"Different Views of Iran & Iranian Women" Panel at CSUN
Friday 13 March 2009, by
As International Women’s Day was approaching, California State University Northridge held a panel with the topic of "Different Views of Iran & Iranian Women" inspired by CSUN graduate student and Campaign member Esha Momeni who has been forbidden to leave Iran for more than 100 days. This panel, which was also broadcast on March 9th on local California radio KPFK, focused on three sets of discussions.
First "Free Esha" CSUN graduate student activists Kara Lawton & John Daiquoag spoke about their work in organizing a vigil to advocate for Esha’s release. Then Campaign member Roja Bandari talked about the Iranian women’s rights movement and the One Million Signatures Campaign. She stated that the history of women’s rights in Iran dates back to over a hundred years ago and one of the first battles for women’s rights was for the right to education. As a result of the struggles of women’s rights activists decades ago, today more than 60% of University students are female. She emphasized that despite these achievements, there are still many obstacles that women face in Iran today and that the need for gender equality in the legal system feels urgent in the Iranian society. Bandari proceeded to describe the One Million Signatures Campaign as one of the active efforts for gender equality and mentioned several intereseting characteristics of this campaign such as the fact that many of activists are below the age of 30. Several aspects of pressures on these activists were then mentioned and it was emphasized that peaceful human rights defenders should not be persecuted anywhere in the world. Finally, Bandari explained problems with how Iranian women are portrayed in the western media; for example during the time that Esha was detained in Iran, even though many reports were accurate, still some news articles presented a stereotypical picture of the situation. Specifically one prominent newspaper wrote that Esha had escaped the traditional Iranian society, "finding solace in [...] a calling in women’s rights activism in the West," which implied that Esha has learned women’s rights activism in the US, whereas she in fact found it in an Iranian movement initiated by Iranian women. Bandari concluded her talk with the hope that more real representations of Middle Eastern women will emerge in the media.
Rae Abileah and Ariel Vegosen, members of a group called Code Pink spoke about their trip to Iran as part of an interfaith citizen diplomacy effort. Ariel Vegosen talked about the descriptions of Iran in the media and that through the media in her own community she was constantly told that she should be afraid of Iran. So as a young journalist she decided to travel to Iran to see things for herself. She signed up with an organization called Fellowship for Reconcilliation that was bringing a delgation of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people to travel to Iran. Vegosen explained that in Iran she was asked by people whether she agrees with policies of George Bush and realized that just as she did not want to be associated with everything that President Bush did, it’s not fair to attribute everything that the Iranian preseident says to the Iranian people. She emphasized that we should recognize the difference between the government of a country and its people. The next speaker, Rae Abileah, spoke about her experience of the trip and emphasized that code pink has urged the congress to oppose military intervention in Iran. She stated that in her experience military intervention is not beneficial to the human rights condition. As an example, she mentioned that there is a myth in the US that the condition of Iraqi women was worse before the war in Iraq but in reality Iraqi women had more rights before and the war not only made everyday life difficult due to lack of safety and access to resources, but also a more religious system came to power in Iraq and women face more restrictions and have less rights. Abileah mentioned the recent attacks on Shirin Ebadi’s office and continued to say that they had met with Mothers of Peace in their travel to Iran. She explained the difficulties that these women face when trying to meet or organize demonstrations and that despite these pressures, they have organized gatherings to protest the war in Iraq and attacks on Gaza and have also expressed their demands for womens’ rights in Iran. Abileah stated that Code Pink is starting a "Let’s Talk" campaign with these women to promote diplomacy instead of violence, and to hold mutual events like international poetry slams on college campuses in order to hold dialogues across borders. She encouraged the participants to look for Iranian blogs online since Iran has one of the largest blogging community in the world. Abileah also talked about Code Pink’s successful campaign at stopping a bill for naval blockade in the Persian gulf.
To hear parts of this report please refer to Professor Wall’s blog by clicking here.
View online : The one million signatures campaign in California