Iranian women’s rights activists are initiating a wide campaign demanding an end to legal discrimination against women in Iranian law. The Campaign, “One Million Signatures Demanding Changes to Discriminatory Laws,” which aims to collect one million signatures to demand changes to discriminatory laws against women, is a follow-up effort to the peaceful protest of the same aim, which took place on June 12, 2006 in Haft-e Tir Square in Tehran. Preparation activities in support of this campaign commenced in June of 2006 and the campaign will be officially launched on August 27, during a seminar entitled: “The Impact of Laws on Women’s Lives.”
The collection of a million signatures in support of changes to the law is only one of several aims of this campaign. The Campaign will also aim to achieve the following:
1. Promotion of Collaboration and Cooperation for Social Change This campaign intends to serve as catalyst in promoting cooperation between a wide spectrum of social activists in creating and advocating for positive social change.
2. Identification of Women’s Needs and Priorities This collaborative campaign aims to develop connections and linkages with a broad base of women’s groups from different backgrounds. Direct contact between equal rights defenders and other women’s and citizens’ groups will allow those involved in the campaign to identify the everyday concerns of women, especially their legal needs and problems. On the other hand, this direct contact will increase awareness among the general population about the inequities that exist within the law.
3. Amplifying Women’s Voices Through this campaign, the organizers hope to be able to connect with groups whose demands are left unheard. The campaign, relying on the needs identified by women themselves, aims to amplify the voices of women whose needs are often not addressed at the national policy level.
4. Increasing Knowledge, Promoting Democratic Action This campaign is committed to increasing and improving knowledge through dialogue, collaboration, and democratic action. The campaign steadfastly adheres to the notion that real and sustainable change can be achieved only if it is community and needs driven and reflective of the desires and demands of the society at large. Changes to women’s status in society need to be based on the belief that legal problems faced by women are not a private matter, but rather symptomatic of larger social problems faced broadly by women. In other words, this campaign is committed to carrying out bottom-up reform and to creating change through grassroots and civil society initiatives, and seeks to strengthen public action and empower women.
5. Paying our Dues The initiators of this campaign recognize that social change and the elimination of injustice are not easily achieved. It is through commitment to collaboration and hard work that we will be able to build the solidarity necessary to create change. Surely this solidarity and collaboration in pushing forth the objectives of the campaign will have a positive impact on the future of our country. The experiences of women’s democratic movements around the globe, and particularly, in countries within the region, have demonstrated that solidarity and commitment to the goals of collective action are key components to the successful elimination of discrimination. The struggle for equal rights in Iran will indeed be a lengthy, difficult and arduous process. The true path to achievement of equality will not be paved through existing power structures or a dialogue solely with men and women in positions of power. Rather, achieving the goals of this campaign will be based largely on a strategy which seeks to raise awareness among individual women and citizens about their identity and their status within society.
6. The Power of Numbers The successful implementation of this campaign will prove once and for all that the demand for changes to discriminatory laws is not limited to a few thousand women, who have supported these types of efforts in the past. In fact, the successful implementation of this campaign will demonstrate that support for legal changes are broad-based and that a large majority of men and women are suffering from the inequities that are promoted by Iranian law. The Campaign will strive to demonstrate that women are, and have consistently employed a variety of means and venues to voice their objections to the laws, such as the writing of books, articles, production of films and other forms of artistic expression, and through social activism. Those women with fewer and more limited resources have demonstrated their objection through more difficult channels, such as recourse in the courts, running away from home, or more destructive means such as suicide, or self-immolation. In an effort to demonstrate the widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo, the Campaign will aim to highlight the many strategies used by women to challenge discrimination in the law.
7. Power in Plurality The successful implementation of this campaign will also shed light on the fact that the demand for changes in the law is not only voiced by a specific group of women. In an effort to silence the voices of women calling for change, critics claim that demands for legal change are expressed by a particular group of women, who are out of touch with the realities of ordinary Iranian women. These critics wrongly claim that only elite and socially and economically advantaged women seek changes to laws, in direct opposition to the real needs and sensitivities of the masses of Iranian women. These claims are indeed incorrect, as discriminatory and unjust laws negatively impact the lives of all women, whether they are educated or not, live in upper class neighborhoods or poor communities, are married or single, live in rural areas or in cities, and so on. The Campaign will work to address some of these issues.
Timeline This campaign will be ongoing. The first phase of the Campaign will focus on the collection of one million signatures demanding changes to discriminatory laws. It is a fair assessment to claim that the first phase of the Campaign will be carried out over one to two years, after which the campaign will move into its next set of phases focused on proposing new laws.
The Demands of Campaign are not in Contradiction to Islamic Law The demand to reform and change discriminatory laws is not in contradiction to Islamic law and is in line with Iran’s international commitments. Iran is a signatory to the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights and as such, is required to eliminate all forms of discrimination. Based on these commitments, the government of Iran needs to take specific action in reforming laws that promote discrimination.
On the other hand, these demands are in no way contradictory to the foundations of Islam. In fact, the changes being demanded by this campaign have been a point of contention and debate among Islamic jurists and scholars for some time. Ayatollah Sanei’i and Ayatollah Bojnourdi, to name a few, have for years called for a revision and reform of laws which are discriminatory against women, and have explicitly stated that such reforms are indeed not contradictory to the basic beliefs of Islam. A million signatures supporting changes to discriminatory laws, will demonstrate to decision-makers and the public at large that a large segment of the Iranian population is in support of revising discriminatory laws against women and that these demands are not limited to a small segment of society. This campaign will also demonstrate to law makers that Iranian women are serious in their demands to change current laws.
Implementation of the Campaign This campaign will rely largely on face-to-face education and contact to achieve its goals. It will be implemented through the following strategies:
1. Collection of signatures through door-to-door contact and dialogue with individual women.
2. Collection of signatures in places and events in which women gather, and where dialogue and discussions with groups of women can be carried out. Public locations, such as parks, universities, production centers, factories, health centers, religious gatherings, sports centers, and public transportation centers (metro, buses, etc), where groups of women can be accessed, will be identified by members of the Campaign for the purpose of initiating dialogue about the law and collecting signatures in support of changes to discriminatory laws.
3. Implementation of seminars and conferences with the intent of raising the profile of the campaign, promoting dialogue, identifying supporters and collecting signatures.
4. Collection of signatures through the internet. The internet will be utilized to share information about the campaign, including legal educational materials, and those interested in supporting this effort can sign petitions related to the Campaign.
Volunteer Education In order to successfully implement the Campaign a large number of volunteers will be recruited. Volunteers will receive legal education as well as information on the campaign. Several committees have been established within the campaign, including the “Education Committee” which is charged with implementing educational workshops for all volunteers. All those interested in cooperating with the campaign and collecting signatures will be provided with training on legal issues and laws; the aims and strategies of the campaign; face-to-face and door-to-door education techniques; public education and outreach techniques, etc. All volunteers interested in becoming involved in face-to-face education must participate in the workshops.
It should be noted, that volunteers don’t necessarily need to be experts in women’s legal issues. These workshops implemented by the “Education Committee” will provide an overview for the lay person with respect to legal rights of women.
Scope of Activities The activities of this campaign will not be limited to Tehran, and women’s rights activists in the provinces are strongly encouraged to participate in this campaign. Groups and individuals based in the provinces can participate in workshops in Tehran and begin campaign activities in their provinces. Larger numbers of women and women’s rights groups interested in receiving training and/or participating in this campaign can request special workshops to be held in their respective provinces. Additionally, Iranians based outside Iran can submit signatures in support of the demands of the Campaign by mail or email.
Minimum Age for Signatures Women and men signing on in support of the demands of the Campaign must be at least 18 years of age. Signatures will be collected in special forms developed for this purpose, and will also be published on the web.
Support for the Campaign Participation in this campaign is purely voluntary. Volunteers are asked to support the Campaign through a contribution of 5,000 tomans (roughly 6 USD). These funds will be the major source of support for the activities of the campaign. In order to create change, women have often had to rely on their own limited resources, financial or other, such as time and energy. Women have always managed to rely on their capacities and their beliefs to create change. The success of this campaign, too, will benefit from women’s immense commitment.
Contact Those interested in supporting or joining this effort should feel free to contact us, through the following means: visit: we-change.org; or write to the Campaign Organizers at: firstname.lastname@example.org • Address: Iran – Tehran – P.O. Box: 14335-851