It’s been two years since a group of Iranian women started a project called The Campaign for Equality. The campaign’s goal is to educate Iranians about the government’s discriminatory gender laws, and to work peacefully to eradicate those laws. A major initiative of the campaign has been a drive to collect one million signatures in support of changing Iran’s discriminatory laws, which put women at a disadvantage in matters relating to marriage, child custody, inheritance, as well as in courts of law where a woman’s word is worth half that of a man’s.
Members of the Campaign for Equality and other women’s rights defenders are the targets of increasing repression by the Iranian regime. Amnesty International cites government blocking of members’ websites, threatening phone calls from the Ministry of Intelligence to campaigners’ homes, dozens of arrests, and sentences of lashings and prison.
Most recently, human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi announced that four prominent activists and campaign members, Maryam Hosseinkhah, Nahid Keshavarz, Jelveh Javaheri, and Parvin Ardalan have received six-month prison sentences for contributing to banned websites. In August, an Iranian appeals court confirmed a four- year prison sentence for Zeinab Bayzeydi, a Kurdish Iranian women’s rights defender. Two other Kurdish Iranian supporters of the signature drive, Hana Abdi and Ronak Safarzadeh are also in prison, charged with crimes against national security.
Although under threat, Iranian women rights defenders have not abandoned their goals, and they can point to a rare victory. On September 1st, Iran’s parliament indefinitely postponed a vote on legislation that women’s rights defenders said would further erode women’s rights in marriage, by allowing, among other provisions, a man to take additional wives without his first wife’s consent.
Iranian author Azar Nafisi says the Iranian regime’s harsh treatment of women’s rights defenders is a sign of failure. "The government has used jails, flogging, fines, all the means of repression as well as propaganda to make women act a certain way,” said Ms. Nafisi. “It has been so ineffectual that almost three decades after the revolution they still have to put women in jail."
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the U.S. "stands with the women of Iran, who courageously struggle for their universal rights."