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Tahirih Danesh

Senior Adviser

Tahirih T Danesh focuses on increasing enjoyment of socioeconomic rights and development in private and third sector entities. Particularly passionate about young marginalised and minority communities, she is a serial civic entrepreneur, an advocate of the United Nations Global Compact Principles and a member of The 30% Club. Raised and inspired by some of the most impactful figures who helped shape the rise of her native Iran, following her escape to the west, she has lived and worked with a third of the world's cultures. She teaches human rights law, serves as the Executive Director of a niche foundation, and assists as an advisor to a number of charities and StartUps.She seeks and welcomes opportunities to promote learning and earning through spoken and written words, but remains most passionate about elevating shared consciousness through practical approaches to complex processes.Tahirih Danesh holds a PhD in law and has contributed to a range of publications, including in human rights, policy and education.

Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 7068 [post_author] => 14 [post_date] => 2023-09-16 11:53:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2023-09-16 10:53:15 [post_content] => On a hot summer day in 1983, the Islamic Republic authorities hanged 17 year old Mona Mahmoudnezhad. Her crime? Teaching morality to children. On another hot summer day, this time in 2022, the Islamic Republic authorities induced the death of 23 year old Mahsa Amini while in custody. Her crime? Displeasing morality officers. Mona and Mahsa, two young women representing Iran’s most persecuted religious and ethnic communities, those of Baha’is and Kurds, lived in a land troubled by a state which employs its brand of morality as an interchangeable tool for an ever-widening spectrum of human rights violations. Over the four bloodied decades in Iran’s most recent history, millions of Iranians have faced the same fate as Mona and Mahsa. From arbitrary arrests to mass executions, from summary trials to fatal rapes, from attacks on the streets to war crimes, the Islamic Republic has made a concerted effort to fill cemeteries across the nation with Iran’s children, often in the absence of witnesses or burial rites. The earliest targets of the Islamic Republic and its followers enraged with revolutionary fervour, were minorities and marginalised communities. Branded as spies or satanic, Baha’is and Kurds were the tip of an ever-growing iceberg of target communities subjected to unmentionable violence and suffering, much of which the international community had yet to categorise and codify. Take Mona for instance. While her case in 1983 globalised the Islamic Republic’s ruthless maltreatment of its children, it was not until 1989 that the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child provided the legal framework through which Mona’s and many other cases could be deciphered and delineated accordingly.[1] Although that will never bring back Mona, or thousands of other children detained, tortured and executed by Islamic Republic authorities, it has helped millions readily recognise recent patterns that in a matter of months helped UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, Dr Javaid Rehman, identify Mahsa as part of a series of state-sponsored policies and practices implicating the Islamic Republic in ‘crimes against humanity’. [2] The legalese may mean little to those whose loved ones never came home, never graduated, never had the chance to marry or lead a typical life. But their lives were not cut short in vain. Their deaths not only developed the legal framework necessary to hold violators accountable, they also helped change post-revolutionary cultural dynamics far more than ever imagined. The same nation that once upon a time fell for the Islamic Republic’s divisive rhetorics by placing Kurds, Azeris or Baluch on the periphery, or accepted Baha’is, Jews and Zoroastrians as enemies of God, are increasingly open to being a collective ‘us’ rather than ‘us and them’. The same nation that once zealously aided the morality police raze the holiest site of Baha’is to the ground in Shiraz, marches shoulder to shoulder chanting ‘Baha’i, Baha’i, we support you’. The same nation that once mistreated all Kurds as disposable vigilantes, has ablazed the globe with its cries of ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ in Jina Mahsa’s honour. Indeed, millions of Iranians of all ethnic and belief backgrounds are now standing up. They’re not giving up. We are not giving up. Whether writing the first report on Iranian children’s executions in 2009, or now writing together to defend the lives of all Iranians, coalition or no coalition, transitional justice or not, we join our kin who are dancing, singing, calling, petitioning, painting, writing and seeking a life defined by a new form of morality, one centred around life and freedom for all Iranians. Why? Because our story is one. In February 1983 the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz that executed Mona and her cellmates, accidentally sent an internal circular to its local newspaper. Khabar-i Junub mistakenly published the circular highlighting a call by the Head of Court stating “I warn the Baha’is, come to the bosom of Islam,” or essentially face demise.[3] Emblematic of the Islamic Republic’s national policies, the call is meant to impose the state’s narrow version of morality by unleashing violence on one of the most diverse nations on earth. In February 2023, the Special Rapporteur called on the Islamic Republic to come to the bosom of morality in law and policy.[4] He emphasised the need to “immediately end all forms of violence, torture and ill-treatment” of Iranians by issuing “urgent instructions to all law enforcement and prison authorities”. Dr Rehman also called on the rest of the world’s leaders to “prioritise human rights issues” when dealing with Islamic Republic authorities. Reminiscent of the 1994 debates around whether mass murders in Rwanda amounted to genocide or simply crimes against humanity, key governments have frozen in a sort of political déjà vu, justifying their inaction on prioritising human rights issues on a convenient curiosity as to whether the events emblazoning Iran and enveloping the globe is a revolution or simply post Jina Mahsa mourning? The answer may be neither. Iran’s contemporary history sets a clear pattern of redefining historical processes. Iran’s Mona and Mahsa represent two protagonists in a process of change that is slowly evolving Iranians, their neighbouring communities, and sympathisers around the globe for a new culture. One beckoning leaders and citizens everywhere to a new era in justice, equality and progress. To help strengthen this process of change, and perhaps as a response to those caught in their chosen déjà vu, the Baha’is have launched the #OurStoryIsOne campaign, uniting not only Mona and Mahsa, but millions of others seeking life and freedom. They have called on all artists and others benefitting from collective consciousness to carry forward this quest for life and freedom between June 2023 and 2024. While this campaign marks the 40th anniversary of execution for Mona and her cellmates, many the same age as Mahsa, its main aim is to expedite a process of change expressed through the arts, the very forms of arts that young Iranians dance, sing, call, petition, paint, or die for in order to demonstrate to the world that they will no longer let the Islamic Republic fill Iran’s cemeteries with their children. That is simply far from morality. We along with our brothers and sisters stretching from Iran to South Africa, from Sudan to Iraq, from Afghanistan to Rwanda, call on leaders and citizens alike to stand together, commemorate the millions of Monas and Mahsas in our midst, and mark their anniversaries by committing to prioritise human rights as the code of morality in promises and policies, and help promote and protect life and freedom for all Iranians, for all humankind. Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay is a International Human Rights Activist, Author, and Co-Founder of the non-profit Stop Child Executions.  Dr. Tahirih Danesh is a FPC Senior Advisor, Lecturer in Human Rights Law & Executive Director of the Persia Educational Foundation.  Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre. [1] United Nations Human Rights High Commission, Convention on the Rights of the Child, September 1990, https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-rights-child[2] A/HRC/52/67: Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran - Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javaid Rehman, United Nations Human Rights High Commission, February 2023, https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/country-reports/ahrc5267-situation-human-rights-islamic-republic-iran-report-special[3] Archives of Bahá’ì Persecution in Iran, Khabar-e Jonoob newspaper: Friday Imam of Shiraz on Baha’i treachery, June 1983, https://iranbahaipersecution.bic.org/archive/khabar-e-jonoob-newspaper-friday-imam-shiraz-bahai-treachery[4] A/HRC/52/67: Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran - Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javaid Rehman, United Nations Human Rights High Commission, February 2023, https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/country-reports/ahrc5267-situation-human-rights-islamic-republic-iran-report-special [post_title] => Op-Ed - Mona & Mahsa: 40 years apart what their deaths tell us about protecting the life and freedom of Iranians [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => op-ed-mona-mahsa-40-years-apart-what-their-deaths-tell-us-about-protecting-the-life-and-freedom-of-iranians [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-16 11:53:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-16 10:53:15 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=7068 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6765 [post_author] => 39 [post_date] => 2023-03-08 17:42:30 [post_date_gmt] => 2023-03-08 16:42:30 [post_content] => What can we do in response to the toxic gassing of thousands of female students and those risking their lives to advance the values behind the expression “Woman, Life, Freedom”? 

As we mark International Women’s Day 2023, more than 1,000, overwhelmingly female students in over 90 schools in 20 provinces in Iran have been injured and hospitalised on account of targeted gas attacks in mainly schools for girls.[1] This is the latest in a series of converted attacks that started on 30 November 2022 and continues until today.[2]

 On 6 March the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, spoke out against the attacks and its criminality. Other prominent figures have likewise spoken out; and some are taking action to ensure that all students - mainly females - can attend school without fear of being harmed.[3] At the time of writing, reports stated that a Deputy Interior Minister said that arrests had taken place and that the accused were Gasht-e Ershad, or Morality Police officials (see below). In contrast to the authorities’ apparent inability or unwillingness to take action to protect mainly female students, the Centre for Supporters of Human Rights (CSHR) highlighted officials’ haste to break up gatherings of families seeking action and answers; and their prompt investigation into newspapers seeking to examine the attacks.[5] One 4 March report, for example, while unconfirmed by other sources, stated that security officials detained a 19 year old student, Sarina Mahmoud Salehi, in Karaj, after she had spoken out about the gas attacks.[6] Officials reportedly threatened her with having to confess a role in the attacks. The recent toxic attacks will fuel a fury that will advance for months to come in what appears to be a female-shaped revolution.  There is recognition that security forces the world over need time to assess and investigate criminal activity; that political leaders may appear slow to respond to damaging and harmful events. But the conduct exhibited in this instance is not one in which the authorities are out of step with society and its concerns; it is one in which apparently misogynistic authorities step on swathes of society’s concerns, and members of society themselves, to protect an illusive status quo. The conduct, too, resembles patterns once again unfolding in neighbouring Afghanistan, where Taliban rule is likewise rolling back women’s rights and the place of women in society.  

Is this the state response to Woman, Life, Freedom?

The authorities never bought the narrative that the September 2022 death in custody of Jina (Mahsa) Amini marked a turning point in honouring human dignity and rights accorded to all Iranians, beginning with the country’s women, who were the first to arise against the Islamic Republic’s (IRI) discriminatory policies on this very day in 1979.  

They do not, however, dispute the fact that the Morality Police (Gasht-e Ershad) detained Jina Amini on 13 September 2022 for the alleged improper use of the hijab, or that she died in government custody on 16 September. They differ in that the authorities claim she died of natural causes linked to an underlying health condition; her family, citing her good health, denounce the authorities’ claim. Leaked medical documents indicate that ill-treatment caused her death.

 

On the other hand, officials recognise that her death resulted in nationwide, mainly urban demonstrations into 2023.[7]  The authorities have killed scores of people, including children; targeted women demonstrators; detained close to 15 thousand people and executed at least four.[8] Since September, reports indicated that the authorities were sending secondary school students to ‘psychological centres’ and would only allow them to return to school once ‘reformed’.[9] The Persian call: Zan, Zendegi, Azadi, or Woman, Life, Freedom is at the heart of the demonstrations that have pulsated through every corner of Iran and more than 150 cities around the globe. 

 If the Interior Ministry official is right, the question before us is: are the very organisations whose members killed Jina Amini also those involved in the intentional harming of girl students? If so, it is a new low for the Islamic Republic, amongst a damning catalogue of decades of human rights violations. 

What can the UK authorities, parliamentarians, NGOs do?

People outside of Iran cannot directly do much: international law and practice forbids state acts that could amount to aggression against another state. But we can and must echo and amplify calls for justice on the one hand, and stand with those shaping this historic moment on the other hand.

 

Days ago an Iranian diaspora media outlet, Iran International, had to temporarily relocate to the USA to escape threats of violence expressed by Islamic Republic officials. The IRI has, for years, harassed and threatened BBC journalists and terrorised their families in Iran. Such state-sponsored threats on UK soil should at least make us sit up straight, listen and appreciate what it must be like to a single woman standing up against such repression.

 

In 2018, we wrote that:

Iranian women impose themselves today and every day on state structures in Iran that keep them down. They demand their #MeToo rights and – leaving aside their willingness – paying a price to assert their rights. Iranian women are not victims, they don’t need saving by foreign powers; we are seeing a new, home-grown generation that is amongst the most highly educated in the region; plugged-in and nearly fully charged. This is the promise of the Iran; and indeed the promise for us all, globally.

 As we have seen, women in Iran and women human rights defenders have continued to call for respect and equality - for women, life, freedom. 

On International Women’s Day 2023, let’s use every platform we have access to and raise a call for life and freedom in a constructive and resilient manner. Parliamentarians and NGOs can do exactly this; the FCDO’s Human Rights team can draw attention to women human rights defenders, Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi, both of whom have faced years of imprisonment, marked by occasional, temporary releases. Their ‘crime’? Advancing human rights standards and calling for accountability. Echo their voices.

 

UK officials and Parliamentarians; public figures and - for example - legal professionals, can amplify the calls facilitated by the Center for Human Rights in Iran, in which 20 leading lawyers (including Nasrin Sotoudeh) set out asks to the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to investigate the attacks.[10] They can also engage and promote the work of organisations like FEMENA or the Centre for Supporters of Human RightsWhy? Because, after all, we too cherish Women, Life and Freedom.

  

Drewery Dyke is a FPC Senior Research Fellow, Chairperson for the Rights Realization Centre and Senior Researcher specialising in analysis and international advocacy relating to human rights in The Gulf (GCC), Iran and Afghanistan. He currently works with the Iran-focused Centre for Supporters of Human Rights (CSHR).

 

Tahirih Danesh is a FPC Senior Advisor, Lecturer in Human Rights Law and serves as Executive Director of the Persia Educational Foundation and is the Founding Editor of Iran Human Rights Review.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

 [1] 20 Prominent Iranian Lawyers Call on UN to Investigate School Girl Poisonings, Center for Human Rights in Iran, 6 March 2023. https://iranhumanrights.org/2023/03/20-prominent-iranian-lawyers-call-on-un-agencies-to-urgently-investigate-school-girl-poisonings/[2]  Infographic Geographical distribution of student poisoning, Etemad Online, December 2022 https://www.etemadonline.com/%D8%A8%D8%AE%D8%B4-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D9%86%D9%81%D9%88%DA%AF%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%81%DB%8C%DA%A9-11/600053-%D9%86%D9%82%D8%B4%D9%87-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%85%D9%88%D9%85%DB%8C%D8%AA-%D9%85%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%B3-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B4-%D8%A2%D9%85%D9%88%D8%B2%D8%A7%D9%86 , accessed 7 March 2023[3]  Statement of new religious views on the chain of poisoning of girls, News Gooya, 7 March 2023 https://news.gooya.com/2023/03/post-73922.php[4] Chain poisoning; Deputy Interior Minister: "Some" were arrested and some were "guided", BBC Persian, 7 March 2023, at: https://www.bbc.com/persian/iran-64872566[5] Centre for Supporters of Human Rights, Twitter, Twitter  Post,  7 March 2023, https://twitter.com/CSHRIran/status/1632997338594652160?s=20[6] @persianated, Twitter, Twitter Post, March  2023, at https://twitter.com/persianated/status/1632020841092218885?s=20[7] Nationwide Coverage Of Protests In Iran On September 2,  Iran International, September 2022: https://www.iranintl.com/en/202209200749[8] Iranian actor Taraneh Alidoosti released from jail after family post bai, Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, l 4 January 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jan/04/iranian-actor-taraneh-alidoosti-released-jail-family-post-bail#:~:text=The%20celebrated%20Iranian%20actor%20Taraneh,shown%20on%20Iranian%20social%20media[9] Iran International,  Twitter, Twitter post, 12 October 2022, https://twitter.com/IranIntl_En/status/1580149303674548230?s=20&t=l5DO6lEX-UN2fcyZ_nLCSw[10] Center for Human Rights in Iran: 20 Prominent Iranian Lawyers Call on UN to Investigate School Girl Poisonings, 6 March 2023, https://iranhumanrights.org/2023/03/20-prominent-iranian-lawyers-call-on-un-agencies-to-urgently-investigate-school-girl-poisonings/ [post_title] => International Women’s Day in Iran 2023 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => international-womens-day-in-iran-2023 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-03-08 18:37:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-03-08 17:37:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=6765 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 2500 [post_author] => 14 [post_date] => 2018-03-08 13:37:07 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-03-08 13:37:07 [post_content] => In the past year alone, women around the globe have challenged entrenched patriarchal structures. Individually and collectively, women have set about establishing a new social order in which greater equality exists or will exist, not only between men and women, but those who self-identify with neither or with elements of both; and indeed in respect to racial, ethnic and religious communities that have previously faced discrimination or, at best, that majority, male-dominated societies have ignored.In what many in the West may brand as post-Weinsteinian, Time’s Up and #MeToo-era appears to have hastened the end of the reign of those who want to wield power over women’s bodies, minds and futures. But what about Iran?The country, from which we get vast shipments of oil and natural gas, filling our petrol tanks and heating our homes; whose foreign policy is pivotal for peace in the Middle East and beyond; whose markets for goods and services have been opening in the years since the conclusion of an international agreement regulating Iran’s nuclear programme, is also facing significant social change. A reality, at least in the longer term, could well change how the country governs itself and, crucially for those outside Iran, how it pursues its interests abroad. For that reason alone, we need to be vigilant about the rights of women in Iran.In recent days and weeks, women in Iran have circulated calls to demonstrate on International Women’s Day, 8 March, including, for example, outside the Ministry of Labour - as this piece goes to print, arrests were taking place there. Women have shared moving clips about women’s struggles and aspirations and have called for the re-claiming of public space. “We want to be able to leave our homes on this one day out of an entire year and to remain in the streets. After all, these are the same streets in which we have struggled for our rights. We have had a revolution in these same streets. We have been bombed in these same streets. We have demanded our rights and have faced crackdowns and repression in these same streets. We have had acid thrown on our faces and for the crime of not observing proper hejab we have been arrested in these same streets. We have stood atop platforms in these same streets and have gone to prison with broken bones as a result. We have passed through these same streets to go to sports stadiums only to end up in detention centers. We women live in these cities and we want to spend this day, our day, in the streets of our cities.”  Statement posted on Iranian Women. The emerging generation of activists, the grandchildren of the 1979 revolution, has come of age since the post-election unrest in 2009, seen by many as an election stolen by the authorities, determined not to allow a now-imprisoned, reform-minded candidate to win. This generation, raised in equal measure in the shadow of state repression as well as the glow of a screen linked to the internet, appear to no longer harbour illusions about ‘reformists’ or ‘conservatives’ in Iran’s political landscape. Arguably more empowered - or simply too fed up to care anymore - their calls are not steeped in political sloganeering but rather the brutally blunt calling out of economic marginalisation; stifling corruption and impunity of political leaders.In December and January, in some 80 smaller cities and towns, mainly in the north east and across the west of Iran, swathes of people demonstrated their exasperation with their plight and the bleak environment facing them. The demonstrators came from a wide variety of social strata but tended not to be linked with political groups present or allowed in Iran. The government detained thousands but the demonstrators’ near-existential cri de coeur shook the government, possibly to its very core.Emerging from this wave of unrest came Vida Movahed. She stood in Tehran’s Revolution Street, on a utility box, removed her mandatory headscarf, or hejab, and waved it on the end of a stick. Amidst wider social upheaval, she said no to compulsory hejab. She now faces prosecutions for this peaceful act, thus becoming an Iranian Rosa Parks, but for gender rather than racial equality.Mandatory hejab laws are a physical symbol of the post-1979 revolutionary Iran. From 1981 onward, the government enforced this clothing restriction, along with other forms of social limitations through a systemic national implementation process termed the ‘Islamic Cultural Revolution’. Everything from women’s clothing; images of women and an array of places and people; TV shows, school text books and university departments placed women under the de facto control of men. It came to alter the minds of the first post-revolutionary generation, in respect to women and their place in society, both in public and private spaces.Yet in the few months since Vida Movahed’s brave act, many others have emulated her, re-staging her actions. Termed in Persian the Daughters (or women and girls) of Revolution Street (Dokhtaran-e Khiyaban-e Enghlab) are now a quasi-political movement, holding a candle to an issue long covered-up by successive leaders in the Islamic Republic: that since its inception the state’s particular interpretation of Sharia law has meant women’s access to their rights must be controlled by men.These women activists are writing a new chapter in the annals of women’s rights in Iran. On 28 February 2018, Amnesty International reported that dozens of women faced ill-treatment and were at risk of long jail terms for peacefully protesting compulsory veiling. More than 35 women have been violently attacked and arrested in Tehran alone since December 2017 for taking part in the ongoing peaceful protests against compulsory veiling. On 23 February, the police warned that women would now be charged with ‘inciting corruption and prostitution’. This carries a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment.On Thursday 22 February 2018, a video emerged showing a police officer pushing another woman, Maryam Shariatmadari off one of the utility boxes in Tehran while she waved her headscarf. She reportedly required hospitalisation and the authorities now hold her in Shahr-e Rey Prison, just west of Tehran. Officials also detained her mother, Mitra Jamshidzadeh, on 23 February, for some 30 hours, during which time she faced beatings for seeking information about her own daughter’s whereabouts. All this since a handful of women acting alone have stood on elevated street furniture, and have removed their legally required headscarves, and quietly and peacefully waved them on the end of sticks.Judicial officials have denigrated the women who have protested, ill-treating or torturing some of them; claiming also that they are linked to foreign enemies or that they are inciting moral corruption or even prostitution. The reaction betrays the home-grown threat these brave women exemplify to a deeply misogynist political order. Today, we have reached an Iranian #MeToo and Time’s Up moment.Women’s rights in IranWomen face deeply entrenched discrimination through Iran’s laws and practices. Their testimony counts for less in criminal matters; their access to divorce, employment, equal inheritance and political office are all restricted. These restrictions, in turn, make it harder to fight widespread violence against women and girls; or early and forced marriage. The government and monitors harasses women’s rights activists. But it was not always thus.State recognition of women’s rights in Iran arguably began with the Constitutional Revolution in 1906. The 1936 ban on hejab itself and 1963 provisions granting women the right to vote extended women’s place in society. The 1967 Family Protection Law guaranteed women rights of divorce, child custody, and marriage. But by the mid-1970s, opponents to the then Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi termed such measures as Westoxification - denigrating such measures as those taken in unthinking awe of ‘western’ values rather than as measures in line with international human rights standards.The 1979 establishment of Islamic Republic facilitated the popularisation of a hybrid approach to religious interpretation of laws regarding women that, amongst other things, manipulated the education of both women and men about the status and rights of women. By 1983, basic manifestations of this reality, such as hejab laws, public gender segregation and limited rights to marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody were in place.Though the government denies it, the ideological pillars of the Islamic Republic meant that women’s aspirations alone constituted an existential threat to foundations of the state itself. Government supporters, accordingly, cast universal rights a western-inspired, ideological poison. The ideology of discrimination coupled with state violence in order to “promote virtue and prevent vice” meant that every woman’s existence was predicated on serving the interests of and strengthening the legitimacy of the - discriminatory - state itself. Amongst other things, these measures limited women and girls’ space particularly with regards to education, thus hindering their socio-economic and political progress.Granted, within even this context there has been a small degree of ebb and flow: under President Mohammed Khatami (1997-2005) there were moderate advances: civil society in Iran began to flourish and the presidency established a Centre for Women’s Participation in the Office of the Presidency, which encouraged the formation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working to promote the rights of women and children and they flourished.Between 2000 and 2004, Iranian parliamentarians passed bills to improve the position of women, although most – including a proposal that Iran should ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women – were rejected by the Council of Guardians, the body, composed of clerics and lawyers, that assesses legislation for conformity with Islamic law and the Constitution.Khatami’s successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005 - 2013), among other things, rolled back women’s access to higher education and the space for civil society. During a speech amid widespread protests following Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 re-election, the Supreme Leader called for the ‘Islamisation’ of universities and claimed fields such as sociology, were too western-influenced and had no place in Islamic Iran.This trend continued until further controversial measures implemented in 2012 restricted women from studying 77 specific academic fields at 36 government universities. However, Iranian universities lacked the faculty and the resources to enforce this policy among all subjects. Those universities that did follow the policy, faced significant financial challenges. And so, the application of sex segregation and gender quotas in Iran was ineffective.Armed with education, the women of Iran are fierce According to Saeed Moidfar, a retired sociology professor from Tehran: "Traditional politicians saw educated and powerful women as a threat." There are plenty in Iran and in the future, arresting and forbidding women from entering stadia to attend football matches will be the least of the government's concerns.Flying straight into the face of the state’s discriminatory laws and practices; its repression, education is a way that the Iran of tomorrow - one that perhaps better adheres to international human rights standards - may well be born. In Iran, education can be as political as the hejab itself: it is the struggle for the minds of tomorrow’s leaders.Yet, education is also something the government needs to act upon to maintain its legitimacy. In a 2016 report to the United Nations (not available online), the state’s High Council for Human Rights set out measures to uphold women’s rights. Reading between the lines, it is clear that the authorities are wary of women’s aspirations, including in the field of education, yet are compelled to set out measures currently in place or those planned in order to advance women’s rights, such as access to and participation in, notably, higher education.Despite chronic challenges facing Iranian women, such as lack of an organised approach to women’s movement or regular, continued access to newer feminist literature, state imposed quotas and segregation and educational bans, they have continued to excel in education: the numbers of women attending university rose at unprecedented levels. In 1997, women formed 37% of all university students. By the year 2000, they this number rose to 45%, in 2005 it grew to nearly 60%, though in recent years faced a roll back following Ahmadinejad’s presidency.Fuelled by incendiary references to a feminist conspiracy against the core of the Islamic Republic, the charged and complex dynamics around the perpetual power struggle between women and the Islamic Republic’s interests are in the balance as never before. We are in the second half of the political football match that women are not currently allowed to attend, and there is everything to play for.The starting point of the Daughters of Revolution Street and activists of today is one of absolute equality. They may not feel entitled to speak, but they certainly feel entitled to be heard. The aspirations of the Islamic Cultural Revolution have been swallowed up by #MeToo and Time’s Up demands. Iranian women are, in many, though not all respects, as much a part of our world as they are of theirs.Today Vida Movahhed and the other Daughters of Revolution Street are lifting the veil off the state agenda that has replaced education and empowerment with discrimination and repression; development with demagogues of power. But Iranian women, too, are saying Time’s Up.Iran women impose themselves today and every day on state structures in Iran that keep them down. They demand their #MeToo rights and - leaving aside their willingness - paying a price to assert their rights. Iranian women are not victims, they don't need saving by foreign powers; we are seeing a new, home-grown generation that is amongst the most highly educated in the region; plugged-in and nearly fully charged. This is the promise of the Iran; and indeed the promise for us all, globally. 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The Iran Human Rights Review Editorial team are saddened to hear of the sudden passing of valiant human rights icon, Asma Jahangir, and offer her family our condolences. Having served as the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief,  Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary & arbitrary executions, she made great strides in advancing the cause of human rights for all Iranians. Ms Jahangir was a fearless advocate for minorities and women's rights everywhere, and an incomparable champion of truth and transparency before those in positions of power. She leaves behind a great legacy as a member of the human family, and a body of work as a human rights expert that can only help to inspire a new generation to re-imagine institutions, communities and lives that help better living conditions for all who inhabit the planet.

To learn more about the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, please click here.

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Articles
08/03/23

International Women’s Day in Iran 2023

What can we do in response to the toxic gassing of thousands of female students and those risking their lives to advance the values behind the expression “Woman, Life, Freedom”?…

Article by Drewery Dyke and Tahirih Danesh
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