Three days in Denver

The thirteenth International conference of the
Iranian Women's Studies Foundation (IWSF) took place in Denver, Colorado with the cooperation of the Center for Studies and Documents of Iranian Women in Denver and University of Denver from June 14 to 16, 2002.

IWSF is a non-profit organization that conducts annual conferences wherein a theme related to Iranian women is approached through scholarly presentations, art exhibitions, and artistic or dramatic performances.

As IWSF statement of purpose indicates, “The history of Iran has consisted, for the most part, of male-dominated narratives and accounts of men's exploits and achievements. The IWSF attempts to offer a different perspective on Iran's history by protecting, preserving and propagating the works of Iranian women.”

This year's conference started with welcome messages from Golnaz Amin, the president of IWSF and Shokooh Mirzadegi's who represented the local committee – Robab Jamshidi, Afsaneh Dara, Nushin Farjadi and Samar Tehrani.

The distinguished guest of conference was Jaleh Esfahani, who has been writing Persian poetry for the past 60 years despite living outside of Iran for most of her life. The next speaker, Shahla Sepehr discussed the interlinking influences of religion and religious ideologies on the lives of Iranian women.

Sepehr compared religion and sex as two factors that belong to the private sphere and the effect of the former on women's sexual relations. She pointed out that women, often internalize contradictory religious ideas such as “women are the source of sin (fitna)” and “women have no sexual desire”.

The first day of conference ended with a dance performance by Neynava group whose leading dancer was Shida Pegahi, and a concert of Persian Classical music led by Mohammad Nejad and Nahid Ziai.

Ahmad Ashraf was the first presenter in the second day of the conference, Saturday (June 15, 2002). Ashraf, who's a professor of sociology at Princeton, gave a summary of Judaism, Christianity and Islam's views on women. He then explained different schools of thought that have resisted, accepted or modified these views. Ashraf was criticized by the participants for giving a very descriptive overview of religions' stand on women.

Parisa Saed, journalist and psychologist, spoke about honor killings especially in the Middle East. She gave a psychological analysis of a patriarchal system in which honor killings are done by both men and women who have accepted and internalized hierarchical gender relations.

One of the best programs of the conference was the round table by second generation Iranian-American women. Cathrine Chen, Arezou Seifpour, Shalize Najmi and Bahar Mirhosseini spoke about the challenges of being both Iranian and American in today's American society.

Shalize Najmi spoke about her dilemmas as an Iranian who does not agree with some anti-women Iranian cultural values and at the same time is viewed as one who represents “Iranians” and “Muslims” to her American peers.

Bahar Mirhosseini spoke about Iranian's hidden racist idealogy. She referred to Persian sayings such as “che dokhtar-e ghasshangi, cheghadr sefid va zibaast” as showing Iranian preference for whiteness. Bahar said while growing up, she had always checked out the box for “caucasian” but has never quite felt like a white person in this society.

Ismail Nooriala gave a talk on women as a persisting issue in all ideologies. Farideh Herandi presented a paper on Iranian laws as a direct interpretation of Quranic verses which result in unequal rights for men and women.

The second day of the conference ended with a play followed by a concert. The play “Baraane Sang” was written by Shokooh Mirzadegi, directed by Davoud Gholam-Hosseini and performed by Shida Pegahi, Nadereh Salarpour, Keyvan Fotoohi, Jila Kashef and Shila Vosough. Mahvash Ajir and Eric Stein performed music.

The second round table was scheduled as the first program of the last day of the conference. Women of religious minorities in Iran: Niaz Kasravi (USA), Louise Baghramian (Germany), Nicki Saedi (USA) and Haideh Daragahi (Sweden) talked about Zoroastrians, Armenians and Bahais.

The presenters spoke about their experiences as religious minorities in Iran, a country with 98% Shiite Muslim population. Nicki Saedi said that as a Jewish woman, she has learned that she has no homeland and she can never be a nationalist. Being Jewish to Nicki does not mean that she can pride herself on achievements done by any other Jewish person, nor does it mean that she is responsible for any invasion a Jewish person commits anywhere in the world.

Haideh Daragahi pointed out that even though Bahais are persecuted in Iran, they – like any other religious community – are discriminatory to women. She ended her talk with this sentence: “As a feminist, I know that being a minority does not necessarily bring about rightness, specially when women's rights are at stake.”

Mernoosh Mazarei (USA) talked about the role of women in Persian literature. Golbarg Bashi (UK) spoke about the human rights and women's rights as a part of human rights. She stressed UN shortcomings in terms of implementing international rules and conventions with regard to women in the Middle East.

During the conference, an art exhibition was open to the public. The artists were Mehri Dadgar (USA), Tahmineh Katouzi (USA), Leila Salartash (USA), Shahla Sepehr (USA), Azita Hosseini (Sweden), Nahid Marandi (Canada), and Niloufar Vakil Bahrami (USA).

For further information about IWSF, its conferences and publications please visit: or write to: IWSF P.O. Box 380882 Cambridge, MA 02238-0882

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