Women, Islam and Politics

What you read below is the text of a talk I gave a few weeks ago at Feminism Society at the University of Wollongong, a few days after International Women Day.

Self independence and women movement in Iran

On Sunday, The European Union’s top foreign policy official visited Iran and the BBC reported ‘one of her top priorities was to meet with women’s rights activists” She met with Narges Mohammadi, a well-known women’s rights activist who has been jailed six times. But this is all too familiar, in fact, to the point of adnauseaum, that women politicians in the west or indeed women activists to use women in Iran or the Middle East generally, as a prop to show how concerned they are.  There is something particularly sinister in Ashton’s visit, though, since the EU has implemented some of the harshest sanctions in the world on Iran.

Beheshteh Farshneshani, a female Iranian filmmaker, discussed these sanctions and wrote ‘In Iran the impact of sanctions has been devastating. Over the last year and a half, families living in poverty rose from 22 percent to more than 40 percent, the Rial plummeted at least 40 percent, and the price of food regularly consumed by Iranians — for example, milk, tea, fruits and vegetables — skyrocketed. Moreover, the health of millions of Iranians has been compromised due to the shortage of western medical drugs and supplies.”

So, we have the situation of someone who is directly responsible for putting 13.5 million people into poverty and denying Iranians medical supplies and food, is expressing concern about Iranian women and their ‘human rights”

But when it comes to western discourse around women’s rights and Islam, hypocrisy doesn’t matter, because people can get away with saying whatever they like, as long as it reinforces the ideology which once justified colonialism and now justifies the ‘war on terror’.

Islamofobia and women’s rights in Afghanistan

Saturday marked international women’s day and what we witnessed Richard Dawkins, prominent western atheist, writing to his 907,000 followers on twitter ‘On International Women’s Day, how can anyone stand up and defend this loathsome religion?’ and then posted a photo from 1972 in Afghanistan with women wearing short skirts, no head covering, high heels, make up and smiling, this was contrasted to a photo from 2012 with women walking down the street wearing blue burqas. That a self proclaimed intellectual used this as some sort of evidence would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so dangerous.
First, there are the obvious points. The majority religion in Afghanistan in 1972 when that photo was taken was……Islam, moreover, it is absurd in the extreme to think that all women in Afghanistan in 1972 dressed like that or all women in 2012 wear the burqa. But anyway, his major point was to say you can’t possibly be celebrating IWD if you defend Islam or are Islamic, so that is to say International Women’s day, a celebration of women, isn’t for Islamic women. So, Islamic women aren’t actually women, they become women only when they step outside of Islam. This was reinforced later on when he wrote sarcastically “Oh I SEE, so it’s the AMERICANS who make women wear tents and kill them if they want an education. Oh how silly of me. Oh silly me.” He sees burqas as tents, they can’t be something independent, they have to be comparable to something in common use in the west and he sees all the suffering only through the prism of Islam. Freedom for Afghan women only begins and ends when they reject Islam, so the air-strikes they get killed in, the night raids, the drone strikes, and the poverty. They do not exist.









West and women oppression

This conception of Islamic women being less than fully human or childlike is much more common than assumed and uncomfortable, as it may be, it has assumed a comfortable place within liberal feminism. The most stunning example of this was the film Oppressed Majority, which has been seen 8.5 million times on Youtube after going ‘viral’. It would have been on just about everyone’s Facebook feed. The director, Eleonare Pourriat, referred to sexism and homophobia as a ‘black tide’ and the film made clear where this ‘black tide’ was coming from. The British writer, Richard Seymour, summed up the Islaamaphobia at the heart of its message “The first gripping moment is the exchange between Pierre and a Muslim male babysitter, the latter wearing a balaclava clearly intended to resemble a hijab. The white, middle-class Pierre tries to rescue him with an intervention. “Don’t you feel more and more trapped? First you shaved your moustache, then your whiskers … I’m afraid you look more and more like a child … You don’t belong to anyone you understand?”

The actor playing the Muslim man hams up expressions of idiocy, quiet deference and submission. He smiles politely, anxiously, and grimaces. “It is the law, you know. So God is protecting me …” He is what the hard right’s Islamophobic smears say Muslim women are: children, without agency, needing to be saved. In the logic of the video, this is evidence of the downtrodden stupidity of the Muslim man; not of the racial condescension of his supposed savior. Pierre says “You are a man”; but what he actually communicates is “You are a child”. This is the film’s literal translation of Islamophobic misogyny.”

It would be bad enough, if it was left at that but it continued “However, the crux of the film, its most horrifyingly instructive moment, is the scene in which Pierre is sexually assaulted by a street gang. One of them is called “Samira” and it seems clear the film-maker is nudging us to think of them as North African.

The decision to frame the issue of sexual assault in terms of street gangs is telling, as is the fact that most of those who harass and attack Pierre, such as the bellowing homeless woman, are of a lower social class. In the real world, the great majority of sexual assaults, including the most serious, are carried out by a partner, an ex-partner, a family member, or someone else known to the victim. Approximately 10% of serious sexual assaults are carried out by strangers. It is not a stretch to say that in France the proportion of sexual assaults involving random north African street gangs would be puny.

Yet the film has chosen to set up a scenario in which a middle-class, “good” French person is assaulted, and let down by the police, who in so doing let the North Africans get away with it. The wife, letting down her husband, risks turning him into the worst possible thing, a balaclava-wearing Muslim simpleton. This is the clincher, as far as the film is concerned: civilised France risks being Islamicised if it does not embrace the kind of curiously misogynistic feminism of Pourriat’s film. That’s why it went viral.’

That this film overwhelmingly was praised rather than condemned indicate that feminism has an Islam problem, overwhelmingly the message being sent out is that feminism isn’t for women who are Islamic or those who don’t see Islamic women as less than fully human. This was further re-inforced by the spreading of the photo series ‘An Other View of Iran”, which was introduced by the following “Over 20 years of news and photos from Iran were fairly uniform: a woman in a burqa, public executions, demonstrations with burning flags and rumors of nuclear weapons.” These, of course, are all negative things, when in contrast to the photos that show that Iranians smoke, they drink, they get their hair done,, there are some (not the women in burqas) just like us! There is a whole industry now that exists around portraying Iranians as ‘normal’. This immediately raises the question of who and what is ‘normal’. We can see from the photos what it and the assumptions behind it. That is, if you engage in acts associated with western youth culture, you are normal but if you don’t, I guess you aren’t.

Are Iranians normal?

young, iranians, continue, to, shock, the, internet, by, being, normal, That people should only be accepted if they are like ‘us’ is so horribly racist that it is barely worth mentioning but it also goes unmentioned in these articles that Iranian culture spans thousands of year and heavily influenced western culture. So, perhaps we are more like them, then they are like us.
Lastly, a perennial problem for leftists is to accept that their world and what they think is normal. Might be normal for some in Tehran but what about Tabriz, Mashad, Qom or Dorood? What are their lives like? This is question that mostly remains unanswered by those only interested in portraying Iran in such a way that is acceptable to Western liberalism.

That is, Iranians who do something the west recognizes as normal are to be recognized, those who don’t, are not and are just about written out of history. Consider the military coup in Egypt, there has been a mass resistance to it going on for 8 months now, women have played a major role in this resistance, have been killed and jailed en-masse but they are written out of history because they wear a hijab and because the more ‘normal’ secular feminists supported the military coup. There is a burning hatred of feminism by many Egyptian women because they have been utterly betrayed by it. Feminism, for them, is represented by the likes of Mona Elthahawy, supporter of the military coup, who has written “I am a Muslim, I am a feminist and I detest the full-body veil, known as a niqab or burqa. It erases women from society and has nothing to do with Islam but everything to do with the hatred for women at the heart of the extremist ideology that preaches it.

We must not sacrifice women at the altar of political correctness or in the name of fighting a growingly powerful right wing that Muslims face in countries where they live as a minority.” And has written of a specific Arab hatred for women.

How to bridge the gap?

How then do we bridge this divide or how can people in western countries help in developing an emancipatory political project? The first step is to fully recognise the destruction that western political actions and ideology has caused in Islam majority countries, most of these countries have been raped by the west, raped of its resources, its political independence, its self determination and who have been forced to act in their interests. If that seems harsh, let me just say, my own country had to face a war that was arranged by, funded and organized by the United States, which saw 1 million of people from my country die. I had to go to school with children who never saw their father, I had to live through the bomb raids and the terror and this is just one period of history. That cannot be forgiven or forgotten and it continues today, which is why we cannot identify with the Julia Gillard or Hilary Clinton type feminism, those who identify with those figures have a feminism completely at odds with us. They represent governments which have fundamentally helped to destroy countries and people in the region. A feminism in the west needs to developed, which has a politics that is independent of governments and imperial interests. Every time a western country has involved itself in my country or in other countries in the region, it has completely set back struggles for women’s rights. So, those government figures who discussed supporting women in Afghanistan were the ones who funded the mujahedeen in the ‘80s, who did roll back rights for women on an extreme level. Western governments are the backbone behind the Saudi government, the Yemeni government, the Pakistani government. Only a feminism which divorces itself from these agendas can be of any use but more than this, it must support the politics of self-determination. That is people have their right to make decisions for themselves and societies must be allowed to organize as they see fit. So, women who wish to wear the Niqab must be allowed too, even if if it makes you uncomfortable, history has shown us, that you don’t deal with social phemeonoms by banning them, in fact, that has the opposite effect, similarly if Islamists form a government after an election, this must be accepted, they must not be disenfranchised through coups or invasions (which again has the opposite effect of entrenching the ideology)

Lastly, an engagement with Islamic women actually requires a knowledge of Islam itself. Commentating on Richard Dawkin’s book, The God Delusion, Terry Eagleton wrote “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince.”

Bascially, it’s not good enough to read a quote from the Koran on the internet and ten to think you’re an expert. One of the biggest mistakes is to see the Koran, as just as religious. The Koran is not just a religious text it is a political and social text, it’s not just a religion, it is also a political movement with various factions. It emerged as a movement for political and social emancipation. ‘Bertrand Russell once compared early Islam to Bolshevism, arguing that both were ‘practical, social, unspiritual, and concerned to win the empire of this world’. Maybe that is not quite right but the spread of Islam, can be compared to the revolutionary fever which swept parts of the world after the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution. It also true that today, the emancipatory side of Islam can be seen in revolts and revolutions such as the Iranian revolution, the Algerian revolution and the uprising against Mubarak.

Some atheists and feminists believe that freedom can only begin once religion is rejected, because they don’t see that for Islamic women freedom can come through the religion and only those who have an understanding of the forces behind Islam can help to shape what form that freedom takes. Self righteousness isn’t a substitute for political analysis, so Femen, for instance, may feel righteous in standing outside a mosque naked screaming “Fuck Islam” but is entirely unhelpful for women in Islamic majority countries, it closes down any discussions, rather than opens them up. White saviours don’t really save anyone and usually their impact is to strengthen the forces they oppose. Islam, as a political and social ideology, is a battleground of many different forces and we should help to strengthen all those, like Malcolm X, who see Islam as a tool to fight oppression but also as a way to liberate humanity from the political and economic system which keeps the majority subjugated.

March 27, 2014 · Maryam Khazaeli · Comments Closed
Posted in: Social Life, Women

Iran and it’s real case with asylum seekers

“Iranian, Asylum seeker, Australia” hearing these 3 words will probably remind you of what Western media is reflecting on Iranians, contributing to the highest number of asylum seekers coming on boat to Australia in 2013. Some of whom had converted to Christianity and their refugee status is been refused and one Iranian woman who has been raped in detention center in Christmas Island.

“Iran, Syria, Asylum seekers” hearing these 3 words will probably remind you of how Iran is helping Bashar and the war is caused over 2 million Syrians seeking asylum.
But there is a fact here which is rarely been reflected in media and that is:
Qom, Iran’s religious capital, is where Shiite Syrian refugees have sought asylum since 2012. There is around 1000 Syrian families around 5000 people living there, working in bazzar as bakers and shop assistants.
Iran is hosting the second highest number of asylum seekers. There has been around 5 million Afghan asylum seekers who Iran hosted during the past 3 decades, the number is now decreased to 850 thousand. Besides, the population of around 100 thousand Shiite Iraqis.

Iranian government is being blamed for its confrontation with newly converted Christians seeking asylum in countries like Australia, but its role in hosting Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi Shiite asylum seekers has been largely ignored.

January 29, 2014 · Maryam Khazaeli · Comments Closed
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: دسته‌بندی نشده

Belly dancing; Celebrating cultures or contributing to colonization?

For me, as a foreign national visitor who seeks for authentic  Australian folk art the Illawarra folk festival was still in lack of indigenous art and music. But the 3 day festival was a host to international cuisines from Turkey, Bali, Morocco, Portugal, Spain and music bands from Europe, across Australia and … in different styles. Belly dancing was performed for an hour every day and attracted lots of visitors’ attentions.
How Australian women are encouraged to perform belly dancing while their country is involved with war in the Middle East? Are white women belly dancing a reaction in support of anti imperialism? Or is belly dancing performed by western women a stage to let deeper levels of imperialism and feminism emerges? These are the questions which there are no specific response for them at the end of this note but to open the ground to discuss the new aspects of feminism.

Laura, 22 Australian is one of the seven women dancing Shaabi, an Egyptian dance style. She has taken all her belly dancing lessons in Australia and has practiced while travelling to Turkey. During our conversation she constantly mentions how she sees the aesthetic aspect in belly dancing as an art but not entertaining and sexual approach.

How well belly dancing is performed in Australia?
The women’s clothing in belly dancing group at Illarwara folk festival was different from the normal ones which is now common in the Middle East; more revealing and naked. Besides that, everything else reminded me of similar performing in the UAE and Syria.
A part of all these observations is the curiosity to know how visitors and audiences perceive the belly dancing in Folk Festival; Is it just a type of dance to entertain? Or it is a touch to Arab art? Deborah, 26, describes her feedback: “The dance is much better than their countries”. In response to this question which whether she has ever travelled to Egypt or the UAE, two countries which Shaabi and Khaleeji dance are originated from,  or if she knows the culture or people from that region, Deborah said: “No, but I have been to India.”
Belly dancing is being more and more attractive these days because it brings a chance for white women to constitute and perform their westernity and feminity through a liberal and multicultural vision of the nation.
Australia is not the only western country where Belly dancing is performed in public events by white non-muslim women; US is another example of the vast number of women interested in learning belly dancing; the interest which increased amongst both performers and audience while after 9/11  followed by Shakira’s belly dancing. As Sunaina Maira discusses the current representations of East – “orient”, and what called barbaric Arabs have allowed US popular culture providing an antithesis for American national identity and helping to legitimate US imperial expansion including its supports for colonialist projects in the Middle East.
Similar to US, Australia has never colonized countries in the Middle East directly but an appalling reputation of occupying the indigenous lands, heritage and languages under the British colonization of Australia which began in 1788.This accompanied by the influx of emigration to Australia which now contributes to 22.55 million of Australia’s population and exploration of their cultures has shaped the Australian national identity.
Given the history of US long interest in the Middle East including US support for the Balfoure declaration of 1917 and the creation of the state of Israel in the Middle East in 1948, the overthrow of Mosadeq in Iran and installation of Shah in 1953, the attack on Beirut in 1958, the OPEC oil crisis of 1970s, the two wars on Iraq and Afghanistan all shows the US strategic, economic and political interest in the Middle East. This liberal humanitarianism has long been used to support US colonial interventions and policies to justify imperialism currently witnessed in the region; along with its military interventions that are legitimized though the discourse of human rights and women’s rights. The preoccupation with oppressed, veiled Arab and Muslim women is at the core of neo-orientalism discourse of US, including its liberal feminist variants in their current policy in the Middle East.

Living experiences as a Middle Eastern in Australia

The Middle Eastern community in Australia experiences various forms of discrimination in the culturally diversified society. It varies from Middle Eastern names and English accent to color skin. Facing with women, those who wear hijab, is still a new phenomenon and they are mostly being marginalized in the public places.
The problem is that liberal multiculturalism is trying to use culture talk as a response to what Arab and

Muslim communities are being racially categorized. It focuses on cultural and religious differences and avoids the West’s political, economic and military interfering in the Middle East. Within the liberal multicultural frame, in order to reject racism there are possible symbolic performances by using cultural elements to respect these differences often experienced in the host society. Belly dancing also seems to be a sign of liberal tolerance and cultural or aesthetic affiliation with other ethnic groups in Australia.

January 30, 2013 · Maryam Khazaeli · Comments Closed
Posted in: Art and Culture, Women

Risky days on boat to find safety on shore


Amnesty Ambassador and Afghan refugee Najeeba Wazefadost © Hamish Gregory“ I escaped my country Afghanistan and came to Australia by boat”, this is one of the most touching parts of Najeeba Wazefadost  , published on Amnestry International Report.

Najeeba, an Afghan refugee now living in Australia narrates her story. How she endangered her life 12 years ago coming to Australia by boat. She is now

She is now Amnesty Ambassador in Australia talking about Australian Government policies that are putting asylum seekers at risk and this will not stop people from coming on boats.  Najeeba says: “Australian political parties should put refugees’ rights to protection at the forefront of humanitarian policies, rather than focusing on offshore processing in places like Nauru and Malaysia” .

Read the full interview, here.


July 31, 2012 · Maryam Khazaeli · Comments Closed
Tags:  · Posted in: Migration, Women

Afghan Friends, Forgive us

Iran is the third emigrant country in the Middle East and North Africa region where hosts Afghans since 1980s. With the population of 1.7 million Afghan immigrants, Iran is the main corridor for Afghan migrants. As per Ministry of Interior announcement, more than 2 thirds of Afghans residing in Iran are illegal emigrant. Afghans in Iran are mostly  refugees as well as traders, workers, exchange students, tourists and other visitors.

In 2011 the World Bank report on migration and remittances fact book announced that 23 per cent of Afghan emigrants were high skilled, where as being ranked as a country with the lowest income confirms this assumption that beside lack of social security and human right in Afghanistan, economic reasons have motivated them to choose Iran as their destination country. Although, Iran is some times a transit country to bring them an opportunity to reside in Canada and Australia .Common language, culture and religion encouraged Afghans to emigrate from Afghanistan to Iran during and after the war between Mojahedin and former Soviet Union in 1980s.

The picture : Dear Afghan friend, Forgive us.

Iranian government announced that there is a cost of 10 million dollar to facilitate Afghans situation and UNHCR has assisted almost 886,000 Afghan refugees to return home voluntarily since 2002. The repatriation continues under the auspices of tripartite agreements signed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Afghanistan and UNHCR.

Although no official data is recorded regarding the amount of remittances they send back home, it is witnessed that during the long presence of Afghans in Iran they send their savings regularly through family members or trusty friends going back to Afghanistan either for long term or a visit.

Although language is not a barrier to communicate with Iranians, they are not engaged in the society as much as they deserve. Afghans has played and important role in the labor market and constructions especially after the years of finishing the Iran-Iraq war but they are still struggling with social problems. Thousands of Afghan men married Iranian women during their residence in Iran; however, under Iranian nationality law, the children of such marriages are not recognized as Iranian citizens, and it is also more difficult for the men to gain Iranian citizenship than for Afghan women married to Iranian men.

Although Iran opened its border gates to millions of fleeing Afghans from the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the subsequent civil war, they are currently experiencing less receptive treatments. About 100,000 Afghans were forcibly deported in 2007. Recently, these social pressures and limitation on Afghans in Iran has increased.  Afghans were prevented to gather in parks on Iranian festival in New Year. Residential of Afghan migrants is been forbidden in all the cities in Iran except Tehran, Qom and Alborz.

Iranian people have different approach towards this government’s decision and have expressed their support for Afghan residing in Iran. Recently, a new campaign on face book is launched to show individual Iranians making apologies due to government’s disrespectful treatment. This campaign is not the only one of this type but itself now has 2000 members who are expressing their respect to Afghans in Iran.

July 4, 2012 · Maryam Khazaeli · Comments Closed
Tags:  · Posted in: Migration, Social Life

The Other’s Other; Installation Art Exhibition

The Other’s Other is the title of an art exhibition, held in Art Space, Sydney from 9th May until 17th July.. The Other’s Other was trying to elaborate upon fluidity of territorial borders and cultural identification through a project that explores some of historical and complexities of contemporary migration . Art works from Australia, Egyptian, Vietnamese and Chinese artists curated by Mark Feary.  For me, as the works of Rafaat Ishak was the most touching one. due to his Arabic calligraphy on  Nile River. As it was described: ” Rafaat presents a new project in response to the Arab Spring and transition towards political democracy in his native Egypt”. Although I am not sure if it was could effectively communicate with those who were not aware of the recent election in Egypt.  Amongst the 5 art works installed in Art Space in Sydney, the most interesting and impressive one to my opinion was the art work by Dinh Q.Le iconic, From Father to Son: A Rite of Passage. which demonstrated how the representation of Vietnam as a country and identity has been defined through Hollywood cinema. as described:

” From Father to Son juxtaposes scenes from two iconic American films detailing the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now(1979) and Platoon(1986), as a means of situating how Vietnam exists within the popular mindset of American citizens. Hinging up two of the central characters within these films, Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now and Charlies Sheen in Platoon, Dinh Q.Le also reinforces the legacy of familial lines and the retracing and continuation of paths established by forefathers, for which the presidential legacies of the Bush Family might serve as a particular example”

Although The Other’s Other installation art exhibition was aiming to exhibit artists whose works reflect upon their personal narratives of identifying with multiple concepts of home and and cultural belonging it failed to involve the visitors to challenge their mind and approach towards migration, identification and belonging to answer this question: What does it mean to analyse a culture and one’s own identity from outside of it, and what does this reveal of where one is?

May 25, 2012 · Maryam Khazaeli · Comments Closed
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Women Against War in the Middle East

On which side are we standing; War or Peace? This is the question I am asking from myself each time a threatening news is released about Iran in media. This is my answer so far: War is the time for generals who are bragging for each other, Peace is the time for women who are bargaining for their absolute rights.

In the previous posts I pointed out Environmental consequences of War and now I am going to reflect the opinion of women who are strongly against another war .

The role of Iranian women contribution towards world peace and upholding human rights did not stop in 2003 when Shirin Ebadi, won noble peace prize. Shirin Ebadi is one out of hundreds of Iranian peace activists and also one of the members of a new peace campaign launched on 8th March’12, named “women against sanctions, war and militarization in the Middle East”. This campaign is launched and supported by varied groups of women; Artists, Human Right activist, lawyers, writers and any other normal people regardless of their nationality, all who believe war is not the solution. While some of the prominent women lawyers previously active in “Change for Equality Campaign “are now behind bars, young Iranian women are sharing videos saying : “  I am against war”. Nafiseh, is one of them. She states: “Today we still like to have the defiance voice to women equality in Iran in continuous of our activities since 5 years ago, but nowadays when the voice of war is being heard louder than ever, there is no chance for the voice of defiance”

“As a feminist and women’s rights activist, or someone who is concerned about gender equality issues, how do you feel about the increased militarization of the region and the possibility of war looming?” This is the question that this campaign is trying to answer.

“Women against Sanctions, War and Militarization of Middle East” is aiming to reflect different points of views of women both inside and outside the Middle East to express their opinions and how war and militarization in the Middle East will harm people. This campaign believes that “the destructive effects of war on the everyday lives of civilians especially women are unquestionable. Women and children are the primary victims of war and armed conflicts. Consequently, fighting against armed forces is a major concern for women’s right movements”

Gita Hashemi, Iranian-Canadian artist with a wide range of creative, critical, pedagogic and technical art skills and experience, in supporting the campaign against the sanction, war and militarization in the Middle East, says:” Militarism is the direct product of patriarchal system. In war and military violence, regardless of what side becomes the winner, the losers are always women”. She mentions that “next year will mark the tenth anniversary of U.S. and NATO’s second-round war and military intervention”.

“The United States, that is the main player and leader of militarist intervention in the Middle East, the economic, political and social conditions for women have suffered immense setbacks because successive governments have cut back social benefits and support systems while investing in war and militarization, and their domestic policies similar to their foreign policy has shifted to the right and, consequently, become more misogynist.” Gita Hashemi states.

Sanctions against Iran, to prevent Iranian government follow its nuclear program is now stepping in new stages. The United States has gradually tightened sanctions because of what US claims “Iran’s failure to answer questions about its nuclear program, which Washington and its allies suspect is a cover to develop nuclear weapons”.

While a new U.S. law is aiming financial institutions that deal with the Iranian central bank has garnered much attention, sanctions blacklisting of Iranian banks had a more immediate, sharp effect on humanitarian trade.

Over the last five years, the blacklisted Iranian-linked entities, gradually is squeezing Iran’s ability to do business with the world, this has resulted in facing difficulties providing raw materials for the factories which eventually is affecting normal Iranian citizens in their everyday life. Difficulties for importing many types of medicine and even diapers etc., is challenging the human side of sanctions against Iran.

Sanctions in one hand and threaten of war on the other hand, is putting Iran’s women movement under pressure which inhibits or slowdowns the women equality and warns against the consequences of war for the country’s democratic movements.

“The economic sanctions and the wars unleash a mass agony and women bear the brunt of the catastrophe that ensues.”

May 22, 2012 · Maryam Khazaeli · Comments Closed
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He, She but not We

Dancing and singing, mingling with opposite gender playmates; these can be primary hobbies of children under 7 years old going to kindergartens but in what has recently been  defined as” Islamized kindergartens” these very basic entertainments are forbidden in the kindergartens in Iran.

Willingness of Iran regime to have “Islamized” communities and learning environments is not a new trend and is not limited to kindergartens. Although it has been radically valued during the last 5 years, having Islamized universities was first suggested after Islamic revolution 1979. This approach is aimed in two ways: segregating educational environments followed by gendering university atmosphere

Design By: Maryam Firoozi

and changing the contents of the books to follow Islamic patterns as much as possible.

Gender discrimination at the universities in Iran is rooted early in the Islamic revolution in 1979 when female university applicants were prohibited from choosing 91 university degree courses out of total 169 available degrees, usually in engineering fields. Although some changes were amended to increase the women options 9 years later in 1988 and permitted women to enroll in more varied university courses. Again in 2003 a limitation of 50 percent was suggested, in which just 50 percent of accepted applicants could be women regardless of their ranking in university entrance exams. This limitation was implemented   in agricultural related degrees, mining engineering, medicine, physiotherapy and material engineering. Meanwhile, women right activists with support of some reformist members of parliament succeeded to prevent this to be finalized and implemented.

In 2008 some parliament members stated that the 65% of university women university student is threaten for the culture of the country and it should change, this trend resulted in segregation in majoring at the university degrees.

Changing the content of the books in primary schools by designing different syllabuses for boys and girls is another example of gendering in learning environments since the early stages.

Recently, this approach at the universities is implemented mostly in social science related courses to prohibit the study of philosophy of west and limiting the majors in philosophy to Erfan and Islamic philosophy.

According to the ministry of Culture and Higher Education, right before the Islamic revolution and subsequent closure of all the universities in 1980, there were 16,222 professors teaching in Iran’s higher education institutions. When the universities re-opened in 1982, this figure had plummeted to 9042 due to what is called brain drain and considerable migration of scholars, students, entrepreneurs to mostly European countries and US due to limited learning and working opportunities. The pressure of fitting segregated studying areas, class rooms, libraries, food courts, cafes and etc, in most of the universities started after Islamic revolution after reopening of the universities and now it is told to plan building new universities where male and female students will study in totally separated buildings.

In general, this new trend of segregation in the kindergartens is worrying many parents. Next generation of Iranian youth is now exposed to radical Islamic patterns and have less opportunity to communicate and socialize with opposite sex, an approach which is not appreciated by many Iranian families though they are known as Muslims.

May 17, 2012 · Maryam Khazaeli · Comments Closed
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May Day in Iran: Celebration or Objection?

The international worker’s day in Iran was held in 1922 for the first time. Now, 9 decades later the Iranian workers are still trying to form gatherings and demand justice on the May day.

Against many other countries, the first day of May is not “celebrated” in Iran. Workers are under serious financial pressures and threaten of losing their low paid jobs, anticipation to receive their delayed salaries while facing with political repressions makes this day an opportunity for “objection” rather than celebration.

Low job security and threaten of being arrested by governmental forces prevents the majority of workers to freely declare their wants and express their absolute rights in the frame of syndicate activities. In 2008, almost 150 workers were arrested in Tehran and Kurdistan in the gathering on International worker day. This year, just within a week before the international worker’s day more than 5 labor activists were arrested in Isfahan, Sanandaj, Azerbayjan, Kurdistan and some other cities.

Sanctions against Iran besides barriers in transactions with international banks have caused many of industries and factories stop producing goods due to lack of raw materials. This has resulted in increasing the number of fired workers and delays in paying salaries. In some cases it has been up to 32 months of delay in paying workers’ salaries while targeted subsidy program has failed to compensate the high increase in costs of living with the inflation rate which is now reached to 40 percent.

Instability in economic, political and social situations in Iran discourages private sector to invest more in production instead of importing goods. This unfavorable environment for investing incurs loss for both workers and investors. For instance, owners of factories are looking for foreigner labors to replace with lower salaries. These suggested salaries is an average of 240 US$ which is much less than poverty threshold, approximately 650 US$. This trend lends to take advantage of the Iranian workers by asking them to accept blank signature contracts. “The economic hardships in the country and the huge pool of job applicants have resulted in an employee market where the employers can easily impose their own terms. With the implementation of the so-called state subsidies elimination plan and loss of state energy subsidies, it is not only the smaller facilities but also large plants that have shifted towards temporary and blank signature contracts with female workers suffering much of the consequences for now”, as quoted by Iran Labor Report. This is what almost 10 percent of Iranian people, the population of almost 7 million workers are struggling with.

In the future posts I will cover reports about the hard and unequal situations in which women workers are exposed to.

PS: The picture is taken in the Workers protestation in International Workers Day in 2006, published by Fars News Agency.

May 5, 2012 · Maryam Khazaeli · Comments Closed
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Financial, Social Life

I heard your story

“Mehdi! I would say that your hunger puts me into shame in the best possible way”, Felxi says. One of the hundreds of Wall St. occupiers in support of Mehdi Khaz’ali who has been on hunger strike for 46 days till 28th Feb. When Wall St. hosts Azadi Sq and Iranian green movement, this is what Campaign 99 is. Narrating the story of those who are behind bars and jailed in their houses in Iran and as Campaign 99 introduces itself “We decided to talk with 99 people engaged in the Occupy Wall Street Movement around the world. We listen to each person’s narrative of why s/he has joined the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Then we narrate the life story of an Iranian prisoner of conscience for that person. After this mutual exchange of stories, we ask the person to send a message to and make a poster for that Iranian prisoner. While s/he is holding the poster, we take a picture. If you like the idea, share it with your friends. This is for global solidarity”.

But our stories does not finish by 99 narrations. Committee to Protect Journalist announced that Iran has been recognized as the biggest prison for journalist and ranked as the second highest number of execution. While many social activists, university students, lawyers, journalists and ethnic and religion minorities are being deprived of basic civil rights.

Campaign 99 is now nominated for the Reporters Without Borders Prize beside ten other blogs and websites dedicated to defending human dignity. If you want to read these narrations of campaign 99 click here and if you think it deserves to be selected among ten other blogs of Reporters Without Borders click here to vote.

April 9, 2012 · Maryam Khazaeli · Comments Closed
Posted in: Social Life