Saturday, June 27, 2009

'The Barrier is Broken and Women are Throwing Rocks'

The Media Line - Benjamin Joffe-Walt: The iconic images of Iran's elections: a young woman in full hijab hurling stones at riot police, the wives of reformist candidates actively and aggressively campaigning and a shot woman named Neda bleeding profusely out of her mouth, slowly dying on video.

For a male-dominated political event - an election between four men, in a poll controlled by a Guardian Council of 12 men, in a country run by a male supreme leader, women have played an eye-catching, almost dramatic role both in the Iranian elections and the succeeding unrest.

"The sheer number of females that have either been hurt or killed show that women were in the front line of the recent demonstrations," Kianoosh Sanjari, an influential Iranian blogger, told The Media Line. "For the first time since the Islamic revolution, women felt they could make a difference and have their voices heard without stepping outside of the Islamic boundaries."

"Women have even taken the step of asking reformist clerics for advice on how their rights can be protected while remaining within the boundaries of Islam," Sanjari continued. "The barrier is broken; women now feel empowered not only to throw rocks, but to make an impact on society as a whole."

Sanjari argued that it was the shooting of a woman - Neda Soltan - during the demonstrations that sparked international outrage about the protests. "Her death and strength also pushed and forced world leaders, such as Obama, to discuss the human rights violations that the people, including the women, were facing."

Symbols of transformation in Iranian gender relations were apparent early in the election campaigns, as presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi openly asserted the need for greater rights for women: he called for an end to legalized gender discrimination, an increase in women's participation in Iranian workplaces and politics and a curb in the powers of religious police.

To differing degrees, the other opposition candidates followed suit and for the first time since the Islamic revolution, women's rights entered public discourse.

Many analysts have credited defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi's wife Zahra Rahnavard with spearheading the gender change.

"Many compared the role of Rahnavard with Michelle Obama," Sanjari said, referring to the United States First Lady. "She has become a symbol for the women's rights movement.

Kourosh Ziabari, an Iranian journalist and the political correspondent at Foreign Policy Journal, agreed. "Zahra Rahnavard has played a significant role in persuading and encouraging the young women of Iran to take part in the elections," Ziabari said. "Zahnavard's coalition with one of the most prominent female political activists of Iran, Masoumeh Ebtekar, who was the first female vice-president of Iran under Mr. Khatami, created a vigorous enthusiasm and zealousness among the young women in Iran."

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