civil participation of women in the current election campaign.

Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani: Holding “elections†creates a relatively open atmosphere in Iranian society, even if with obvious limits and boundaries. Nevertheless, activists and activism-oriented forces could, to a certain extent, shift these limits and boundaries and expand the given space. This opening up of the space does not only and necessarily occur through giving support to a specific faction or candidate. In Iran the campaign period is very short. Therefore, social activists have very little time in which to be effective, and this predicament suits the undemocratic governments who hold such elections. To bring about “change†, however small, the ability to recognize and seize such “chances†is of paramount importance.

Currently, a golden opportunity has presented itself to civil society activists and social forces, which, if used with intelligence and a long-term view towards the future, could facilitate collaborations and create further solidarity. Demand- centered social movements, specifically the women’s and students’ movements, have suffered from harsh, illegal, and violent treatments, which have resulted in the shrinking and disillusionment of their membership. This could be an opportunity for these movements to recover from past damages and setbacks and gain some ground.

Luckily, the women’s movement has been partly successful in taking advantage of this opportunity, and over 35 women’s and social justice groups and 600 activists and intellectuals have come together to form the “Coalition of Iranian Women Proclaiming Electoral Demands†.
Increasing their contact with the general public and setting up civil bases in Tehran and other provinces is another important step that civil activists could take in order to further affect change. Interestingly, there are electoral teams stationed in specific venues in Tehran and other provinces, which are accepted by the authorities, and bring together large numbers of young people. Thus, activists have opportunities to come into contact with far more young people than would otherwise, due to political restrictions, be possible.

Taking into consideration the transitory nature of this period, we, most likely, have two options before us. Either we could reject the burden of establishing contact with various classes and broad sections of the population and pass by these electoral stations indifferently, or we can seize this opportunity and use it to pursue our demands, strengthen our contact with the general population, rebuild relations within the women’s movement, organize new and modern social forces, and create a greater solidarity between civil society, social justice, and rights activists. (1)

Marzieh Bakhshi-zadeh: The Statement of the “Coalition of Iranian Women’s Electoral Demands†is an innovative plan that will, undoubtedly, raise awareness among the masses and familiarize them with the discriminatory nature of the laws in Iran and the widely accepted principles of the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women†.

The Iranian women’s movement – which includes this subsidiary Coalition – is a section of the Iranian civil society that has no share in the existing power structures. It would be wise for the movement to use the presidential elections as a tool to influence the future government and apply pressure for the implementation of their demands.
The existence of a strong and vibrant civil society is of great importance, albeit not wholly sufficient, to ensuring the government’s accountability. This accountability will also depend on the self-awareness, creativity, and political ideas of the members of the civil society. When civil society groups are kept inactive, unaccountable governments arise and flourish.
The aims of this coalition are to familiarize the public with the terms of CEDAW, the discriminatory articles of the Constitution, and the necessity for change while, simultaneously, ensuring that civil society remains active, and continues to make its demands.

It is in the nature of the women’s movement, as a civil society movement, to further its civil struggle by creating open spaces where a critical discourse can flourish and challenge the authorities over the gender discriminatory nature of the laws. Raising public awareness, on the one hand, and constant questioning of the ruling power, on the other, are among the primary objectives of such a movement. Many women and men have walked this path, and although they have suffered from being imprisoned, lashed, barred from higher education or the practice of their occupations, and at times been denied citizen’s rights, they have not ceased to struggle.

Given the fact that this coalition revolves around specific demands and not particular individuals, we must seize the opportunity that the relatively open pre-election political environment affords us and use it to raise public awareness and voice our critique to the anti-women laws that a number of current presidential candidates were, to some extent, involved in formulating. This is an opportunity that this coalition will utilize and should not be disregarded by other women activists.(2)

1. A Chance for the Women’s Movement :


2. “Coalition of the Women’s Movement“ and a Civil Struggle :


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