People who Still Have Hope for the Future
By Banafshe Jamali
Sunday 29 August 2010
Translated by: Sussan Tahmasebi
Change for Equality: The One Million Signatures Campaign will celebrate its fourth anniversary on August 27. In celebration of this auspicious occasion, Parastoo, Mohammad and I go to a park in West Tehran to collect signatures in support of the Campaign’s petition demanding changes to discriminatory laws against women. It is always interesting to talk to the public and hear their views on women’s rights and try to assess their level of commitment to ensuring women’s rights in the family. Without knowing the person you are engaging with, without having any preconceived notion about their views and ideas about women’s rights and women’s position in the family, you begin a discussion.
You ask them if they are familiar with the Campaign. You wait for their reaction, which varies from person to person. Especially after the elections and the developments that followed, the wave of mistrust that engulfed the public, you understand that you may be faced with cold reactions, but despite your low expectations, and despite the fact that it is the holy month of Ramadan and people are fasting, despite the fact that it is 6pm and it is frustratingly hot, most of those you approach are welcoming of a discussion on women’s rights. They ask about the Campaign and how it was formed. Some don’t know about the Campaign or its aims.
We explain about the Campaign’s accomplishments over the past four years as well as the accomplishments of the women’s movement. We talk about the reform of inheritance laws. We explain that women could not inherit land before this recent change, but now they can. We talk about equal compensation paid to women who are injured in accidents, which was adopted in the form of a directive, after years of activism on the part of women’s rights activists.
Some of those we approached speak of the Family Protection Bill, which is currently under review in the Parliament. They speake of the broad objections to this Bill and express their concern about legislation which they view to be discriminatory against women and which they believe undermine the foundation of the family. Interestingly enough, most of those who object to this Bill, are men. Still they express hope that with the objections and protest by various women’s rights groups the Bill, which they believed promoted temporary marriage and polygamy, will be shelved in Parliament.
Most of the people in the Park, are young men and women and for the most part they are aware of the existing laws and their discriminatory nature. Most agree that inheritance laws should be changed so that women and men both receive equal inheritance and believe that women and men should be provided with equal dieh (compensation for bodily injury or death), and are opposed to polygamy, which they view as contributing to the destruction of families. With respect to women’s equal right to divorce, men talk about Mehrieh (a sum payable to the wife upon demand and stipulated in the marriage contract). These men explain that if a woman was to forgo her Mehrieh that they would have no objections to equal rights of women to divorce. Many believe that to create change in these laws we also need to create change at the cultural. This change needs to come from within our immediate circles they point out. In line with the aims of the Campaign which contends that education and awareness raising are key to creating change, these discussions point to the fact that if we can influence people’s thinking then we can change unjust and discriminatory laws as well.
There is a woman in the park, who is fully veiled, out with her two young children. We approach her and she reads the petition of the Campaign carefully. She believes that most of the laws that are outlined in the petition are in line with Sharia law and therefore cannot be changed. Parastoo explains that there is a difference between religious scholars with respect to the interpretation of these laws, and that with dynamic jurisprudence and ijtehad these laws can be changed. The woman believes that since the husband is the primary bread winner of the family he should benefit from greater rights, such as dieh and inheritance. But she believes that custody should be given to the parent most suited to care for children.
Two or three hours pass with us in the park. The sun fully sets. Most of those we approach agree to sign the petition of the Campaign and express hope that our Campaign and our education and awareness raising efforts will contribute positively to the equality of men and women.
You see, despite all the problems and difficulties of the last year, our people still harbor hope for a better future.
Note this article was written on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the Campaign for our Farsi site. It was translated for the English site’s special celebration of four years of face-to-face engagement with the public.