Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Iranian women demand legal equality

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has ordered authorities to allow women to enter sports stadiums and attend national football games. Conservatives have deemed it un-Islamic for women to attend men's sporting events.

RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari talked on April 24 with a prominent women's rights activist, Mahboubeh Abbass-Gholizadeh, about the reversal. She calls the decision the result of pressure by activists.

RFE/RL: You and many other women in Iran have been fighting for the right to enter stadiums and attend football matches. Your leg was actually broken last year when you and a group of activists tried to push your way into Tehran stadium. How do you feel today, now that President Ahmadinejad has ordered that women be allowed into stadiums?

Mahboubeh Abbass-Gholizadeh: Our reaction -- the reaction of many of those who have been involved in this campaign, and we've been talking about it -- is first of all [happiness]. We are all happy that the women's movement could successfully reach [at least] one of its least important demands. We consider this a victory for the women's movement. But this is happening at a time when there are many pressures with regard to [restrictions on] women's clothing. This achievement is for us a result of the efforts of our women and girls, especially since last year. It was necessary, but [it is] not enough.

RFE/RL: What are your other demands?

Abbass-Gholizadeh: Women should have access to all public places, and their rights should be [defended]. Under the current conditions -- in which a woman who wants to travel needs her husband's permission, in which academic places, universities, scientific locations, and recreational places like coffee shops are segregated -- women or young girls cannot easily gain access to public places. And this segregation shows that we cannot say that women and men use public places equally. Some places in Iran are generally designated "For Men Only"....

RFE/RL: Does this small victory make you and other activists more determined and more active in seeking your demands and achieving equal rights?

Abbass-Gholizadeh: This is an achievement by the women's movement -- and not because the president is a democrat and, for example, gives importance to women's rights. The activities of women have made this possible. Our argument is not only limited to women entering stadiums, but we believe that women have the right to access public places that under the Islamic republic have become places solely for men.
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Iranian women have been at the forefront of a long and protracted social struggle that has been going on in different spheres of society, from the first months of the Islamic Republic.
It seems that Iranian women are sending a clear signal to the regime and the world that they will no longer take silently such discriminations against their humanity. We salute Iranian women and stand in solidarity with them!

Democracy cannot be realized without freedom and equal human rights for women.


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