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Saying no
Just as a mass movement said no to racial Apartheid, so it must say no to the Hejab and segregation of women

October 12, 2004

When you think about apartheid, you can't help but remember the anti-apartheid movement of the 70s and 80s. At the time, there was hardly anyone who lived in the West and hadn't joined a demonstration or sit-in, signed a petition, written a letter of protest, worn an anti-apartheid badge and so on.

I was a student in the US in the early 80s and remember how that movement politicised an entire generation. During that time, the anti-apartheid movement became the struggle or at least issue of concern for most decent human being. And you didn't have to be black or South African.

The movement went beyond all those constructed divisions amongst people and went to the heart of being human. As a result of the movement, everyone had come to know that apartheid was fundamentally wrong and that something had to be done. Eventually, apartheid became despised and condemned. But it was not always so.

Racial apartheid was vehemently and for years supported by Western governments for their political and class interests. It was strongly justified and excused. This included finding scientists who could 'prove' that black people had smaller brains to groups that said separate was still equal and therefore not a violation of rights or racist. Groups could be found that said it was okay to separate people based on their race in Bantustans.

It was the South African liberation movement and solidarity groups primarily in the West that fought long and hard to expose Apartheid and chip away at its justifications in order to remove all the layers of propaganda and excuses, revealing Apartheid - naked and bare, as it truly was - an intolerable inhumanity.

Today, the same must be done with the apartheid of the 21st Century - sexual apartheid, and particularly in Iran as a pillar of political Islam. Just as a mass movement said no to racial Apartheid, so it must say no to the Hejab and segregation of women; no to the prevention of the mixing of the sexes which is deemed immoral and corrupt in Iran; no to discrimination, no to women being deemed inferior, second class citizens and even subhumans...

How can we transform the anti-sexual apartheid movement in Iran into an international movement? This we must learn from the anti-Apartheid movement. There are many parallels. The most important is that a liberation movement exists in Iran as it did in South Africa. This movement is widespread, critical in the movement to overthrow the Islamic regime of Iran, with interventions, including hejab burning in the streets, resisting morality police, breaking sexual apartheid's rules such as holding hands with the opposite sex to dancing on the streets.

This movement also has its spokespersons in the Organisation of Women's Liberation; its leaders are recognised internationally. It has clear demands and policies. This is particularly important as one cannot build mass solidarity in a vacuum. It is the women's liberation movement that will determine policies, makes demands - with the solidarity group responding. There has to be a direct relationship between the two. As in the movement against racial apartheid, the liberation movement and the solidarity groups are partners in changing public opinion and Western government policies.

Another aspect in our favour is that we - the victims and survivors of the Islamic regime of Iran - are organising these groups. This in itself helps negate the racist notion that the Islamic regime of Iran's violence and misogyny is 'our religion and culture'. Also it gives Westerners the courage to speak out when we ourselves lead the way. It helps promote the reality that it is not racist to defend women's rights and liberation.

Also it pushes aside the assertions of the Islamic regime and political Islam that it is discriminatory to speak out against Islam and its state and movement. This area is one of our main battlegrounds in making sexual apartheid despised.

Establishing solidarity groups are essential for creating this international movement. The objectives of the groups will be to:

* Disseminate information and raise awareness about sexual apartheid and the conditions and struggle for women's liberation in Iran. The main vehicle of this is the bi-weekly English paper of OWL, the TV programme along with pamphlets, fact sheets, and so on. Visual materials are essential.

* Mobilise public support to provide political, moral and material support to the women's liberation movement in Iran.

* Create a Defence and Aid Fund against Sexual Apartheid to raise money for OWL, the legal defence of and assistance to victims of sexual apartheid in Iran, etc.

* To organise an annual International Freedom from Sexual Apartheid Day.

* To exert pressure to end political collaborations between Western governments and the sexual apartheid regime of Iran.

Solidarity groups in the West can and must work with the women's liberation movement in Iran to make sexual apartheid despised, condemned and a thing of the past.

Maryam Namazie is the host of TV International English, is a Central Council Member of the Organisation of Women's Liberation and Director of the International Relations Committee of the Worker-communist Party of Iran.

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