Pushing Back, Moving Forward: The Struggle for Gender Equality in Iran

Much has been in the news lately about Roxana Saberi, the Iranian American journalist released from prison Monday after an appeals court in Tehran rejected her sentence of eight years for allegedly spying for the United States.  Yet one of the most underreported stories in Iran is the  women’s movement, which continues to stand strong for gender equality and human rights despite tremendous odds. 

In 2006, Alieh Eghdamdoost and scores of other women’s rights advocates were arrested at a peaceful women’s rights demonstration in Tehran.  Originally sentenced to a prison term of three years, four months and 20 lashes, Eghdamdoost is now serving a three-year sentence, making her the first woman imprisoned for activism on women’s rights in Iran.  While other activists arrested in 2006 faced no charges or were acquitted, Eghdamdoost’s imprisonment sets a dangerous precedent: Dozens of other activists have been detained and prosecuted and are at risk of imprisonment, solely because of their work promoting gender equality.

At present, men have the sole right to divorce and to custody in Iran.  In court, one man’s testimony equals that of two women, and men can ban their wives from working outside the home.  Although the state has taken steps to discourage stoning, it remains in the penal code as punishment for women who commit adultery. 

 The women’s rights movement in Iran is one of the most vibrant social movements in Iran today, with increasing numbers of women mobilizing to challenge the discrimination prescribed in Iran’s legal code.  Yet as the women’s rights movement grows, activists face increased pressure and persecution.

 The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has been working intensely to increase international support for Iranian women and challenge the human rights violations they face.   In addition to arrests, the Campaign reports that advocates have been subjected to illegal searches, travel bans and censorship by authorities.  These actions stand in stark violation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which establishes the right to “promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms…”

“The Iranian women’s movement is growing stronger each day, but is facing severe repression,” said Hadi Ghaemi, coordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.   “They need the support and solidarity of the international women’s right activists.”

The Campaign has called on President Ahmadinejad to reverse the ruling on Eghamdoost’s case, and end the persecution and prosecution of women’s rights activists.   The International Women’s Health Coalition, and our web of allies worldwide, stand strong with the Campaign and women in Iran working to secure every woman’s right to a just and healthy life. You can help by signing a petition to Iranian authorities calling for the release of Alieh Eghdamdoost and ending the persecution and prosecution of women’s rights activists.  Click here to sign the petition, and here to sign up for regular email updates from the Campaign on the situation of Iranian women.


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