By Soheila Vahdati<br />WeNews commentator” align=”right”/></p>
<p><P>(WOMENSENEWS)–The ritual of stoning is codified in the Islamic Penal Code of Iran.</P><P>Treated like a Muslim corpse, the victim, usually a woman, is washed and wrapped in shrouds. She is then buried in a ditch up to her shoulders and then stoned by a crowd surrounding her.</P><P>The stones should be neither too small nor too large, but just the right size to guarantee a gradual and excruciating death. Although a man, too, might be sentenced to stoning for adultery, the legitimacy of polygamy and extra-marital sex (sigheh) often allows men to escape punishment.</P><P>In May 2006, a woman and a man, Mahboubeh M. and Abbas H., were stoned to death in Mashhad. There are currently eight people–seven women and a man–sentenced to stoning.</P><P>In response to recent criticism of the practice by the European Union, Jamal Karimi-Rad, the Iranian minister of justice and spokesperson for the judiciary, publicly denied that stoning is practiced here. That has generated considerable uncertainty and concern about those sentenced to stoning. Could it mean that the government still means to kill them, just by other means?</P><P>Two women were hanged in Tehran and Ghazvin for adultery in 2006.</P></p>
<h2>Worst Form of Violence</h2>
<p><P>Stoning is the worst product of discrimination and violence against women in Iran, who in many ways enjoy remarkable freedoms and rights.</P><P>Nearly 80 percent of Iranian women are literate, around 95 percent of school-age girls and female teens are enrolled in school. The percentage of boys and girls enrolled in grade school is nearly even; 49 to 51. More than half of college students are female.</P><P>Although discrimination and sexual harassment do trouble the work place, there is almost no legal barrier to women’s employment in the public and private sectors. The enforced gender segregation of many aspects of society by the government has even helped women occupy positions equivalent to men in education, health and the service industry.</P><P>But while girls and women enjoy some equality in the public sphere it ends at the household door, where gender discrimination and violence is officially sanctioned by the Family Law and supported by the penal codes.</P><P>The Family Law declares the husband the head of the household with exclusive rights to divorce and child custody and allows him to practice polygamy and commit honor killing without penalty.</P><P>A girl in Iran is considered mature for marriage at age 13 and might be forced into an arranged marriage. Once married, she has no right to divorce and is obliged by the law to satisfy her husband’s sexual demands. Rape is not recognized in a marital relationship. In case of divorce, the woman would have no custody rights. If a woman finds herself trapped in an unhappy marriage and commits adultery, she will be sentenced to death by stoning.</P></p>
<h2>Campaign Launched in October</h2>
<p><P>In October, some women’s rights activists and lawyers launched the Stop Stoning Forever campaign in Iran to eradicate the law of stoning.</P><P>Six weeks later, the European Parliament passed a resolution on violation of human rights in Iran and demanded stoning to be abolished.</P><P>The campaign has so far been successful in saving two women from stoning. Parisa A. and Hajieh Esmailvand, each a mother of two children, were defended through the appeal process by the campaign’s volunteer lawyers.</P><P>While campaign activists continue their efforts to save others, they aim to revise the law.</P><P>The success of this campaign depends on international support.</P><P>We Iranian women are inspired by and have been learning from U.S. women’s struggles for their rights. Now that it is time to put our learning into action, we ask for the support and solidarity of American women and men.</P><P>But we do not want our outreach to U.S. people to be confused in any way with support for the policies of the current U.S. administration.</P><P>We want our culture and people to be respected and advanced by legal means. We work in a peaceful way that seeks engagement.</P><P>The Bush administration, by contrast, darkens 2007 with the threat of bombings of our nuclear facilities.</P></p>
<h2>Women Worse Off in Region</h2>
<p><P>Our outreach to American people should similarly not be confused with support for the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. Those attacks came with a promise to bring gender equality along with democracy to those countries. Years later, women in the region find themselves in a worse situation.</P><P>In Iraq, kidnappings, rapes and “honor” killings are now far more common. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is raising its ugly and violent reach for power and control.</P><P>In Iran, the United States has repeatedly announced its interest in a regime change and has allocated $70 million to support internal political opposition. This has caused the current Iranian regime to see the hand of the United States at work in every movement for social and legal change. Because the women’s movement is chief among these we find ourselves undermined by an air of suspicion about our genuine aims and activities.</P><P>The U.S. military presence has empowered all fundamentalist factions both within and outside the governments in the region and fueled opposition to women’s rights. In the face of everyday violence in the region, the women’s agenda has been pushed back far behind a long list of issues such as national sovereignty, inflation and unemployment that are considered higher priority.</P><P>Nevertheless, the women’s movement is strong and is the stronghold of the social and political movement toward democracy in Iran.</P><P>The current campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights, such as the Stop Stoning Forever campaign, are some of the most significant democratic initiatives in the country.</P><P>We welcome your understanding and support.</P><P><I>Dr. Soheila Vahdati is an Iranian American human rights activist who has written many articles about women’s human rights and gender issues in Iranian journals. She is a coordinator of the Stop Stoning Forever campaign and is based in California.</I></P><P>Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at <ahref=[email protected].

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