Friday, March 14, 2008

Women's Rights Are No Joke

Iranians extremely value education in general. While more than 65 percent of university students are women, unemployment is rampant in Iran – the government will need to create a million new jobs per year just to keep unemployment at its current rate. Women in particular though face discrimination getting higher level jobs and especially into decision-making positions. Yet, a women’s studies professor from Tehran University told our delegation that “I think you’ve heard about women too much,” and told us there is a joke that because there has been so much focus on women’s rights in Iran, the men are thinking they should start their own organization.

The story from women’s rights activists is different, however. Several argued that they are most effective when they work for greater women’s rights within the structure of Islam, as opposed to trying to apply external pressure. One group convenes a monthly meeting to compare women’s rights in Islam with other religions in order to make the case for bettering the status of women in Islam.

Iranian women leaders are seeking greater exposure in the U.S. One avenue in particular they would like to pursue is the establishment of relations with women’s studies programs in universities. For them it is less dangerous if relationships in the U.S. are set up through university departments and invitations to speak are issued through universities. They would also like to invite American women professors who are not of Iranian decent to speak at universities in Iran about the status of women’s rights in other countries and other religions.

Women’s and human rights groups have also started what they call a “Peace Process,” organizing a movement in Iran calling for peace with the U.S. They will continue to be critical of the Islamic Republic’s stance on women’s rights and human rights, but they believe that any military confrontation between our countries will only set back their work on these issues and negatively impact their struggle for rights. The groups urged a common meeting between Iranian and American peace activists in a third party country to increase dialogue and lay the foundation for a joint movement for peace.

Speaking of women's rights, Farzaneh Milani has a brilliant new essay drawing on the breadth of her work entitled, "On Women's Captivity in the Islamic World." The essay was published by the Middle East Research and Information Project and is a preview of her forthcoming book. Scott Harrop reviews her essay for Just World News here.

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