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<nettime> There is a third voice in Iran: Documentary by Rakhshan Bani-e
Gita Hashemi on Mon, 13 Jul 2009 08:43:13 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> There is a third voice in Iran: Documentary by Rakhshan Bani-etemad about women's activism in the lead up to elections

There Is a Third Voice in Iran
Review of "We Are Half of Iran" by Rakhshan Bani-etemad, released on 
YouTube, Spring 2009

By Gita Hashemi
[Feel free to distribute.]


[This documentary is in Farsi and is not subtitled yet.]

In this documentary - made over the 2-3 months prior to the elections 
and released online just a week before the election - feminist 
Iranian filmmaker Rakhshan Bani-etemad 
(http://iranianstudies.ca/privatelives/000432.html) interviews a 
large number of women political personalities, researchers and 
women's rights activists from diverse political/ideological 
formations who work in a wide range of areas of research and activism 
using different methodologies. The film also briefly looks at the 
activist coalitions that were created this spring in order to take 
advantage of the brief opening in the public sphere during the 
presidential campaign for discussing women's agenda and their needs 
and demands.  A common question she asks the activists is what 
demands they have of the presidential candidates and on what basis 
they will decide who to vote for. The footage is then played back to 
3 out of 4 candidates (Ahmadinejad did not respond to Bani-etemad's 
invitation to participate), and the candidates respond to women's 

Briefly, the majority of activists - from Islamic to secular 
nationalist and/or leftist orientations - demand fundamental changes 
to the discriminatory legal and political frameworks in Iran 
including changing the constitution. Other demands include joining 
the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination 
Against Women (Islamic Republic of Iran is not a signatory yet), 
opening social and political opportunities for women, guaranteeing 
the right of women to organize politically, several social policy 
demands including social spending, equal righs to education for 
women, etc.  The common denominator is EQUAL RIGHTS in all areas of 
social life.

In their responses to these demands, the 3 candidates - Karoubi, 
Mousavi and Rezayi - and their advisors and/or wives, while 
acknowledging women's active contribution to socio-political life and 
paying lip service to some of the issues raised by women, stop short 
of formulating any concrete responses to concrete questions asked of 
them. Most interesting is Mousavi's response. He insists that given 
the "traditional" dominant culture in Iran, any solutions to women's 
issues have to be in adherence with traditions. His conservatism 
comes hard even to his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, who jumps in at one 
point to say that nevertheless the executive branch has both 
responsibilities and means of changing some of the laws and 

What this documentary helps to highlight is the broad-based highly 
organized and diverse women's rights movement in Iran - by no means a 
homogeneous movement - and the impact of women's activism in changing 
the political discourse in Iran toward broader mobilization of the 
people in the political process.  Over the past few weeks, many 
Western commentators (including, to my dismay, Robert Fisk) have 
expressed 'surprise' at the presence of women on the streets. Such 
commentaries show complete lack of familiarity with and understanding 
of the grass roots political dynamics in the country.  This 
documentary shows a highly dynamic home-grown women's rights movement 
that has, over at least a decade of overt activism and 3 decades of 
resistance, created the socio-cultural conditions for women to 
participate not just as so many bodies in street demonstrations, but 
as important voices in the political discourse. It is no accident 
that some of these activists were amongst the first to be arrested 
immediately as the post-election uprising started. Many of their 
offices have been under attack, activists and lawyers arrested, 
families harassed and threatened (these attacks have been ongoing for 
several years).  Western journalists may be oblivious but the 
guardians of the Islamic Republic are quite clear that it is this 
persistent daily activism which has directly contributed to the 
massive shift in the country's political culture including the 
possibility of mass political action.

In spite of their broad participation in the 1979 Revolution, women 
were the first group to come under attack after the establishment of 
the Islamic Republic of Iran which - within a month after the 
revolution - started regressive processes to limit severely women's 
legal rights and social opportunities. Mandatory veiling was the 
symbol of a very broad campaign against women in both public and 
private spheres. Women were also the first group to stage resistance 
in spring of 1979 in defense of their democratic rights through mass 
demonstrations against mandatory veiling and the abolition of the 
family protection act which guaranteed certain rights, including 
right to divorce and custody of children, for women. Over the past 
ten years, by articulating fundamental challenges to the constitution 
of the Islamic Republic in demanding equal rights for women, and 
through highly creative and diverse forms of social and political 
engagement/activism, the women's rights activists have mounted one of 
the most serious and radical campaigns for change in Iran.

While the world media focuses on street demonstrations and/or 
behind-the-curtain negotiations between political factions and 
presidential candidates and their cleric supporters/foes, once again 
we are facing the erasure of women's voices from the political 
discourse in Iran and its reflection in the world. Women's movement 
in Iran is not a U.S. 'Feminist Majority' export, it didn't start in 
June 2009, and it is not a momentary engagement. It is NOT ENOUGH to 
rally around the face of a female accidental victim of state 
violence, Neda Aghasoltan. What is ESSENTIAL now is to recognize and 
support the organized and articulate women's voices for change. This 
is the "third voice" in Iran. Become familiar with it. Amplify it. 
Broadcast it.

Start here: http://www.forequality.info/english/

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