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Iranian Women Working For Change

In Iran, a campaign is underway to collect signatures on a petition demanding changes in laws that discriminate against women. Thirty–thousand Iranian women have reportedly signed so far.

Currently, women in Iran have far fewer rights under the law than men in the areas of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. In addition, the testimony of a woman in an Iranian court is worth half that of a man's. Women are forbidden to travel without the permission of a husband or male relative. Girls as young as nine years can be married. Hanging and stoning for sexual misconduct are legal punishments and they are disproportionately meted out to women.

The campaign to collect signatures on the petition started in August 2006. The goal is to collect one million signatures in two years and to present the petition to Iran's parliament for corrective legislative action. The drive was launched by a group of Iranian women's organizations after security forces brutally broke up a peaceful equal rights demonstration in Tehran in June 2006 –- viciously beating and arresting dozens of people.

For the petition campaign, women in Iran are distributing pamphlets to other Iranian women describing current laws. The campaign also sponsors a website. A grass roots effort, the campaign has the support of prominent Iranian women as well, such as Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi and renowned poet Simin Behbahani.

But just as peaceful demonstrations for equal rights in Iran have proved dangerous, so has participation in the petition campaign. Recently, three female journalists who are active in the campaign were arrested and interrogated at Evin prison. Tala't Taghinia, Mansoureh Shojaie, and Farnaz Seify had their homes ransacked, their computers and notes stolen, and now face prosecution by the Iranian government. Other participants have also been arrested, lost jobs, had their telephones tapped, and been barred from traveling abroad.

President George W. Bush has said that the just treatment and full participation of women are essential for any society's success:

"As women become a part of the democratic process, they help spread freedom and justice, and most importantly of all, hope for a future."

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack speaking of the repression of women, as well as other groups, by the Iranian government, said, "The U.S. calls on the Iranian regime to cease the systematic oppression of its citizens, [and] respect the human rights of all Iranian people."