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By Safa Haeri

STOCKHOLM (IPS) The first all female conference on the subject of the "Situation of Women in Iran" held recently in Stockholm, Sweden, highlighted the chronic, sometimes tragic contradictions between Islamic canons dating from 1400 years ago with modern civic laws, as is the case in Islam-ruled Iran in particular and Muslim societies in general, with the people, mostly women, the victims .
Organised by "Medusa", a monthly magazine affiliated with the Iranian Communist-Workers Party (ICWP), a secular, if not atheist organisation, the conference saw Mrs Azar Majedi, editor of Medusa who is also the wife of Mr. Mansour Hekmat, the leader of ICWP flanked by Mrs. Mahnaz Afkhami, President of the Washington-based International Solidarity Organisation and a former Minister for Women's Affairs under the Monarchy that was toppled in 1979 by an Islamic revolution and Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, a prominent nationalist lawyer in Tehran who is a defence for some political and religious activist personalities such the hojatoleslam Mohsen Sa'idzadeh, a dissident cleric who was defrocked after he denounced some Islamic laws or Mr. Abbas Amir Entezam, Iran's longest political prisoner .
Reflecting the basic differences between the personalities of participants, the conference heard sharply conflicting views, ranging from a radical approach to the subject as proposed by Mrs. Majedi to a "step by step" policy aimed at changing the system from within, an idea defended by Mrs. Ebadi .
What positively surprised independent observers present as the meeting was the high level of key notes, the frankness of the exchanges, the democratic atmosphere surrounding the conference and above all the behaviour of the audience that despite its leftist inclination, would not hesitate to warmly applaud for Mrs. Afkhami, a Monarchist, or Mrs. Ebadi, a Muslim Iranian who would caution against any radical confrontation that would be a "repeat of the mistake made in 1979" .
Below are excerpts of an interview carried with Mrs. Majedi, the organiser of the conference .
Iran Press Service - Mrs Majedi, what is the purpose of this conference ?
Azar Majedi - The aim of the Conference is to examine the situation of women in Iran. As everybody knows, for almost twenty years Iranian women live under a sexual apartheid, with almost no rights. At the same time, a strong struggle led by both the women themselves and opposition forces fighting for freedom and equality of sexual rights is underway .
As the challenge intensifies in Iran, the question of women, their rights and their freedom as the most important political, social and cultural problem of the country must be address by all Iranians, including the opposition outside .
Anyone who thinks that there must be changes in this society, that the present regime must be booted out, he must also have the proper answer to this basic question of women, meaning what do we mean by sexual freedom and equality of rights and how one can achieve these goals .
We at Medusa, we thought that the first step must be taken by women themselves and that's why we decided to invite some leading women experts representing different schools of thought and ideologies, women that fight, that care and that work towards this end, to come and sit together, open a dialogue in the hope of finding a possible answer .
The fact is that when we talk about freedom of women or the equality of their rights with men, not all of us think the same way, as each ideology has a different approach to the question .
For instance, we as a maximalist socialist movement think that women all over the world, whether living in an Islamic society or not, must have the same rights, that there should be no differences between the rights of let's say Swedish women with the Iranians. Culture, religion, traditions etc. nothing, nowhere must play a limiting role .
IPS - Miss Majedi, you belong to a communist organisation that has a very clear-cut position concerning the Islamic Republic. Your organisation is absolutely secular and atheist and as such accepts no compromises, like some other leftist groups do. So, the question is that how such an anti-women regime lets leading activists and dissidents women like Mrs Shirin Ebadi and Mehranguiz Kar to take part in a conference organised by you ?
A M- I think that the balance of forces has changed in Iran. There is no doubt that six, seven years ago, we could never imagine organising a conference with the participation of the women mentioned. The change has taken place not because the Islamic Republic has become more liberal, more democratic, but because the people have forced it to yield, to accept compromise .
The other reason is that the regime can also take some advantages by authorising these ladies to come, claiming it is not that dictatorial as portrayed .
IPS - Don't you think that your conference suffers from the absence of some women like Mrs. Fa'ezeh Hashemi who also fights for the freedom of women, even though she accepts the Islamic constitution ?
A M - No, we shall never allow pawns of the regime, those who are integral part of the system's machine of violence, of murder, of executions, of dictatorship to come outside and put on a liberal and democratic mask to better whitewash the Islamic Republic. Our policy concerning that category of women has been clear and open. Mind you that we stopped a meeting that was organised in Holland with the presence of Mrs. Fa'ezeh .
IPS - …But she also is fighting. She also is a strong woman challenging the orthodox mullahs on their own ground, as we saw recently when she stood up to the ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi .
A M - No, we start from a position and not from a sexual point of view. Those we have invited are not identified with the apartheid regime of Iran. But Fa'ezeh Hashemi is an important personality in this regime and as such any dialogue with her is out of question.
IPS - Do you think in a country or countries like Iran that are ruled or are under the influence of Islam, one can accomplish the ideals that you defend ?
A M - No. As I said in my speech, one of the most stumbling blocs against the freedom of women in Iran is the ruling theocracy. The difference of this Islam with the one before the revolution is that this one is political, with its police, armies, prisons, revolutionary guards, justice, hezbollah, militia that suppresses people. This is a different Islam. As a result, we fight this regime on two fronts: political and religious. If Islam would not have been in power and would not imposed its rules on the people, our struggle against Islam would have been of different nature. Our struggle is not against the Muslims, be it orthodox, but against a political regime based on religion. There can't be compromises with a regime that has made sexual apartheid, humiliation of women it's own identity .
IPS - In your opinion, how many Iranian women would endorse your appeal ?
A M - I'm sure that once this regime disappears, one can see the extent of de-islamisation in Iran, most particularly among women. I think many women, probably a majority, mostly the young ones, those who fight for freedom, for sexual equality, for modernism and modernity agree with our views .
IPS - Don't you think one has to start by addressing the question of religion and Islam in Iran's case, by enlightening, awakening the people, by making away with Islamic taboos ?
A M - First, one has to get rid of this regime. As for Islam, we, as a secular movement that is against the oneness of politic and religion, that considers religion as an individual matter, that think that no one has the right to violate the rights of his wife or children even at home in the name of Islam, we are already engaged. ENDS MAJEDI 1759901


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last update: 11/18/2016 6:14