On a cold and rainy afternoon on March 8, nearly 1,000 people demonstrated through The Hague in a protest that was the culmination of a five-day march called by the Campaign for Abolition of all Misogynist Gender-Based Legislation and Islamic Punitive Laws in Iran.
The call for the march, issued in November 2005, said: “If you are against death by stoning, if you are against forced veiling, if you are against the prosecution and imprisonment of women, if you are against lashing a woman’s body, if you are against any form of patriarchy, if you are against the medieval laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran imposing inequality on women – join the great march against anti-women laws in Iran’s Islamic Republic on March 8 2006!”
However, as US threats of military action or sanctions against Iran have increased over the last few months, the demonstration’s final leaflet emphasised: “The American government has declared that it seeks to liberate the women of the Middle East from the yoke of islamic fundamentalism. This is a ridiculous claim that makes a mockery of real liberation and is an insult to the women of the Middle East. Events in Afghanistan and Iraq should help those who were taken in by these self-styled liberators of Middle Eastern women to realise how badly they were fooled.
If anyone still believes that George Bush and his ilk are liberators of women, please talk to American women fighting to prevent him from taking away their right to abortion, as well as against the efforts of the christian fascists to dominate every aspect of the lives of women in the US. What George Bush is taking away from the women in the USA he will not deliver to women in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or any other country.”
If anyone had told me a year ago that Iranian women in exile would be able to organise a five-day march culminating in a major demonstration in Holland, drawing in over 1,000 people from many nationalities, political tendencies and opinions in support of Iranian women and against imperialist war, I would have said it is unlikely.
Yet this is precisely what happened in March 2006. The demonstration in The Hague was an exceptional success, especially because the organisers refused to compromise with a rainbow of reformers and appeasers amongst Iranian feminists. They confronted the defenders of imperialist regime-change from above by insisting on anti-imperialist, anti-war slogans. They refused to compromise with rightwing feminists by toning down their slogans on issues such as class and poverty in Iran. It is precisely for these reasons that the success of this, the largest gathering of Iranian women outside Iran, should be evaluated.
The demonstration’s resolution read:
“At a time when the Iranian regime is facing bankruptcy and loss of any political legitimacy, especially following its support for the occupation government in Iraq, the whole debacle over nuclear proliferation is a means to negotiate with the US administration. Through such political gesturing, the regime in Iran intends not only to extend its reactionary rule and survive the current crisis, but also to use the threat of foreign invasion to suppress the people’s anger and discontent even further.
We have gathered here today at a time when warmongers and aggressive rulers of the world are still beating the drums of war. George Bush and his administration want to bring about the kind of misery they have imposed on the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq to Iran. Millions of people have lost their lives through US-UK military attacks, numerous cities have been ruined, and thousands have become homeless to such an extent that Iraq is now facing devastation. Yet the American war machine, supported by its western allies, is still not satisfied, aiming for more killing and more blood.”
The rainbow of political forces that are aligned with US plans for regime-change from above – many of them recipients of the $85 billion allocated by the US administration to exiled Iranian opposition forces – refused to report the event. However, women’s organisations inside Iran were well aware of the event, as witnessed by their messages of support. Solidarity demonstrations were held in many US cities, including Berkeley, Los Angeles and Chicago.
The five-day march saw the emergence of a new alliance between Iranian women belonging to many political groups and tendencies of the left. In the words of one of the organisers, Azar Derakhshan, it will be remembered as the second most important demonstration by Iranian women (the first one being that of March 8 1979, after Khomeini had imposed the veil on Iranian women).
Yassamine Mather is a member of the eitorial board of Critique, Journal of Socialist Theory, published by Centre for the Study of Socialist Theory and Movements, Glasgow University.