NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--I am so pleased that I can be with you tonight. I also feel so honored that this year Women's eNews qualified me to receive the special award of Ida B. Wells for Bravery in Journalism. Reading through Ida B. Wells' life story, I am very humbled to receive an award bearing her name and legacy in journalism.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is my first visit to the United States and indeed the first time I meet my dear American women activists. It is also a pleasure to meet other respected activists from the international community. I would like to take this opportunity and brief you about the condition of women in Iran and give you a glimpse of the Iranian Women's movement.
Today, the Iranian women are entangled in a contradictory and multifarious situation. On one hand, in the family and social arena, there exists an endless list of laws in the books and policies that keep reminding the women that they are second-class citizens.
On the other hand, rapid social mutations, especially in recent years and with the explosion of the youth population, have brought about fundamental changes that have caused new crises in the nation.
Women Sustain Harshest Casualties
In all these changes, women have played the leading role, and therefore have sustained the harshest casualties, but they refuse to go back to their traditional roles.
More women file for divorce every year. Absent any equity in the divorce laws and in a male-centered job market, divorced women face continuous obstacles to resume a decent life.
Many girls, for various reasons such as forced marriage, restriction in having a boyfriend, not following the traditional dress code and even their desire to educate themselves, either run away from the house or commit suicide by self-burning.
Two Fundamental Issues
In such atmosphere and as the main carriers of the tradition and culture, the Iranian women face two fundamental issues. One is the patriarchal culture that is being supported by gender-bias laws, and the other is the woman's "self-belief," which from the moment of birth she has been trained to believe in a patriarchal system.
In fact, the Iranian woman's current demand, which I call it "the demand to change her lifestyle," is in complete contradiction with her historical "self" and the traditional society expectations from her. The Iranian women's movement has emerged precisely out of this contradiction.
Goals of Iranian Women's Movement
The Iranian women's movement attempts to make the society and the government realize that the only solution to the women's social crises is to recognize their equal rights and to apply human rights principles to their lives.
The movement also tries to inform the women that the solution to the problem they suffer from, and often times considered a personal struggle, is not realized except through a mobilized and collective act. There is no doubt that such an act in Iran is much harder to achieve than is conceptualized.
Nevertheless, in this totally dark picture I boldly drew before you tonight, bright stars continue to shine. For example, we can now observe a rapid growth of various feminist groups at the universities and colleges throughout the country.
Second, women organizations, despite their ideological differences, have just begun the process of forming national consulting networks based on common goals and objectives.
Third, thanks to the Internet, Web sites and Weblogs, new bridges between Iranian women in Diaspora and those inside Iran are built and old ones are strengthened on a regular basis. And finally, today the Iranian women continue their struggle to eradicate the compulsory hijab, to establish an independent life and to participate in the highest echelons of the society. As such they have imposed themselves on the male-centered society, which still believes the best place for the women is in the house.
Perhaps nobody sees us, but we exist and we exert our mark in the world around us. I assure you that if you look around carefully, you shall see our tracks.
Shadi Sadr is a newspaper columnist in Iran and editor of the Web site: Womeniniran.org.
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