“I hope that in the countries where people have risen against dictatorships, they will reflect on and learn from what happened to us in Iran.
I do not agree with the phrase “Arab Spring.” The overthrow of dictatorships is not sufficient in itself. Only when repressive governments are replaced by democracies can we consider the popular uprisings in the Middle East to be a meaningful “spring.”
Since women make up half of the region’s population, any democratic developments must improve the social and legal status of women in the Arab world. It appears the Tunisian society has strong civil institutions, and there is much hope that democracy can take hold there. But in Egypt, many political actors are talking about returning to Islamic law, which could result in a regression of rights for women and girls similar to what we experienced in Iran in 1979. […]
After the revolution—even before drafting a new constitution or establishing parliament—the revolutionary councils changed the laws. When I first read the Islamic Penal Code instituted after the revolution, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The drafters of this document had effectively taken us back 1,400 years.
Before the revolution, I was a presiding judge. When the revolution broke out, I was initially on the side of the revolutionaries and I believed in their cause. I was shocked when the revolutionaries decided that women could no longer hold my position. I was demoted to secretary—while many of my male colleagues who were not as professionally qualified were appointed judges. In the “green movement” protests after June 2009’s disputed presidential elections, the world witnessed how many Iranian women were on the streets, and how strong our feminist movement is. More than 65% of university students are women, many university professors are women, and women are present in all important and sensitive social positions.
However, the law that is being enforced in Iran today does not consider women to be full human beings. Instead, it ascribes to women a value half that of a man. The testimony of two women in court equals the testimony of one man, for example. A man can marry four wives and can divorce his wife at will, but initiating divorce can be very difficult for a woman. A married woman even needs her husband’s written consent to travel.
These discriminatory and misogynistic laws are not Islamic and cannot be found in the Quran. Iranian women from all walks of life oppose these laws—which is one reason why women are in the front lines of every protest.
Many Iranian religious authorities are against these laws. Yet the fundamentalists in power, because they belong to a patriarchal culture, insist on enforcing them. Iranian women are doubly oppressed, both by discriminatory laws and by unjust traditions.”