Fundamentalists pose greatest threat to women’s rights
Maryam Rajavi addresses the International Women Conference
The decisive defeat of Islamic fundamentalist would be possible only through the pioneering role of women. For this reason, we underscore the need for the active and equal participation of women in political leadership…
Dear friends, sisters,
It is indeed a pleasure to be among you, experts, thinkers and activists of the equality movement.
Allow me to join you and send greetings to our sisters around the world on International Women’s Day; to all those striving for freedom and equality; to all those who have rebelled against oppression and exploitation; to Iranian women who have not tolerated a life of humiliation under the yoke of misogynous despots and have risen to fight; and to all pioneering women who are carrying the burden of this resistance.
I am also quite happy to see you, my dear compatriots, at this conference. The women of Iran, steadfast as they are against the most brutal dictatorship in the world today, are a source of pride: those of you who have come here for the ideal of equality, our young women in universities, women in factories, in rural areas, and those at home.
These days, Iran is again in grief after the earthquake that struck Zarand, Kerman. Poor housing and vulnerability of Iranians under clerical rule again made losses caused by this natural disaster far bigger. Women, especially child girls, are facing dual suffering. While again expressing my solidarity with those affected, I emphasize the need to make sure that aid reaches the people who need it.
The suffering of Iranian women, who are being humiliated and insulted over trivial issues under the mullahs’ rule, is indeed painful. The discrimination and oppression against Iranian women is intolerable.
But Iranian women have kept the flame of hope alive in their hearts, because they are convinced that liberation is at hand.
I sense the passion for and belief in liberation among Iranian women from the messages of my fellow women from inside Iran. The hardships of Iran’s women today will no doubt be turned in to happiness and liberty.
Our gathering today only days before March 8 is a valuable opportunity to pursue this great ideal, as that day offers inspiration for the realization of hopes and ideals of women around the world for equality and liberation
I believe all of us here today, regardless of our specific beliefs, share the view that in our turbulent world, the struggle for equality would be effective and have resonance only when it is linked with the political struggle and the pressing issues of the day. If we limit the equality movement to women’s issues as well as gender deprivations and discrimination, and stay away from such a link, we would be confining the equality movement within itself. This would not benefit the equality movement. Because when we speak of equality, we mean the real meaning of the word: equality in political activity and political leadership and not only equality before the law.
The most urgent issue that has aroused concern across the world is Islamic fundamentalism emanating from Iran. It is now spreading to other Muslim countries, regional countries and especially Iraq, seriously threatening peace, democracy, and the achievements of humanity and the equality movement.
The abysmal plight of girls and women in Iran, where even 16-year-old girls are hanged by the mullahs, and the bleak destiny fundamentalists have imposed on women in Muslim countries cannot be ignored by the worldwide equality movement.
How to confront fundamentalism relates to all peace and human rights advocates, and specifically to activists in the equality movement. The danger of Islamic fundamentalism is not unique to the Middle East and Islamic countries only. The specter of fundamentalism is now on the march throughout Europe.
What should be done with Islamic fundamentalism? In truth, the policy toward Islamic fundamentalism across the world depends precisely on the policy toward the Iranian regime as the heartland of exporting fundamentalism.
In confronting this increasing danger, there is normally talk of two options. The first is to compromise with the clerical regime with the aim of containment and gradual change. In the past two decades, Western governments have pursued this option.
The other option is to overthrow the mullahs by way of a foreign war, similar to what happened in Iraq. No one would want to see the repeat of that scenario in Iran.
The Tehran mullahs and those with stakes in the status quo want us to believe that any serious change requires a foreign war, and the only alternative to war is to make a deal with the mullahs. But the Iranian Resistance believes that in place of “appeasement or war,” there is a third option, which represents the real path to change: change brought about by the Iranian people and Resistance.
I raised this option last December in the European Parliament. Today, I want to raise an important issue when we talk about this option, which is nearly as vital as the issue itself. That the issue is vital would be established in responding to this question: which force would be specifically advancing the real option to fight the fundamentalists? Which force that could make this third option succeed as the real solution to combat fundamentalism?
My answer is that women’s vanguard force provides the bedrock for the decisive defeat of Islamic fundamentalists. That is why we stress that women must participate actively and equally in political leadership in Iran and elsewhere in the world. The notion that women‘s participation in political leadership is the antidote to Islamic fundamentalism is the essence of the Iranian experience, which has been created through immeasurable pain and suffering.
The experience of the Iranian people’s Resistance in the confrontation against fundamentalism is important because Iran is the first country where fundamentalists attained political power and implemented their reactionary ideas in the form of law and policy in all social, cultural and political spheres.
We pay attention to women’s participation in political leadership because it was confirmed in Iran in both theory and practice that women were antifundamentalist in all respects. The reason simply had to do with the nature of fundamentalism, where gender distinction and misogyny formed its pillars. The decisive role of women is intrinsic to this struggle.
When speaking of fundamentalism, we do not mean the reality of Islam or even a backward interpretation of Islam. At issue is a medieval phenomenon with suppressive, monopolistic, terrorist, dogmatic and misogynous attributes that is bent on expanding the velayat-e faqih rule (absolute rule of the clergy) to the rest of the world.
We have made social progress toward emancipation and liberation conditional on the status of women. For their part, the fundamentalists enslave women in order to take society backwards and engage in all-out crackdown.
Why do the fundamentalists need to be so hostile to women? And why does the struggle for liberating society by necessity passes through rejecting misogyny?
When the mullahs assumed power in Iran, they faced an enormous energy released as the result of the 1979 revolution and the powerful desire of Iranians to change the old order. They relied on gender discrimination and misogyny to suppress and contain this massive energy and potential.
They propelled the sinister desires of their operatives and forces that were only quenched by gender distinction and ownership of women. They transformed it into the source of power and impetus for general suppression.
Those who have lived in Iran or know about the situation there, understand fully what I am saying, namely that fundamentalists acted as if they were foreign invaders of our nation and looked to women as war booty. In other words, they enslaved them and exercised free rein in various assaults and aggressions against them. On the surface, one sees the mullahs boast of piety, virtue and chastity. Behind this demagoguery, however, there is a sinister force that forms the will to suppress: the desire to own and ravage. This has victimized women and pushed the regime’s forces outside the bounds of humanity. This is why we call it an anti-human regime.
This is the essence of misogyny, which is carried out under the cloak of the fundamentalists’ laws and religious edicts, has become law, is implemented as official policy and shaped suppressive agencies.
In this respect, take another look at the regime’s suppressive agencies and forces. All of them, the anti-vice office, the agency to enjoin good and forbid evil, the paramilitary Bassij force, the chastity patrols, etc., have the task of assaulting and engaging in aggression against women.
What distinguishes the fundamentalists’ suppression from other dictatorships is their intervention in the most minute and private aspects of people’s lives. This permeates repression deep inside society. The justification is to expand the fundamentalists’ sharia law and fiqh (jurisprudence) in the most private aspects of women’s conduct.
The raids by the Revolutionary Guards and Bassijis on private parties, inquisition in the streets and other suppressive measures are justified as attempts to control women and their relations with men based on the mullahs’ sharia.
If misogyny were rejected, the pretexts and religious superstructure built upon it would no longer be an issue. The rule by the mullahs and fundamentalists would have no theoretical basis. What would remain is a military-police state, similar to other dictatorships, devoid of any religious justification.
On the surface, the mullahs hide the hostility to women under the pretext of morality and social chastity. In practice, however, their actions have resulted in savagery, brutality and a rise in moral corruption.
Misogyny is the source of what the fundamentalists claim, reject, desire and stand for. When they oppose Western democracies and engage in anti-colonialist sloganeering, it is because they blame them for forcing women out of the home.
The mullahs have perverted religious piety. When Islam speaks about religious piety, it seeks to elevate the position and human dignity of women and men as well as their emancipation and liberty. The mullahs, however, espouse an anti-human interpretation of this issue and consider women as the source of corruption and sin. Based on this inhuman assessment, they resort to eliminating, suppressing and humiliating women. It is for this reason that we say misogyny is the heart and soul of general suppression and that fundamentalists cannot abandon it.
Since the onset of their rule, the mullahs have not spared any discrimination and oppression against women. On the contrary, they have strengthened misogynous laws every year. Indeed, the pillar of all social relationships and the laws of the state is oppression and discrimination against women. Furthermore, what is happening to women in courts, police centers, the workplace and the household is far more hostile than the letter of the law.
Last month, Prof. Yakin Erturk, the United Nations Human Rights Commission special rapporteur on violence against women reported at the end of her week-long trip to Tehran that Iranian women were sentenced to death based on inaccurate evidence and that in many cases, women who lodged complaints had been victimized. Women who were raped faced enormous obstacles in order to have their voices heard, she added.
I want to reiterate that none of the mullahs’ misogynous policies and laws is compatible with true Islam. They are the product of the fundamentalists’ perverted interpretation of Islam.
As we discussed last year in a similar meeting, reactionaries have deliberately taken advantage of allegorical verses in the Quran. They have taken the laws of 14 centuries ago, such as women inheriting half of men and the testimony of one man being equivalent to two women – major changes with respect to women’s rights at the time – to form the basis of the laws in the twenty-first century. Consistent with the Quran’s ever-lasting and developing essence, these edicts should have been annulled and new civil codes enacted. In what reflected the spirit and essence of Islam’s thinking and respect toward women, the Prophet of Islam stated, “Only those who are dignified hold women in high esteem. Those without dignity belittle and humiliate women.”
I want to conclude that women’s active and equal participation in political leadership is necessary because it undercuts the pillar of fundamentalist thinking. This reality has been proved in 25-year experience of our resistance movement against the mullahs’ regime.
If I were to present to you the specific experience of the resistance against Islamic fundamentalism, I would have to say in a nutshell that confronting fundamentalism emanates from a mindset that believes in the need for the equal and active participation of women in this struggle and could realize this principle in the political arena.
In more than two decades, we have resisted against a fundamentalist regime. Inside Iran, we have endured a brutal suppression, unprecedented in contemporary history. The execution of 120,000 of those who chose to resist against the Iranian regime, the massacre of political prisoners, and the torture and incarceration of half-a-million more represent a part of the fundamentalists’ suppressive record.
In this period, the Western governments’ appeasement of the fundamentalists ruling Iran and their assistance to the regime has directed enormous pressure toward the Iranian Resistance on the international scene.
Nevertheless, our Resistance movement succeeded in overcoming obstacles and adverse conditions and advanced its ideals. That the Resistance movement enjoyed such strength and foundation that enabled it to survive the most venomous conspiracies, heaviest pressures and crackdown was because it refused to compromise with the ruling fundamentalists.
Here, I want to draw your attention to a fundamental reality and a key experience:
The Resistance’s power and uncompromising posture were the direct result of a revolution and the subsequent presence of women in its leadership, particularly its political leadership. Women have secured the Resistance’s dynamism for endurance and progress. This reality is the essence of our struggle in all these years.
Specifically, this reality was tested during the past two-year confrontation between the Iranian Resistance and the clerical regime.
At a time when the clerical regime was exerting maximum pressures and hatching various conspiracies to destroy the Resistance in its totality and was taking advantage of the situation after the U.S. invasion of Iraq to devour that country and spread fundamentalism in the entire region, the city of Ashraf – the headquarters of the National Liberation Army of Iran in Iraq – emerged as the greatest anti-fundamentalist bastion. Ashraf is now being commanded by the pioneering women in the ranks of Iranian Resistance.
Here, I want to talk briefly about the Iranian Resistance’s unique experience, namely, the pioneering role of women within its ranks and how they achieved these results.
Thousands of hours of meetings in all these years led the women and men in the Resistance to the conclusion that the fight against the ruling fundamentalists passes through the belief in equality as well as eliminating gender discrimination.
Otherwise, a force that was itself tainted with the mullahs’ misogynous attitude and to some extent made of the same cloth with the fundamentalists, could not fight them decisively and without compromise.
Could this Resistance succeed in the struggle against fundamentalism without shedding the patriarchal mindset? There is a well-known Iranian adage that a knife does not cut its own handle.
Our most basic experience was that shedding one mindset of patriarchal thinking was indispensable to the fight against fundamentalism. Advancing such a struggle would be impossible without eliminating all aspects of gender discrimination in all its levels. Similarly, the emancipation of women is impossible without ridding society of the ogre of fundamentalism.
Our movement’s perseverance heralds the defeat of the ruling fundamentalists. It also demonstrated that the Resistance movement has succeeded in exposing the fundamentalists’ culture and ideology. This has been achieved in every step of the way with the pain and suffering of selfless women in the Resistance. The participation of women in the confrontation with the fundamentalists and the epics they created in prisons and torture centers arouses the respect of all. I will never forget those brave girls and women, the most enlightened, patient and innocent daughters of Iran. They paid the price for the ideal of equality by sacrificing their affection, lives and existence. They are a source of pride for the Iranian people and the equality movement.
Where are they today? They don’t appear to be with us. But, they are present in our hopes to liberate oppressed women.
Through the leading role of women, the Resistance achieved monumental political and cultural advances, which are not only a human capital for the Iranian nation to liberate itself from fundamentalism but also a strong barrier against the export of fundamentalism and its danger for other societies.
The Resistance has charted a new course that guarantees future progress toward a noble path.
Today, fifty-two percent of the more than 500 members of the Resistance’s Parliament, the National Council of Resistance, are women. Women comprise the entire membership of the Leadership Council of the People’s Mojahedin, the Resistance’s pivotal force. Most of the senior commanders of the National Liberation Army of Iran are also women.
The Resistance has become the advocate and the standard-bearer of women equality, the separation of church and state and the abolishment of any religious discrimination.
The rights of Iranian women are recognized in a plan by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which include the following:
– Women’s social, political, cultural and economic rights would be absolutely equal to men;
– Women will enjoy the right to political and social activity, to freely choose one’s occupation and the right to occupy any post and position as well as judgeship in all courts of law;
– Women will be completely free to choose their clothing, attire, husband, marry and divorce and will enjoy equal rights with men;
– Legal inequalities will be abolished. In order to eliminate dual oppression, special privileges will be considered for women;
These were parts of the NCRI’s plan on women’s rights.
Because this Resistance is inspired by the ideal of equality, it is the source of creating invaluable human and cultural achievements, whether with respect to new modus operandi that relates to women or with respect to resolving substantive problems in the process to emancipate women and men.
We reached the conclusion that classic methods to make women more responsible were outdated. We, therefore, adopted a new approach. We realized that before anything else, we must ask women to accept responsibility for themselves. We also realized that the positions of responsibility and leadership must be handed over to qualified women without any concern because they could handle them.
Otherwise, in a routine classical trend, namely within a patriarchal system, it would be impossible for women to prove their qualifications on a macro level.
Why? Because of a ruinous perception of women toward themselves: disbelief in themselves. Men have the same perception toward women. It is a result of the gender-based and patriarchal culture that perceives women as being weaker than men are.
Challenging the deep contradictions of this backward culture and resolving each and everyone of them were the greatest accomplishment of women and men in the movement, even more so for women. Such issues as “looks” enslave women so much so that from the day they are born, they are concerned about any changes in how they look. The increase in age, a strand of white hair or a wrinkle on the face is the source of constant anxiety, making women upset and desperate. In all moments of their lives, women find themselves broken from within as if they are nothing more than commodities. These are the result of looking at women as commodities. Yet, when these same women are freed of these concerns, heavy chains are removed from their arms and legs and they become emancipated and liberated. We have a rich experience in this regard and many women overcame this problem and possess many experiences.
Another important problem that has plagued women historically is the relations between women, which in many instances are filled with personal rivalries. Overcoming this problem is one of the accomplishments of the Resistance. Women tended to find themselves spaced out in the presence of other women. They felt threatened when other women entered their realm or were promoted.
Fortunately, in our movement, these relations have changed; women are closer to each other than blood sisters are. They are advancing the most difficult responsibilities along side each other. Contrary to the relations between oppressed women, for the women in our movement, the promotion of every woman is the source of encouragement and inspiration for other women. Thus, all of them work to make sure women in the Resistance accept greater responsibilities. The solidarity and cooperation among women in our movement is truly astounding and is a new creation.
Each of these women believes that by supporting other women and with greater cooperation, they can become more powerful. The path to women’s blossoming and promotion is to increase the number of women whom she helps, enabling all of them to work toward their joint ideals. Truly, this new world is different from women’s past history.
The emergence of this new relationship between women, arising from a need among women themselves to advance their ideals, is a new creation in our movement.
The complex and long-lasting human and cultural issues, which our movement has resolved to by following the ideal of equality is the subject of major debate that goes beyond the limits of this discourse. I will, therefore, be very brief.
Systematically and by the thousands, women in our movement, from all classes and sectors, have obtained new strength and firmness in their human character. Women’s historic weaknesses, such as being fragile and jealous as well as the sense of competition and comparison, the fear to making a point in group, apprehension about accepting responsibility, or the fear to accept men’s responsibility and exerting hegemony on men have all dissipated.
Those passive, silent, reclusive and introverted human beings have been transformed into active, aggressive, firm, capable women. They have created new qualities in loving and caring and in possessing the noblest human affections. With respect to exercising responsibility, they are prepared to take risks. If they commit errors or fail in carrying out a task, they are not demoralized. They have become human beings who do not see their own identity as a commodity in the eyes or assessment of others. They have gained their identity from choosing their ideal and their human character and attributes.
These are women who have the power to exert hegemony and responsibility. Being emancipated and liberated from all shackles is their distinctive attribute. These were accomplished because they chose a noble human idea, namely freedom and emancipation for the Iranian people. Its yardstick for leadership has fortunately proven itself in practice.
In this path in our movement, men have also traveled down a very tortuous and long path alongside women. This path has liberated them from patriarchal bondage and has made human beings out of them who see their humanity in equality with women. And not only in words, but in deeds.
They out pace each other in accepting hegemony and women’s equality in carrying out tasks and responsibilities and have turned into a new generation.
Of course, this was a very difficult and arduous task. I wish there was enough time so that you could talk to these men up close and personal in order for them to share their experiences and feelings with you.
I dare say that this Resistance has a new generation of women and men, each of whom has a profound experience in the long struggle against dictatorship and fundamentalism on the one hand and against the patriarchal and misogynous culture and mindset on the other.
At present, each of them, as emancipated women and men, is carrying out her/his responsibilities alongside the other with the mantra of equality and even positive discrimination for women.
Compared to the past, they have become qualitatively more capable, competent, creative and resourceful. In one word, they have become more emancipated. Women’s hegemony has not translated into eliminating men from the scene. Men and women are not in contradiction to one another. Women’s emancipation is a prelude to men’s emancipation.
This is the new experience of this generation and the history of the Iranian people and the Resistance. This is a new birth in all equality movements and contemporary history. This path is open to any women with any belief or any nationality.
These advances are each a new souvenir for human society. But the biggest discovery is that the survival of the Resistance and the decisive defeat of fundamentalism would be possible only through the pioneering role of women and their participation in political leadership.
Dear sisters and friends,
I thank you for paying attention to this discourse. I would also like to say that I am hopeful for your cooperation and assistance. Because I know that each of you can be effective in advancing the equality movement and specifically supporting the Iranian people’s resistance against the ruling fundamentalists.
We have many things to do. Many obstacles are created against our movement. Many conspiracies are hatched against our Resistance. But there is something, which none of these conspiracies and hostilities could rival: our belief in freedom and especially in the emancipation of women. This links women of all nationalities, religions, races and beliefs.
On the eve of the Beijing+10 conference in New York, we again reiterate the universality of women’s rights. No one could use religious or cultural pretext or any other justification to distort women’s rights, which are as universal as human rights, and deny its totality.
I end my remarks by honoring the heroic women who gave their lives or suffered greatly in the struggle against the ruling fundamentalists in Iran. Those who were tortured, executed or hanged by thousands upon thousands in the past quarter century. They also demonstrated the astounding courage, selflessness and endurance of Iranian women. They proved that the source of the unrelenting and uncompromising struggle against the misogynous ogre rests with women.
Indeed, the reactionaries could be brought down, but by these pioneering women.
I again wish your conference success.
Thank you very much.