Another gender war is brewing and, fascinatingly, firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emerges as the voice of liberal dissent! President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said plans to segregate male and female students at Iranian universities must be halted, drawing another battle line in his ongoing tussle with traditionalist rivals. Even a diehard zealot like the President has realised that any prudent person would be unable to work within the limitations of the Iranian clergy subjugated constitution. Mr Ahmadinejad said the policy must be stopped. ‘It has been heard that in some universities, classes and disciplines are being segregated without considering the coincidences,’ he said on the website dolat.ir.
What is happening today with gender separation is the ‘finale’ of what is an affirmed posture of the Islamists. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the mullahs’ “supreme leader,” has declared that “women’s first job is to be a wife and mother.” Khamenei dismissed the notion of women’s equal participation in social life in July 1997 as “negative, primitive and childish.” Islamic theologians are profoundly influenced in their belief on the lowliness of women. Their hypotheses of female inadequacy are based on archaic beliefs: “Women mature too fast. The breathing power of men’s lungs is greater and women’s heartbeats are faster… Men heed reasoning and logic, whereas most women tend to be emotional… courage and daring are stronger in men (Moghadam 172).” Khamenei and his cohorts evidently are utterly distanced from the world of knowledge, wisdom and science.
More than half of Iran’s 3.7 million students are women, studying alongside their male classmates. Education has become a focus for conservatives who want to head off what they consider corrosive western values among the youth born long after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Beyond these so-called ‘deviancy issues’, this archaic rooted law not only helps with the strict moral code of the Islamic law, but allows the shackle of ‘mental occupation’ to prolong. The segregated campuses will have divided intellectual and freedom resources. Students are the citadel of the possible Iranian fresh tone; a divided and weakened ‘body’ of reason and logic is the ultimate aim of the Mullahs. This should be opposed.
From the fundamentalist mullahs’ perspective, sexual vice and virtue are the principal criteria to evaluate women. The most dishonourable and unpardonable of all sins is sexual offence. Faithfulness and chastity are measured by sex-related yardsticks. This strategy is akin to murder of hope and imaginative resourcefulness. Universities are the fountain of anticipation and hope of freedom in Iran one day. Mullahs are precise in their demonic policies of a divided student body. They have rightly concluded that a segregated student base will be toothless in designing joint actions to defend their basic rights to dissent.
Segregation is also an attempt to brainwash the mothers of future generations with ideas of a social system that would create a public world of men and a private one for women. Mullahs tend to promote gender boundary. When was the last time you saw a female Ayatollah in the highest ruling body of Iran?
The top officials of the fundamentalist regime in Iran emphasize that it is the “sacred” responsibility of a woman to serve her husband and take care of the household. A parliamentarian in Iran is on record as saying, “Women must accept the reality of men dominating them, and the world must recognize the fact that men are superior.” One of the Iranian regime’s key ideologues says: “Women and men are equal in their humane essence, but they are two different forms of humans, with two different sets of attributes and two different psyches…” Ahmadinejad is now momentarily in the reformists’ camp by rejecting plans to separate male and female students at Iranian universities. Gender-based restrictions and campus divide would mark one of the most important turnabout and regressive policies since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
One needs to take his statements with a pinch of salt. Although I endorse it fully, but deplorably Mullahs’ “moderation” is zilch, a mere illusion. The new convert to moderation is welcome in the camp but Ahmadinejad, Khatami and all the other moderates have to reject medieval system of Velayat-Faqih to see true progress in Iran for emancipation of its brave courageous people from the manacles of bigots and mullahs.
A diehard, sadistic and brutal force called ‘cultish Khomeinism’ has now fully grown and is extending its tentacles to obstruct any say of reason. Misogynous in temperament, an explosive mix of dogma and fanaticism, represented by the Iran clergy, is menacing the freedom and advancement of women.”Women’s rights are human rights”; they are the foremost rights and denial of equality of women and men is a basic violation of principles enshrined in the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights,’ according to which women are the masters of their own bodies and feelings. In all candour, today women’s activism is the most effectual means of combating religious dogma and extremism. Khatami and Ahmadinejad are unfortunately committed and standard holders of an obsolete system that Khomeini founded. One can argue that these overtures of Ahmadinejad may just be a political tool to make inroads amongst the youth and universities of Iran.
As part of a wider drive to assert Islamic values at Iran’s colleges, the minister in charge of higher education has said male and female students must be taught separately when classes begin again in September. It is necessary to swiftly prevent these backward, shallow-minded actions,” Ahmadinejad wrote in an order earlier this week addressed to members of his Cabinet. Science Research and Technology Minister Kamran Daneshjou has said Iran will separate sexes at universities from the start of term on 23 September. ‘Following the implementation of the Hijab (Islamic dress) and Chastity Plan, university classes will be separated. If there is not the facility to separate the classes, students will sit in separate rows,’ he said, according to IRAN daily.
Segregation and freedom in stadiums are a very diminutive fraction of the demands of an enslaved society; the system as a whole needs to be rewritten on a new slate. ‘Freedom’ cannot be selective in a society, the parts which Ahmadinejad likes and the others he does not. The situation of a woman in Islamic society is clear by the Quranic verses. Law of Islam is the fountainhead of Iranian constitution and Ayatollahs’ jurisprudence encourages domination of men over women. A man can marry up to four wives at one time, but if a woman takes more than one husband at a time, she commits adultery.
The clergy have interpreted and legalized the injunctions of the scriptures and the present mindset blindly follows the antiquated approach: “She actually cannot travel without her husband’s written permission. She cannot serve on juries, nor can she serve as witness, her testimony does not earn any weight. They can go to law school but cannot become judges or lawyers. For her to be eligible for government scholarships to study abroad, she must be married and accompanied by her husband (Moghadam 171-206).” Segregation and gender separation are deeply seated evils within these norms dictated by Holy Scriptures.
This is the latest twirl in the face-off between Ahmadinejad and Iran’s ruling clerics. Ahmadinejad, loathed by the opponents as a mullahs’ puppet, finally shows dissent by opposing gender segregation. Looks like he has realised that his political survival lies in supporting the liberal spectrum of the Iranian political landscape. Reports also suggest Ahmadinejad has renewed his push for women to attend soccer games at stadiums. In 2006, Ahmadinejad surprised his conservative backers by deciding that women could attend the matches, saying a female presence would “improve soccer-watching manners and promote a healthy atmosphere.” Ahmadinejad was overruled by Khamenei.
Appalling, unpardonable and unforgivable behaviour of the ‘moderates’ when they were part of the ruling cabal leaves any veneer or iota of a change as unattainable. Khatami in power is on record declaring: “One of the West’s biggest mistakes was the emancipation of women, which destroyed the family… Staying at home does not mean being pushed to the sidelines… We must not think that social activity means working outside the home. Housekeeping is among the most important of tasks.” Khatami as head of the Revolutionary Cultural Council, officially refused to commit the regime to the international convention banning discrimination against women – the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, another ‘in attendance’ level-headed leader and Khatami’s predecessor, declared unequivocally when in power that women are inferior and must be treated differently under the law: “Justice does not mean that all laws must be the same for men and women… The difference in the stature, vitality, voice, development, muscular quality, and physical strength of men and women shows that men are stronger and more capable in all fields… Men’s brains are larger… Men incline toward reasoning and rationalism while women basically tend to be emotional. These differences affect the delegation of responsibilities, duties and rights.”
Mullah Mohammad Yazdi, accentuates the subservience of women: “If kneeling before God were not obligatory, wives should have knelt before their husbands.” He also said: “A woman is wholly the possession of her husband, and her public life is conditional upon her husband’s consent.” These unashamedly intolerant views shed light on how prejudiced legislation against women has been planned, adopted, and imposed in Iran since 1979.
Iran has also imposed restrictions on 12 university programs, mainly humanities and social sciences, deemed too Western and incompatible with Islamic teachings. On the instruction of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran is already reviewing the curricula of certain subjects deemed too western, including law, philosophy, psychology and political sciences, to ensure they do not run counter to Islamic teachings.
Does Ahmadinejad realise that the basic problem of this segregation lies in the nature of the theological state? It is the nature of the state that has to be abrogated. Article 105 of the Civil Code stipulates: “In the relationship between husband and wife, heading the family is characteristic of the husband.” The Islamic Council of Guardians decreed that “a woman does not have the right to leave her home without her husband’s permission, even to attend her father’s funeral.” The exploitation of divine law to promote abuse is one of the dichotomies of Iranian society.
Human rights and human dignity is lost if the law of contemporary state is construed from the essence of scriptures from medievalism. A man may marry a non-Muslim without demanding her conversion, but a woman may only marry a Muslim. A man may seek a divorce unilaterally, but a woman may do so only for limited reasons, before courts. The man’s share of an inheritance is twice that of a woman, and his testimony in court has twice the value of hers. Article 115 of the Constitution specifically excludes women from the presidency. The law also excludes them from appointment to judgeships. All these laws help devise further draconian measures; one cannot avoid segregation if one does not talk of rollback of the entire system. Segregation is an issue that creeps up from the ashes of what has become ‘tolerable discrimination’ within a society.
Mr Ahmadinejad’s opposition to sex segregation will further alienate his conservative and religious critics. Hard-liners insist Ahmadinejad cannot stand in the way of the ruling clerics. Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, one of the leading conservative scholars in Iran’s seminary city of Qom, said he “deplored” Ahmadinejad’s opposition and called it harmful to Islam. Ayatollah Reza Ostadi, Qom’s Friday prayer leader, suggested that Ahmadinejad is contributing to “corruption” by trying to block the gender separation on campuses. “After studies were carried out, it was decided to segregate male and female students at universities to reduce corruption, but the president has opposed it,” Ostadi said. “This is not fair.”
The battles have shown clearly that Iran’s clerical rulers, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have no intention of giving up any controls and will dictate the direction of the next presidential election in mid-2013 — which Ahmadinejad cannot join because of term limits.
Gender equality is an alien concept in Islamic jurisprudence; segregation is rooted in by nurturing the impression that women come from another set of humans and is naturally inclined to encourage moral deviation. Fundamentalism conceives a woman as threatening and satanic; she is the personification of misdeed and seduction. She must stay at home, serving her husband’s carnal desires; if she fails to comply, she is compelling her man to commit sin outside the home.
Ahmad Khatami, an influential conservative cleric who regularly leads Friday prayers in Tehran, came out in favour of segregation, ‘With what logic should a head of a Tehran university be reprimanded for separating the classes of women and men? We should give him a medal.’
Yazdi, the Head of the Judiciary, commented on December 15, 1986: “No matter at what stage of knowledge, virtue, perfection, and prudence a woman is, she does not have the right to rule… Even if a righteous accredited woman possesses all qualifications, she cannot assume a leadership position nor can she pass judgment, because she is a woman.” In the words of another Iranian official, women are “immature” and need “guardians.”
The Iranian mullahs are clawing back the gains Iranian women have achieved so far in pursuing their rights of parity; they champion the slogan of ‘domesticity is the women’s holy war.’ The Mullahs fail to make any progress in the field of gender relations; a ghost haunts the Iranian society – the phantom of modernity. Segregation stems from the desire to dictate; the wrong is within the social structure and the whole social structure needs a rethink.
Waft of freedom is the destiny of the people of Iran and whatever the clergy does, freedom will appear. It is a 5,000-year-old civilisation, many a Khomeini and many an Ahmadinejad will come and go as a mere footnote to that rich culture.