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Let Women Fight Their Battles / Negin Sattari

Monday 20 January 2014, by admin

FeministSchool: Perhaps the most pronounced division among Iranian women’s rights activists in terms of their understandings of issues facing Iranian women, roots of gender inequality, and how to address women’s problems is shaped around religion and religiosity lines. Research on activism for Iranian women’s rights distinguishes between three waves in women’s quest for gender equality: Islamist, Islamist-feminist, and Secular. Although their demands and goals converge in many aspects, these groups have demonstrated different orientations in achieving women’s equal rights. Islamist organizations such as Jame Zeinab utilize an Islamic discourse to press women’s rights arguing that Islam itself enforces equality between men and women. Islamist gender activists mostly refuse to incorporate western feminist ideology and discourse aiming to differentiate between Islamic and western forms of gender equality. Islamist-feminists, on the other hand, demonstrate more moderate views on feminist ideas trying to reconcile Islamic and feminist discourses and establish an authentic, indigenous Muslim feminist movement. Finally, secular women center their activism on women’s equal political, legal, and social rights using a legal-juridical rather than religious discourse.

Despite their differences, women’s access to decision making positions including women’s representation in parliament and president’s cabinet have always been a priority on these groups’ agendas. During the last two presidential elections in 2009 and 2013 women’s rights activists moved towards focusing on their commonalities and converging their capacities and potentials for improving women’s political representation. Despite the positive outcomes this coalition has had for women’s movement, it seems that general public including youth and women who are not politically involved but follow women’s rights issues attentively do not see this convergence as a serious and strategic step for improving women’s situation. This either stems from lack of information about strategic plans of women’s movement or a historical mistrust about convergence of religious-conservative and more liberal movements.

This issue was clearly manifested in public reactions to assigning Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi as minister of health and medical education by president Ahmadi Nejad in 2009 and Elham Aminzadeh as vice president for legal affairs by president Roohani in 2013 who both identified with conservative, Islamist political parties. Women’s rights activists clearly welcomed these assignments perceiving them as positive although not sufficient steps towards improving women’s access to decision making positions. General public including well-educated men and women who do not favor conservative-Islamist parties, however, perceived these assignments as more anti rather than pro-women’s rights perceiving Islamist conservatives, both men and women, as misogynous and patriarchal.

After all politics is nothing but a domain of controversies, disagreements, and contradictions. Therefore women, like men, should be entitled to have different and even contradictory political orientations. This perception that conservative women are anti-women’s rights whose promotion to top political positions do not deserve to be celebrated and supported overlooks the commonalities between Islamist, Islamist-feminist, and secular activists. Intolerance towards diversity in women’s political orientations undermines their political agency based on this problematic assumption that advocates of women’s rights should follow similar political lines. Women as free agents are entitled to fight their political battles and take their political sides. Representation of all women on decision making positions even with conservative political interests by itself challenges patriarchal assumptions that condemn women’s public presence. Stigmatization of Islamist-conservative women who successfully make their ways into highly male-dominated decision making positions therefore is nothing but a patriarchal and misogynous treatment of women’s political activeness.

An important responsibility on activists’ shoulders is to raise awareness and develop an open discussion that counters such ‘feminist at surface’ but ‘patriarchal inside’ arguments. Women’s rights activists should challenge the public pessimism towards conservative-Islamist women in decision making positions more strongly; and take strategic steps to uncover the ways women’s participation in politics regardless of their political orientations improves women’s situation in both short and long terms. Without an informative framework for understanding the benefits of women’s political involvement to women as a collective whole, struggles and efforts for improving women’s representation in politics will not be publically recognized and celebrated in meaningful ways. It should therefore be a priority on women’s rights activists’ agenda to facilitate a public dialogue that challenges devaluation of Islamist-conservative women and highlights women’s political agency and entitlement to pursue diverse political interests.

Source in Persian:

http://feministschool.com/spip.php?article7454

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