It Starts with A Dream…

May 13, 2009 at 9:14 am | Posted in world | Leave a comment
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By Roya Kashefi from Feminist School

About two weeks ago, sitting behind my computer early one morning in London , I received an email inviting me to support a Coalition formed by several groups within the larger women’s movement in Iran . The accompanying leaflet went to great lengths explaining that the Coalition’s purpose was not to support the elections, a particular candidate or indeed to encourage anyone to vote in the forthcoming presidential elections. Its sole purpose was to publicise the demands of the Coalition; firstly for the Islamic Republic to unconditionally ratify Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and secondly to amend certain articles within the Constitution.

I thought long and hard about putting my signature to such a move. Personally, I see the forthcoming presidential elections as an insult and abhor the fact that with every vote cast the Islamic regime gains legitimacy in the international game it is playing. I abhor the fact that the people of my country are so desperate that in the hope of things not getting worse they would contemplate participating in elections that are neither fair nor free. In fact, I see the legal and governance structure and the Constitution as the biggest obstacle to democracy in Iran . At the same time I am under no illusion that the Islamic Republic could ever ratify CEDAW or indeed change articles of its Constitution. Quite apart from the fact that such actions do not fall under the president’s so called powers there are two other articles in the Constitution that prohibit such actions and amendments – article 4 and article 177.

Article 4 clearly states that the laws must be according to the Islamic criteria and that, “this principle applies absolutely and generally to all articles of the Constitution as well as to all other laws and regulations”. It explains further that it is the ‘foqaha’ of the Guardian Council who have the power and authority to ascertain this conformity– that is the six clerics appointed personally by the Supreme Leader out of the twelve who form the Guardian Council. Article 177, the very last article in the Constitution, limits to what extent amendments and changes can be made to the Constitution. The last sentence of the article states and I quote, “The contents of the Articles of the Constitution related to the Islamic character of the political system; the basis of all the rules and regulations according to Islamic criteria; the religious footing; the objectives of the Islamic Republic of Iran; the democratic character of the government; the wilayat al-’mr the Imamate of Ummah; and the administration of the affairs of the country based on national referenda, official religion of Iran [Islam] and the school [Twelver Ja’fari] are unalterable”. Furthermore, article 72 even restricts the members of the Majles to enact laws “contrary to the priniples and ahkam of the official religion of the country or to the Constitution”. And once again it makes it “the duty of the Guardian Council to determine whether a violation has occurred”.

Looking at the names of the initial signatories I was in no doubt the members of the Coalition were also aware of the real obstacles to their demands. So, why? What prompted them to form the Coalition at the time of the elections if they were not encouraging women to vote, if they were not supporting a particular candidate and if they were aware of the obstacles? The answer was within the literature. They simply want to take advantage of the media interest domestically and internationally to voice their demands.

Like every step that the women’s movement in Iran has taken, this step too is riddled with controversy. But if thousands of them hadn’t come together on 12 June 2004 , if they hadn’t decided to mark its anniversary in 2005 would they be in a position they are today? Empowered, courageous, and recognised and honoured by the international community – and yet, every day they pay the heavy price of their choice by forfeiting their liberty and freedom.

It is a great source of pride to witness the young generation in Iran , aware of its rights, daring to challenge the system that wants to stifle it. It is a great source of hope for the future of Iran when its young men and women stand together to bring about change.

Who would have thought in the sixties America that within forty years a black man would be in the White House; or, when on the passing of Mandela’s twentieth year in prison the demonstrators came together outside South Africa House in London for an ongoing vigil that lasted seven years they shared what seemed an impossible dream of his freedom …

And, so, it all starts with a simple wish for me the dream of equality and justice for all Iranians. Every victory starts with a dream and so I made a very personal decision of putting aside my thoughts on the Islamic Republic and support the demands of the women’s movement in Iran this time voiced through a Coalition that wants to take advantage of every opportunity to voice its dream – unconditional ratification of CEDAW and changes to the Constitution. Power to them!

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