Over the past three months, there has been a massive outpouring of support around the world for the people of Iran, and especially Iranian women, amid the ongoing nationwide protests sparked by the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in mid-September. From Los Angeles to London and Auckland to Seoul, Iranians and non-Iranians alike have taken to the streets and social media to show their solidarity, echoing the protests’ slogan of “women, life, freedom.” International women’s organizations have played a central role in this effort, backing the protests, condemning the harsh government crackdown and Iran’s discriminatory laws, and pushing for the expansion of rights for women and all Iranians. Here are four things women and women’s organizations around the world have been doing to help.
- Expressing support at the highest levels: On Oct. 26, female foreign ministers from Canada, Albania, Andorra, Australia, France, Germany, Iceland, Kosovo, Libya, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, and Norway put out a strong statement of support for the protesters: “We, as women foreign ministers, are gathered in solidarity with the courageous Iranian women engaging in their right of peaceful assembly and advocating for their human rights. We recognize that Iranian women are also fighting for a better future for all Iranians and we have the moral obligation to support them.” The ministers called for a “prompt, impartial, and independent investigation into the use of force” by the Iranian authorities and the repression of demonstrations, including severe internet and telecoms restrictions and excessive use of force. Their statement went on, “As women foreign ministers, we feel a responsibility to echo the voices of Iranian women. We condemn the violent enforcement of the chastity law and the ongoing crackdown against protestors in Iran who exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
- Pushing for legal change: On Sept. 30, international women’s faith groups released a statement signed by more than 80 organizations, activists, academics, and lawyers, including both Muslims and those of other faiths, calling on the Iranian government to repeal Article 638 of the penal code (covering dress and punishment), review and change all laws that discriminate against women, and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Highlighting existing laws that discriminate against women, the statement cited those “that allow girls to get married before 18, that prescribe male guardianship over women, and discount the testimony of women,” among others. The groups also noted that, “Recent polls show that 72% of Iranians do not believe the hijab should be enforced by the government, rather it is a matter of choice for Muslim women.” The signatory women’s organizations are from countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, including the Alliance of Inclusive Muslims, Arab Association for Human Rights, Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocratiques (ATFD), Center for Egyptian Women, Iraqi Women Network, Noor Afghanistan Legal & Social Organization, Syrian Women League, and many others.
- Advocating for the creation of a U.N. fact-finding mission: In mid-October, as the Iranian government ramped up its brutal crackdown on the protests, women’s rights organizations like Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and FEMENA, along with international human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others, began advocating for the U.N. Human Rights Council to hold a special session on the protests and establish an independent mechanism to investigate potential crimes under international law. This session took place on Nov. 24 and resulted in the passage by the U.N. Human Rights Council of a resolution to set up a fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations related to the protests, especially regarding women and children. The mission will gather, analyze, and preserve evidence of violations, including with an eye to future legal proceedings. Several grassroots Iranian women’s organizations have already begun collecting and documenting violence against women and girls, who have been killed on the streets, beaten, raped, and tortured in prison. “By establishing an investigative accountability mechanism, the Council has sent a clear and unequivocal message to the Iranian authorities that they cannot continue with their brutal assault on human life with impunity,” said Quinn McKew, ARTICLE 19’s executive director. Agnès Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said, “This important and long overdue step shows that the cries of people in Iran for justice have finally been heard. … Today’s vote must also serve as a wake-up call for the Iranian authorities to immediately end their all-out militarized attack on demonstrators.”
- Petitioning for Iran’s expulsion from the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women: On Oct. 30, the American non-governmental organization (NGO) Vital Voices International began a campaign calling on U.N. member states to immediately remove the Islamic Republic of Iran from the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, a global intergovernmental body dedicated to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, over its brutal crackdown on the protests. In a statement put out by Vital Voices, the group’s president and CEO, Alyse Nelson, said, “This is an unprecedented woman-led revolution that needs the full support of human rights leaders and organizations, aligned with the member states of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and the broader public to in order to be effective.” The U.S. government has backed the effort to remove Iran from the U.N. commission, with Vice President Kamala Harris releasing a statement on Nov. 2 saying that, “The United States continues to stand with the brave women of Iran as they protest peacefully for their fundamental rights and basic human dignity,” adding that, “Iran has demonstrated through its denial of women’s rights and brutal crackdown on its own people that it is unfit to serve on this Commission.” A vote on the issue in the U.N. is expected on Dec. 14.
Nearly three months on, international support for Iranian women and the protest movement more broadly remains strong, with a diverse array of women’s organizations issuing statements of solidarity and support. This global support not only encourages Iranian women to continue in their fight for freedom, but also it is undermining the international political and moral legitimacy of the Islamic Republic and making its government even more isolated among the nations of the international community. If there is to be any chance for real progress, however, women and men inside Iran and their supporters around the world will need to keep pushing for change.
Dr. Fariba Parsa specializes in the political ideologies of democracy and civil movements in Iran. She is a non-resident scholar with MEI’s Iran Program, works at Yorktown System Groups as a Farsi instructor, and is the founder and president of the nonprofit Women’s E-Learning in Leadership (WELL).
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