Victims of Ancient Ideas

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Women are often thought to be religious, conservative and reluctant to change. For example many sisters including Iranians who have been in this country for some time, still believe that Iranian women who in their thousands took part in the so-called Islamic revolution did so because they were superstitiously religious and wanted to bring about an Islamic order of society. But this is far from the truth.

For many people in Iran, it seemed logical that any government which succeeded that of the late Shah, would be democratic and that Khomeini’s main aim would be to bring about an improvement in economic conditions for working people. To some extent women were interested in aspects of Islam but what they had in mind was very different to what Khomeini and his provisional government intended, and many women feel that they have been cheated by his policies.

To our sisters in Iran (though not any longer) an end to poverty, starvation and homelessness seemed in sight. Most important of all, an end to torture of their sisters and brothers in the Shah’s prisons seemed certain.

Steadily, as women realised that Khomeini’s regime was not going to bring about any significant changes, they joined their brothers and have now started a vicious and bloody campaign against his rule. Amongst the hundred that have been executed in recent days are many women who were and are either supporters of the Islamic organisation ‘Mojahedin’ or other opposition groups, or are simply fighting at the risk of their lives against wearing the compulsory veil. On 9 August 1981, it is reported in the Iranian daily paper that in Oroomiyeh, North West of Iran, two women were arrested and sentenced to 30 lashes for the crime of wearing no veil and distributing leaflets against the requirement to wear the veil. In September, the same paper reports the arrest of 60 women, some of whom were sent to the firing squad.

To reinforce the point I am trying to make I reprint extracts from a letter sent to the only women’s magazine currently published in Iran, ‘Zan-e-Rooz’. The magazine observes the press censorship, so the letter has almost certainly been edited substantially.

The anonymous writer is a 17 year old woman, who is clearly still awaiting the revolution. She lives in one of the many remote and far-flung villages of Khozestan. Perhaps her remoteness from the capital and the rapid historical changes that take place in industrial cities could explain why she has not yet lost hope in the present rulers of Iran. She wants them to open their eyes and see her oppressive position in her village and put an end to the ‘non-revolutionary’ conditions in which she and her women friends are living. To her mind Islamic Government should act in a revolutionary way and that seems to bring about a drastic change in the position of women in society.

‘I am a 17 year old girl who lives in one of the very hot parts of Khozestan. My aim in writing this letter is to acquaint you with our customs and rites and I beg you to publish it.

‘In our clan still it is the custom that girls do not have the right to choose their own husbands. We girls have to marry men within our family circles and freedom on this most natural right of ours is denied to us. And worse there are still very many families that think educations is not suitable for girls and stop their daughters from going to schools, and do not like the idea of us women going to work. Why is this so? For how much longer are these ancient rites and customs that belong to barbarian times going to remain untouched.

‘I, as one of many individuals in my society who are victims of these ancient ideas, put my hand towards you for help and in case you are still living in a dream-world to awaken you, and remind you of your responsibility to respond to the needs of your society.’

Behjat Rezael
Women’s Voice
November 1981
Issue 57 pp.12

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