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Iranian and Afghan Women: sisters in struggle against religious extremism

About the author
Elahe Amani is a gender, peace and social justice activist. She has taught courses on the Global Women's Movement and Women in Cross Cultural Perspectives at the California State University (CSU), Long Beach and Fullerton. She is currently chair of the Women's Intercultural Network (WIN), a global women's organisation with grassroots circles in Uganda, Japan and Afghanistan. Amani has been active with the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and taken part in several panels on issues related to women's human rights, the Stop Stoning Forever campaign and the One Million Signatures campaign to change discriminatory laws in Iran.

The new Shiite Family Law that was passed swiftly in Parliament and signed by president Karzai, sent a shock wave to all the gender equality / human rights communities all over the world.  About 300 brave Afghan women gathered in front of a recently built Shiite mosque to show their opposition to a  law that not only violates the basic human rights and human dignity of Afghan women but also is in clear contradiction to the constitution of Afghanistan.  Iranian women who share the same struggle against religious extremists gave a strong support to their Afghan sisters in Iran and in the diaspora. The controversial Shiite Family Law is reminiscent of the brutal social dictatorship of the Taliban.  

According to Sima Ghani, a young rights activist, the 300 women who protested the law were there regardless of which sect of Islam they follow.  Many believe if the law is implemented, it will be the first step towards the  imposition of a Taliban brand of Islamic Family law in Afghanistan.  Adeleh Mohseni from Kabul in an interview with Iranian Women Solidarity Network said that " it was just yesterday that the Taliban were claiming  Shiite blood is " Mubah", but today, they respect their laws and admire those who wrote it.  It is interesting when it comes to the issues related to women, they all collaborate".

On April 14th  Iranian women's organizations  Focus on Iranian Women , The Feminist School , Women's Field, Women's Commission of Tahkim Vahdat(Strethening Unity ) , Women's Committee of Tahkim Vahdat Iranian Researchers' Association, Committee of Human Rights Reporters, Health Activists Association (Talashgaran Salamat) and Farasoo Association (Tabriz) issued a  joint statement " In Support of Women in Afghanistan Against Their New Family Law".

" We, the Iranian women's movement activists have been trying regularly and responsibly to follow the activities, achievements and failures of women in the area. Because we believe that each achievement or failure which is faced by women, especially in our region, can have reciprocal effects on Iranian women and our society at large. We have experienced that we are able to amend our moves in order to gain equal rights by learning from each other. Hence when we were informed that a new law called "Family Law" was approved in Afghanistan we decided to unite in your cause and struggle against the anti woman law."

Also, the One Million Signature Campaign, a broad network of gender activists aiming to change the discriminatory laws against women and girls in Iran, posted an article to the Campaign website, titled " Equality is Our Rights, Report from Women's March"  The article states " This is the first organized reaction of Afghan Women and a hopeful sign for a broad women's movement in Afghanistan".

It was not long ago that the Iranian women's movement formed a broad and successful coalition against the Family Law which eased the restriction on polygamy.  The collective voice of Iranian women saying " No to Polygamy" made the law take a step back from implementation and review the law. Any such short term victories in Iran and Afghanistan should not be taken for granted.   The patriarchal forces and political power brokers who compromise women's rights and dignity in order to further their political agenda are behind these laws and are keenly seeking new windows of opportunity to pass and implement such laws, or, if faced with resistance at local and global level, to  take a step back.  In Stopping the brutal practice of stoning in Iran, Iranian women have experienced  "Rare Victory for Women's Rights in Iran"

One of the lessons learned from the encounter and struggle of women rights activists with both the state and non-state forces of religious fundamentalists in Iran and Afghanistan, is that local resistance and opposition along with global support can halt their assault.  In the age of information technology and with the emergence of the new media, these regressive, obsolete and fanatical measures cannot possibly be implemented quietly.  Despite all the atrocities, war and terror inflicted on our world by state and non-state actors, the awareness of the global community about the rights and dignity of all people and communities is a transnational collective force, a leaderless network that no longer can be ignored.   

Despite the fact that 300 women protestors in Kabul faced with more than a 1000 counter protestors who throw stones at them and called them " dog" and spat at them, despite the fact that the Iranian women who demand change to the discriminatory laws in Iran are facing arrest and detention, despite the fact that their websites being filtered, papers being banned,  and their safety and security is fragile, the movements for rights and dignity, for equity and equality, keep moving forward and gaining more strength.  Martin Luther King was right when he said "We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." 

Videos: 
Afghan women protest against ‘rape' http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/7999875.stm 
Stones Thrown at Afghan Women Protesters http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dBX25jJWto 
Afghanistan Women Protest http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o2RyUzRDvY 

 


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