I started a project on violence against women for my Women Studies class at York University. Of course the topic was eye opening and very disturbing for me. As a woman, I can say that I have experienced some type of violence, even in the form of harassment once or twice in my lifetime. Of course the violence and uneasiness I have experienced in my life are not nearly as severe as some of the violence women experience everyday all around the world.
As I got deeper into my research, something happened that I wasn’t anticipating: I actually started to get mad, and I mean raging mad! I didn’t know the women in the stories I was researching, but at the same time I felt a connection with them. Every night thereafter I had trouble sleeping, and a feeling of guilt swept over me. How could I sleep in peace when there are women out there who don’t have the same luxury?
I knew there was something more I had to do other than research. I knew I had to spread the word about the violence to other women, and so they can spread the word to more women, and so on. I guess this is my way of spreading the word to you guys, the readers. At first I didn’t know where to start because violence against women is such a broad issue stretching all over the world.
For example, in Africa, genital mutilation is a major problem; in Bangladesh, acid burning is the main form of punishment for brides; In India, honour killings are the norm; in China, selling girls and women off to sexual slavery is too common, and the list goes on.
As an Iranian woman, I decided, since violence against women is so widespread, I should focus on the violence in Iran for now. My partner for my school project, Rebecca Shafiee, busily researched the situation with Iranian women living in Iran. The different types of violence’s that are occurring are not as shocking compared to the commonalty of it all.
Women in the provinces of Bandar Abbas and Zehedan experience the most amounts of violence, but this information is ignored by Iranian provincial governments. In the provinces of Bandar Abbas and Yazd, sexual abuse is common and the most tolerated. Sex tapes and the lack of use of condoms are only some of the problems presented in provinces with high numbers of sexual abuse. In Esfehan, male domination is the most tolerated.
Some of the ways that men dominate the women are: Taking away the woman’s passport, trying to kill the woman, forcing the woman to care for the husband’s extended family, tapping the phone lines or taking the phone away altogether. Many of the women faced with these situations do not have the financial strength for independence, thus learn to live with the abuse. In situations where the woman wants to leave an abusive relationship, the husband ensures that leaving is made extremely difficult. For example, the husband may go re-marry, while still keeping his first wife; the husband may threaten to not grant child custody to the mother.
The city of Rasht, in the province of Gilan, has the least documented cases of abuse. Most women in Rasht are treated more fair in comparison to other parts of the country. Statistics in Iran show that 66% of Iranian women, at the beginning of the marriage have been at least physically abused once. Some forms of physical abuse that occur include: biting, bondage, imprisonment in their own home, scratching, hair pulling, and even starving.
Higher levels of education do not affect the way the system is run, thus there are never clear, formal statistics conducted to prove the visible amounts of violence. Any statistics that exist are not published for the general public to view, but only to journalists, researchers, and the scholars. Since Iran does not welcome free speech, those who are able to view statistical files are limited in what they are allowed to publish, or post online.
To be fair, when President Mohammad Khatami was in power, a detailed report was carried out regarding violence against women in Iran. The report was created by the office of the ministry and various women groups. In this study, there were researchers of social studies who were involved, including: Mahmood Ghazitabatayi, Ali Reza Mohsenitabrizi, Sayed Hadi Marjayi and professors from various universities throughout Iran.
The report has been published in 32 volumes, each volumecontaining 200 pages. Despite the large numbers of publication, the information from the report has not been made available to the public. The only place you can get this information is in libraries of ministries of research, which once again are exclusively for journalists, researchers, and scholars.
In the year 2000, a large group of young women got together to hear Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former president speak. Khatami stated that protecting and having a safe environment is not only the woman’s responsibility, but everyone’s respectively. He stated that the people of Iran should not allow men to abuse woman, or force them to cover themselves up in hijab. Sahar Afazeli, a well known activist, indicates that in eight years of Khatami’s government, women candidates elected to parliament were 53/8. After Khatami, women’s contribution has been significantly reduced.
During Khatami’s rule, society was more tolerable andlenient with regards to hijab rules. Iran was visibly beginning to change from what it became after the 1979 revolution. Of course, the change was not welcomed by all, and soon after, reports of prostitution began to increase, and the blame was put on Khatami’s government for giving too much leniency to women. In order to take advantage of the new “laid-back” attitude of the government, women began to speak up, and ask for equal rights, and even took the issues internationally to Europe, and other parts of Asia.
Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Prize winner, says that Mohammad Khatami did not have enough power to change women’s situations and human rights in Iran. Ebadi states that in order to change women and human rights situations in Iran, the issue needs to be addressed through the parliament as a whole, and not solely by the president. Now that Mohammad Khatami is not in power, Iranian women are starting fresh in their fight against violence against violence, and their personal rights as human beings.
* All facts regarding Iranian women have been provided by an anonymous journalist in Iran. Since this person can face possible imprisonment for providing statistical information for the purpose of this article, we have decided to keep her identity confidential.
* To find out how you can get involved to protest against women’s situations in Iran, or if you would like further information, please contact: Maryam Nayeb-Yazdi , York University stduent, Toronto, Canada.