Machonews March 2021: A Snapshot of Gender Inequality Politics in Iran

April 9, 2021, 4:05 p.m.

Welcome to the March 2021 Machonews English newsletter covering the most significant gender and women's rights-related events and policies in the Islamic Republic of Iran this month. This monthly newsletter is produced by Macholand, a project by Spectrum, a queer feminist NGO (Association 1901) based in France. 

The Trafficking of Iranian Girls 

In her first interview in the Iranian New Year, Masoumeh Ebtekar, Hassan Rouhani's Deputy for Women and Family Affairs, reported that some Arab countries were trafficking Iranian girls and traded and sex workers. Ebtekar said the only solution was to inform families and young girls about the situation without blaming the authorities. Iranian women and girls are systematically trafficked by criminal gangs, with state officials providing immunity or outright taking part. According to Ebtekar, some of this smuggling took place in Arab countries, although it also took place in non-Arab countries. The US Department of State has said that the regime "did not report anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, and officials continued to perpetuate trafficking crimes with impunity, including sex trafficking of adults and children."

Women's Rights Activists Earning International Recognition

Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer and political prisoner, was chosen for the Simone Veil Prize. The prize is given to women whose work has demonstrated "innovation, creativity, solidarity, and courage" in honor of Simone Veil, a French lawyer, politician, and women's rights activist. Sotoudeh was granted a temporary prison leave and is now spending time with her family. 

Iranian human rights activist and former political prisoner, Narges Mohammadi, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace PrizeIran International reported that the chairman of Amnesty International human rights organization in Norway announced that two Norwegian parliament members had nominated Mohammadi for the prize. The Oslo-based organization had received 329 candidates for the award, the third-highest number of candidates ever. "It reflects a lot of national interest," said Olav Njoestand, the Secretary of the Nobel Committee. "It probably also reflects that there are a number of unsolved conflicts, wars, and human rights problems in the world." 

Shohreh Bayat, an international chess referee and professor at the International Chess Federation, received the State Department's Brave Women Award. Bayat, a former secretary of the Iranian Chess Federation, resigned in late October of 2016, was forced to leave Iran and sought refuge in Britain. 

The publication of Bayat's photos without a headscarf in the Iranian media caused her trouble. Her father, Kiomars Bayat, was forced by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to resign as the Guilan Chess Federation head as punishment. Bayat is the only female International Chess Referee ranked 'A' in Asia and the World Chess Federation Referees Commission's chair. The International Women of Courage Award is given annually by the US government to women who have dedicated themselves to changing people's lives in their countries. The State Department awarded 21 women from different countries, including Belarus, Cameroon, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Venezuela. 

Women Assaulted In Iranian Prisons

Narges Mohammadi also declared that she was physically assaulted by male guards and a prison director at Evin Prison, despite Islamic laws enforced in Iran stating that men should not touch women to whom they are not related. "How come you do not have to obey Islamic laws [in prison]? So what you've seen saying [about the need to uphold Islamic rules] was a lie," she said. "I protest against assault by the Islamic establishment's men against women, and I won't be silenced," Mohammadi said in the video, where she also mentioned jailed environmentalist Niloufar Bayani, who has accused her interrogators of torturing and intimidating her with sexual assault. The Islamic Republic is yet to acknowledge these accusations. 

International Women's Rights Day Protests

Iran has been oppressing women activists on March 8th, International Women's Rights Day, for many years, but this year, they held small rallies in several cities to celebrate. They demonstrated their presence through symbolic gatherings, parades, public appearances, public speeches, and the publication and distribution of awareness leaflets. This year's protests showed that women are actively fighting for their rights not only in the capital but across the nation. 

On March 4th, a ceremony took place in Saqqez, with the participation of women's equality activists and lectures on topics including violence against women, collaborators and burners, and unemployment and inflation. On March 6th, women activists in Tehran held posters with the slogan "Solidarity against Inequality, Poverty, and Discrimination" in celebration of International Women's Day. These activists held signs demanding free, universal, and nondiscriminatory education, fertility control, and protesting against the denial of asylum to marginalized women.

One of Tehran's parks was taken over by several women activists from the feminist activism group, Arazm, accompanied by several Karaj women activists who held placards and explained to passing pedestrians the significance of Women's Day. Simultaneously, several female students gathered in front of Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, held placards of their demands, and celebrated International Women's Day. On March 7th, the distribution of reproductive rights brochures began in different parts of Tehran. 

During a candid conversation with women of different ages, the importance of talking about the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy, restriction on access to reproductive health services, the impact of unwanted pregnancies, the effect of unhealthy abortions, etc. discussed. The booklets were distributed in different south and center areas, including hotspots like Enghelab street and Fatemi square and some popular cafes and hangouts. 

Women activists in Isfahan also celebrated March 8th by raising posters containing Iranian women's demands, despite the escalation of anti-Semitic remarks by some local officials, including one of Isfahan's Friday prayer imams. Despite the security concerns arising from the words of the Friday Imams of Isfahan and the surrounding cities in opposition to women's cycling and rock climbing, the women of this city continued to assert their inalienable rights to sports that are not acceptable from the point of view of Imams. 

On Sunday, March 8th, several women activists in Bandar Anzali, in the Gilan province, celebrated Women's Day with posters supporting women's rights. The signs, accompanied by the central slogan "Women's Solidarity Against Inequality, Poverty, and Violence," emphasized human livelihood, the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy, and fertility control. They also protested against anti-female laws and violence against women by holding a photo of Romina Ashrafi, a girl murdered by her father in the same province last year. 


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