Kermanshah: 8 Months with the One Million Signatures Campaign
Friday 2 November 2007
By: Gelaleh Bahrami
Translated by: Pouran S
The Kermanshah Campaign started with 30 civil and student activists on Dec. 8, 2006, at the same time an educational workshop was held in Tehran. Despite the lack of organizations addressing women’s issues in a comprehensive manner in Kermanshah, our effort was greeted by a lot support and enthusiasm on the part of women in Kermanshah, who were eager to learn about the Campaign and sign its petition demanding changes to laws which discriminate against women. As such, supporters in Kermanshah began immediately to engage in face-to-face training and dialogue with a view toward collecting signatures. The training held in Tehran helped volunteers in this effort.
In order to improve cohesion and consistency among members, we decided to hold our meetings once a month. In fact, holding monthly meetings were intended mainly to provide an opportunity for the exchange of experiences, to collect signed petitions, a strategy for identifying and recruiting new volunteers, sharing information on problems faced by volunteers and brainstorming about possible solutions with the intent of achieving the campaign’s inline with local customs and cultural beliefs. The issue of creating and fostering trust with respect to attracting supporters and volunteers was a main challenge, as in the past costs associated with political and social activism had been extremely high and tribal tensions had also proven problematic with respect to cooperation. It was clear to us that trust could not be achieved unless we were honest and clear about the goals of the campaign.
Approximately two months after the start of the Campaign in Kermanshah, several volunteers engaged in signature collection were called into security offices and interrogated about their activities. As a result of these pressures we witnessed some decline in the number of volunteers, but still the Campaign in Kermanshah has remained active and continues with its activities.
As the end of the Iranian year approached, we realized that we had indeed been successful in attracting a large number of volunteers in Kermanshah and the rest of the Province. As such we decided to hold workshops after the start of the New Year, March 21, 2007. In April we assigned 15 activists to different committees, so as to move forward the work of the Campaign in Kermanshah through a committee structure. Because of the holiday festivities we were forced to postpone the workshop. Additionally one of the young male volunteers was detained at the same time, while collecting signatures, and the security situation for activists in the Province gradually became difficult.
In this difficult and intense security environment we couldn’t even hold our meetings, as such, we decided to work as individuals and independently in Kermanshah and other cities within the province to collect signatures and educate those interested in women’s rights. The legal pamphlets of the Campaign were especially useful in this effort. Despite all these pressures, we believe that our effort was successful in Kermanshah and other cities in the Province and even in adjoining provinces, as the signers of our petition from this region tend to represent a diverse group of people, and the Campaign has managed to become well-known by the local community and within the region. As such, we believe that the One Million Signatures Campaign, despite all these limitations, has like in other areas of Iran, been successful in attracting a wide audience.
Unfortunately we were not able to get the necessary permits niether in Kermanshah nor other places to publicly celebrate International Women’s day on March 8th . As such, we held a private meeting on the Campaign in Kermanshah, during which I provided a report on our progress in the Province. Participants at this meeting were receptive to the goals of the Campaign, and provided offers of support in the form of setting up a website for the Campaign in Kurdish. The Kurdish website offers an opportunity for Kurdish speaking activists involved in the Campaign, in Kermanshah and other provinces to share information about their activities and news on the Campaign to other Kurdish speakers. The site has since been set up and news items, reports and articles are presented in both Farsi and Kurdish. The administration of the website is an additional duty which volunteer activists in Kermanshah have taken on.
In conclusion, it is appropriate to say that despite all the political pressures, ranging from policial suppression, tightened security, a male dominated society, complicated tribal issues, customs and outdated traditions, in addition to the detention of Campaign activists, activists in Kermanshah still feel that they can and should continue with this peaceful effort and that there remains much that can still be achieved in line with the Campaign’s goals, especially when we compare our progress with Tehran and other cities. What this means is that we need to work harder harder to overcome the problems and achieve our goals, which has thus far worked to raise awareness among the general public and to break the general sense and atmosphere of intimidation that has been created in the province with respect to the collection of signatures. And despite all these problems, the most important of which is the decline in our volunteer workforce, activists in Kermanshah believe that they can indeed achieve the goals they have set for themselves in the second year of the Campaign, and will be able to attract a large group of women and men who will cooperate with the Campaign toward achieving its goals.