Online panel urges global support for women’s rights in Iran

On Thursday the website of the NCRI’s Women’s Committee hosted a live online round-table to discuss the devastating record of violation of women’s rights in Iran and the folly of inviting the Iranian regime to the UN Women summit.

The speakers were Ms. Elham Zanjani from the NCRI Women’s Committee, Professor Carole R. Fontaine, a prominent American biblical scholar; Professor Donna Hughes, a leading international researcher on human trafficking from the University of Rhode Island; and lawyer, former MP and human rights activist Ana Paula Barros from Portugal.

The speakers declared their support for the 10-point plan of Iranian Resistance President-elect Mrs. Maryam Rajavi for a future free Iran.

Ms. Zanjani from the NCRI Women’s Committee explained that there are a lot of issues that need to be focused regarding women in Iran as the prime victims of the religious dictatorship ruling Iran are women. From the onset of the Iranian regime’s rule, the first rights which were trampled were that of women’s rights.

Discrimination against women is justified under Iranian law and in national institutions, and the regime has consistently sought to preserve gender inequality in all places, from the family unit to the highest governmental positions, including the judiciary.

The Iranian regime is committed to using the law to uphold a misogynist worldview, and it clearly does not believe in gender equality. Women lack the ability to choose what to wear, have no independent right to education after marriage or even after divorce, have no right to child custody, no protection from violent treatment, and are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for peacefully seeking change of such laws.

This is a regime which leads the world in executions, it recently ordered the hanging of two women this week along with 32 other prisoners. 1900 people have been executed under Rouhani’s tenure including 53 women. Every day, more laws are ratified to step-up pressure and oppression against women and inhuman measures such as organized acid attacks because of so-called improper veiling and banning women from sports stadiums are examples of what every-day life for women in Iran is like.

Now, we have learned that UN Women, as an international body responsible for safeguarding the rights of women, has invited and will allow the Iranian regime to participate in a meeting in September to discuss the progress of women’s rights in a meeting from global Leaders’ on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Commitment to Action.

In 1995, 189 governments adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a comprehensive roadmap for gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls. The Platform for Action made commitments under 12 critical areas of concern and articulated a vision for women and girls to have equal rights, freedom and opportunities in all spheres of society and to live their lives free from want, fear and violence. Two decades later, this Platform for Action remains a powerful source of guidance and inspiration.

Today’s topic of discussion will focus on the women’s rights in Iran and the need to pressure the Iranian regime to sign the CEDAW, which is the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against, an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly. The CEDAW is described as an international bill of rights for women, it was instituted on 3 September 1981 and has been ratified by 189 states. The Iranian regime, Somalia, Sudan and Tonga are not signatories to CEDAW. Now when the Iranian regime does not abide by this, violence against women therefore becomes justified!

Prof. Hughes opened with the statement that misogyny is built into the core of theocratic regime in Iran and said that women’s rights cannot be obtained unless we first dismantle misogyny. She highlighted that the regime has a deep-rooted commitment to denying women rights in Iran and every day more laws are ratified to step up pressure on women. They are imprisoned and beaten for wanting rights.

Prof. Fontaine emphasised that in the case of Iran and its regime we are not talking about Islam in a general sense – the regime’s interpretation of Islam is a form that is frozen in a medieval mind-set. She stressed that people all over the world need to be educated on the situation of women in Iran in order for change to happen.

Ms. Barros confirmed that in Iran women do not have equal treatment to men and said that this is not a matter of religion, it is to do with power – absolute power. Prof. Hughes said that a distinction needs to be made between Islam as a religion and Islam being used as a tool for repression against women.

When asked about the role of international organisations, Prof. Fontaine said that “if one woman is not free, no woman is free” therefore we need to support all women’s rights organisations.

Ms. Barros echoed this opinion by saying that “when one women is in danger, we are all in danger,” highlighting that this is a global problem, not just one that women in Iran should suffer alone.

A question about official figures on the number of Iranian women in prison or on death row prompted Prof. Hughes to say that it was impossible to know exactly because there are no open figures. The regime keeps this a secret. However Prof. Hughes said that contact with families in Iran means that we know for sure that there are many women imprisoned in Iran. Prof. Hughes said that the figures are increasing because the women in Iran have never accepted oppression. As oppression increases, more women are standing at the front line, unfortunately meaning that more and more women are paying the price for it, she said.

The panellists were asked what can be done to support Iranian women from afar. Ms. Barros said that we can support Iranian women from here by fighting to tell the world and human rights organisations about how women are suffering in Iran. She said that “we must spread the word and create a great movement.” She said it is our duty to do this because too many people are unaware of what is really happening inside Iran.

One viewer asked why the United Nations has involved Iran in their women’s board. Prof. Fontaine, who is appalled at this, said that this is another problem with the human right’s apparatus in the United Nations. She believes that the UN is trying to give the regime a chance to “pretend” to be moderate. Prof. Hughes said that they are possibly trying to get back into the mainstream, but it is important for us to speak to our own entourage and colleagues because many of those around us do not see the reality – and that is where the problem is: “around us.”

Prof. Fontaine said that we need to be the voices for the women in Iran. She wants people to mobilise and she wants to see a protest outside the UN while the meeting is happening. Prof. Hughes said that unless the regime is ostracised or unless the regime is penalised for their actions, they will continue to abuse and disregard human rights and women’s rights.

Sara Hassani, a PhD student in New York, said that we should not be “colluding with the powers that are making the lives of Iranian women a misery.” We must instead oppose the actions of the regime.

Prof. Fontaine’s closing statement was a message of encouragement to all women. She said that “women in Iran are willing to pay the ultimate price for freedom.” She continued: “They are a model for women around the world … We hear you, we admire you, we are going to stay with you and we will never consent to say yes to what is happening to you.”

Ms. Barros ended the conference by paying her gratitude to the women in Iran and advising the rest of the world to use “strong words” and “strong actions” to resist the regime. She said that the “women in the Resistance are the hope that we can create an equal world. They show us it is possible to fight for freedom … Thank you. We are proud of you. You can count