March 13, 2014 Hope and change, two of the buzzwords of President Obama’s election campaign (and the campaigns of most incoming leaders) feature prominently in talk concerning Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani amongst the international community. For Iran’s populace and women in particular, however, there have been only two real changes: a change in the regime’s rhetoric and a change in domestic abuses, which have deteriorated even further since Rouhani’s tenure. As for hope, the only real hope that remains for a positive development resides in international action.
It is important to re-assess and re-commit ourselves to equality for 51 percent of the world’s population. That is exactly what the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) did on March 1 in advance of International Women’s Day, with a conference in Paris which I also attended. President-elect of the Iranian resistance Maryam Rajavi gave the keynote address and was joined by an impressive group of speakers and international dignitaries. Attendees included Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada; Michèle Alliot-Marie, former French Minister of Defense, Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Justice; Rita Süssmuth, former President of the Bundestag; Linda Chavez, former White House Director of Public Liaison, and many others from parliaments across Europe.
In the European Parliament we have often raised our voice against mistreatment of women in Iran. I have been particularly concerned with the fate of nearly a thousand women, members of the democratic Iranian opposition PMOI, who are currently kept in unbearable prison-like conditions in Camp Liberty near Baghdad airport. They are systematically attacked by Iraqi forces and threatened with extradition to Iran.
Iran under the new president has re-enforced an archaic, humiliating and inferior status for women. The Iranian regime is by nature a theocratic regime, under the absolute control of a “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose rule, according to Mrs. Rajavi, is “based in the export of terrorism, religious discrimination and misogyny.” Many of the discriminatory bills proposed during Ahmadinejad’s tenure have become law during Rouhani’s “moderate” administration.
Under Rouhani’s regime, families are forced to have more children, men are allowed to marry their adopted daughters, gender quotas are applied in universities, and women are prevented from engaging in 77 fields of study.
While the prospect of replacing a radical, undemocratic, and suppressive regime is difficult to imagine, Maryam Rajavi rightfully maintained an optimistic outlook in her recent address.
“35 years ago a fundamentalist regime came to power in Iran and erected a system of gender apartheid based on eliminating and subjugating women. In opposition to it however, a profoundly democratic movement, which believed in equality and was the antithesis to the fundamentalist order, rose up to overturn and overthrow it.”
This opposition stands in stark contrast to a regime that not only abuses the rights of women, but one that has and continues to be one of the world’s very worst human rights abusers.
A few days ago reports surfaced of a gruesome verdict handed down by the Iranian courts whereby a man was sentenced to eye gouging. This verdict didn’t make the news because it was unjust, it simply appeared because it differs from the more routine punishments of public hanging and severing of hands and feet. This year alone has seen between 80 and 95 public executions during the tenure of Iran’s new “liberal” president.
Abroad, Iran has been responsible for absolutely staggering numbers of deaths. In Syria the regime has been a crucial ally in the slaughter of roughly 140,000 Syrian men, women and children. The Iranian regime has been the worst of neighbors to Iraq, facilitating bombings and massacre of defenseless civilians in Ramadi, Fallujah, Baghdad and throughout the country -- ample evidence exists to tie these attacks to the regime’s Qud’s force.
While these actions are both horrifying and far-reaching, the world need not fall for useless rhetoric. International Women’s Day should be a day that women and men join together to act against a misogynistic Iranian regime and its human rights abuses.
The regime’s actions are acts of desperation. Instability and fear are most often the culprits for such crackdowns, and the world cannot stop economic sanctions now based on one or two promising speeches. It is because of grassroots support and outreach that we’ve gotten this far. We must continue for women, for human rights and for democracy -- the latter makes hope and change possible, and in democracies those words need not be empty rhetoric, they must be a call to action.
Edit Bauer, Member of the European Parliament since 2004, is President of Solidarity Group with Women for Free Iran.
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