This Iranian women's
conference was more chaotic and verbally abusive
July 14, 2005
On the Iranian
Women's Studies Foundation's 16th
International Conference at the Austria Center in Vienna,
Austria (8-10th July 2005).
First of all I would like to give my thanks to the Vienna team
for their hard work. I want to praise and raise Ms Golnaz Amin
to the skies for having established the Iranian Women's Studies
Foundation (IWSF) and
for her continued soul-drenching work to uphold IWSF and its conferences.
also like to thank every team which has taken on the demanding
task of organising this annual international conference for the
past 16 years (with very limited resources and heaps of difficulties).
Iranian women’s studies is - as we all know too well -
an immensely contested area of inquiry.
Perhaps IWSF conferences represent this divergence all too visibly,
that is the clash of interests between the "radical" political
activists and the "other" feminist research community
as well as the second generation Iranian women and girls who are
used to debating in democratic/open forums.
The latest IWSF conference in Vienna was more chaotic and verbally
abusive than ever. To put it crudely, the verbal abuse is targeted
at women who do not start or end their speech with "marg
bar jumhuri-ye eslami", and toward those who wish to hear
about different research projects in Iran and who allow *different
voices* to be heard.
Like many others, I have been attending IWSF conferences in the
past five years and find them more and more exhausting, if not
sometimes crippling for the research topic and even for the activism
The majority of the "radical regulars" of the IWSF
conference are allergic to anyone who is doing anything else that
actively "throwing stones at the Mullahs". Women in
Iran who are trying their very best to not only survive but make
a living as e.g. academics (Mehrangiz Kar before she left Iran,
Shirin Ebadi and many others) are seen as a collaborator and compared
often to Nazi torturers. An imminent scholar, Dr Shamsosadat Zahedi
of Allameh Tabatabi University in Iran who presented her work on
Saturday in Vienna was laughed at, shouted at, and was called a
her work and judge for yourself if she qualifies as a
So works of "non-radical leftist" feminists and especially
academics is more than often underestimated, discouraged and threatened
in the IWSF conferences.
The most moderate of the "radical regulars" say, "so
and so did not need to go out and conduct research for 4 years
on reasons behind women's absence in managerial positions in Iran,
she could have come and asked me, and I would have said 'listen
honey, Islam is fundamentally corrupt and you don't need to do
They thus suggest that no analytical and theoretical work should
be done in Iran's stark Islamic reality (they seem to live in Disneyland).
They seem to suggest that 70 million people should sulk (ghahr
konand), or become radical political activists and set themselves
People should be allowed to make a living in Iran, and
reform their country in ways they know best, even if I or you think
differently. We cannot impose political imperialism upon 35 million
women, or can we? How dare we sit comfortably in Berlin or Stockholm
and patronise and actively fight them? I agree that radical lobbyism
is needed in Iran too, but 35 million women can not all choose
this avenue. I’d like to hear about all types of work in
and outside Iran, this is how we all can grow. Or should we all
just invite our chums whose words are music to our ears?
I thought that at last there was one place one could go to hear
about new research on Iranian women, especially from inside Iran
itself. Women activists and academics in Iran are thirsty for exchange
of ideas, and need to come out and share their work with us, but
when they do, a lot of them are verbally abused, bullied and shut
out by the "radical regulars" in exile.
The hope is that at least the second generation panel (young
women) in the IWSF will continue to propagate academic freedom
and pluralism of ideas which they have done very successfully.
Well done to the free spirit and open-mindedness of Ms Afra Afsharipour
who despite being a very busy Iranian-American lawyer organises
this panel every year (voluntary like all the other IWSF teams)!
I believe that the clash during the Vienna
conference is a serious one and is something that needs to be re-negotiated
and discussed. We CANNOT afford to alienate women from attending/contributing
to this conference!
We cannot afford to loose heavy weights of Iranian Women's Studies
from seeing this conference as a credible one. I no longer see
their names appearing, but they have more than anyone else brought
forward the plight of Iranian Women across the world and they
are busy publishing: Haleh Afshar, Valentine Moghadam, Ziba Mir-Hosseini,
Haideh Moghissi, Mehrangiz Kar, Parvin Paidar, Janet Afary, Nayereh
Tohidi and many many more!
Nor can we deprive women academics
Iran from sharing their research findings with us: even if
their work is conducted in the framework of the current system
is not up to "scratch" - it's not up to us to judge/patronise
them anyway unless we are imperialists. We NEED dialogue and
an exchange of ideas -- and we should certainly analyse and criticise
works that are presented to us, but we need to do it constructively
and in a civil manner!
I do hope that open-minded women will start coming back to this
conference, and 'teach' a thing or two about the realities of the
world, and how we need to have dialogue to achieve the change we
all want. Or we should start an objective and democratically orientated
Iranian Women's Conference which might draw fewer people but will
be far more democratic and fruitful? I propose to all who are supporters
of this kind of project to urge the IWSF board to reform! Or we’ll
have to break away and start afresh which is a tragedy.
I do hope that we can somehow keep reminding ourselves about
the *identicalness of our aspirations*, and that we are free to
choose *different avenues* for our fight for gender equality, the
removal of tyranny and freedom for all in Iran. Anything different
than this is a form of tyranny.
Developments of feminist theories AND a pragmatic political approach
are both vital to a healthy and sustainable mainstreaming of gender
equality and long-term change.
I just wished that as Iranian women, we could all gather under
the same roof to share our work without it being so painful. After
16 years of conferences and 26 years in exile it’s time to
move on, it’s time to listen, to share.
Please see below my correspondence
with the heavy weights of Iranian Women’s Studies at top
US and British universities in the past few days. These women
are highly respected and widely
published researchers who have done more than anyone else to make
Iranian Women’s Studies an expectable research topic, they
have made heard the plight of Iranian women in the international
arena. Here are their responses on my above essay.
I wish *us all* the very best in our common path.
One top professor
"Unfortunately, the voices of reason and fairness are
often muted by loud populist pseudo-radicalism in many places,
particularly within the Iranian community. I do believe we
urgently need and keep urging people (who continue to invite
many times invited experts) to go to fresher views/perspectives
and younger scholars who are coming out with remarkably useful,
relevant and fantastically new researches but unfortunately
are not heard by those who most need to hear them.
Frankly, I have stopped going to certain gatherings exactly for
this reason. After so many years in exile the audiences depress
me as still empty slogans (Shoar-e Moft) has more acceptability.
The strength of the Islamists in Iran lie exactly in this un-shakeable
faith of some of us to old/stale ideas and our refusal to see the
realities and try to understand and explain them accordingly and
not by repeating ourselves.
I am sorry that IWSF has fallen prey to this mentality. It
is just too bad that populist, masculine culture of resorting
and silence has affected this gatherings I only hope that your
generation confront my generation's prejudicial ideology-driven
ways of thinking and acting as they are counterproductive and
do nothing but alienating intelligent, thoughtful women like
Another internationally renowned
Iranian Women’s Studies
"Thank you for sharing your wonderful posting with me.
I found it so refreshingly well-thought, good intended and well-written.
I wish some of those "radical" activists who have discouraged
or alienated people like me from attending the IWSF annual meetings
could hear you and could really understand and appreciate what
you so wisely said. It is unfortunate that some of us preach
feminism and anti-imperialism, yet in practice, we still behave
very patriarchs and imperialists we abhor.
Despite all the disappointing aspects however, like you, I
do value the IWSF and the women who have sustained it throughout
past 16 years. Hope the younger women scholars/advocates like
you will nourish this entity and help
its growth and improvement".
Golbarg Bashi is a
Ph.D. student at Bristol University.