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Women's Rights Activists In Iran

As the world prepares to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, the Iranian government continues to persecute Iranian women who peacefully promote equal rights in Iran. Last month, Tehran-based journalist and human rights activist Parvin Ardalan was named winner of the prestigious Olof Palme prize for her work on behalf of gender equality in her country. But this month government authorities refused to allow her to travel to Sweden to receive her award; Ms. Ardalan’s passport was confiscated moments before her scheduled flight to Stockholm.

Ms. Ardalan is a founding member of the Campaign for Equality, which seeks to collect one million signatures in favor of changing Iran’s discriminatory gender laws. For her part in organizing a demonstration in June 2006, she was convicted in April 2007 of acting against national security. She has appealed her sentence of six months in prison, with an additional thirty months suspended for five years. In a recent interview, Ms. Ardalan, said, “We [women’s rights defenders] know there is a price to pay.” But, she says, the goal is crucial. “I want a humanitarian society – a better situation for those who are being discriminated against.”

Iranian human rights lawyer and Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi recently described some of the laws in Iran that, she says, “institutionalize prejudice.” “In Iran,” wrote Ms. Ebadi, “a woman’s evidence in court is worth half that of a man. Men can have multiple wives, while young girls can be married off to older men by their fathers. Sentences of stoning to death for adultery are still imposed disproportionately on women. . .We are a nation bursting with female ability but one hobbled by legalized prejudice and social bigotry.”

Shirin Ebadi says Iran should be proud of the courageous women who seek to change discriminatory laws in Iran. “Instead,” she writes, “the authorities are out to get them. . . .Dozens of equality campaigners in Iran are either already behind bars or facing imprisonment.”

Iranian author Azar Nafisi says it is the duty of free people around the world to speak out against the Iranian government's abuse of women's rights activists:

"Let the [Iranian] regime know that the world knows about it, and the world will not tolerate it."

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement that the U.S. "stands with the women of Iran, who courageously struggle for their universal rights and justice in their country."