International Women’s Day was yesterday and in the run up, different types of women from different backgrounds have been staging events, activities and protests as they fight for their place in society, freedom and equality.
Just this week FEMEN, a feminist Ukrainian protest group based in Kiev and founded in 2008, gathered together Iranian women on the streets of Stockholm in Sweden for a topless demonstration. Their slogan “My Nudity, My Protest” and their aim a stand against wearing the hijab (the Islamic head scarf).
The hijab is worn by many in Muslim countries in the Middle East and there are different ways of wearing it.
While some countries impose the Hijab by force; Iran is unique in having its own constitution legitimize the harsh retaliation against any woman who dares not to wear it.
Article 102 of Iran’s constitution indicates “women who appear on streets without the ‘Islamic hijab’ will be condemned to 74 strokes of the lash.”
This just goes to show that Iran’s so-called constitution has a hand in both the public and private lives of women and their role in society. There is no freedom of choice, and even if you wanted it you are faced with violence.
Twenty years after the United Nations declared violence against women to be a violation of human rights; we are still a long way from gender violence and inequality becoming unacceptable in society.
On March 4 the U.N.’s fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women began and Iran among other religious states resisted efforts that demand tougher global standards to prevent violence against women and children.
Diplomats at the conference were quoted by international news agencies, they claim Iran was one country spearheading attempts to wipe out major points in the final U.N. statement which acknowledges that religion, custom or tradition must not be used as an excuse to avoid a government’s obligation to eliminate violence.
Norway’s Gender Equality Minister Inga Marte Thorkildsen who spoke on the sidelines said “It has to do with power and equality and the lack of will to see women as valuable as men.”
Valuable may not be the main point here. Religion plays a large part in Iran’s politics, denying freedoms to women and granting them to men. Due to this, Iranian women feel underappreciated and marginalized and as the wave of revolution sweeps the Middle East these women need to find their voice and fight back.
A ‘FEMEN’ reaction
I don’t necessarily agree with the way some Iranian women are going out about their fight for freedom and equality in the face of Islam.
The demonstration in Sweden seems to be another extreme.
I have spoken to many women, not necessarily activists but the average female on the street, who feel Islam is a choice and not a burden until it is taken out of context.
“In undemocratic countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, the authorities justify their human rights violations by resorting to Islam and by framing their actions as religiously sanctioned. Thus, no one has the right to object to their actions and if one dares to do so, he/she would be accused of violating the religion and face severe punishment” Shirin Ebadi, Iranian lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, was quoted saying days before International Women’s day.
She added “Islam has different interpretations, like any other religion. We must promote an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with human rights and democracy. The undemocratic regimes take advantage of religion to promote their own undemocratic ideologies.”
Many would argue that Ebadi had it right when she says we need to promote an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with human rights and democracy.
Taking to the streets topless to make a point in my eyes isn’t the way forward. Women are being objectified everyday and the fight against sexualized violence is still ongoing. How does this protest help put an end to this?
We have two polar extremes at play here. The Iranian regime not giving women a choice and Iranian women reacting to this suppression by taking off their clothes.
The way to move forward is not to fight one extreme with another but to display self-respect in a manner that helps the world encourage reverence for women’s rights.
(Sophie Ghaziri is a Shift Editor at Al Arabiya English. She has previously worked as a producer, presenter and a writer at the BBC, Al Jazeera and she was Head of English at Future News in Lebanon for 2 years. She can be followed on Twitter on: @sophieghaziri)