We Will Not Allow the History of Our Peaceful and Non-Violent Activism to be Dismissed

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 300 Iranian women’s rights activist: “As activists struggling against discrimination and inequality, we see it as our responsibility to prevent efforts, which deny and dismiss the existence of a history of peaceful activism by the Iranian people–efforts that hold the public responsible for the violence that is inflicted upon them. As in the past, we see it our responsibility to be present in the streets and in public spaces in step with the diverse nature of this movement and demand our rights. In turn we see the State as being responsible for responding to the people’s demands without threats, discrimination, and suppression.”

Not a single day has gone by over the past year, without peaceful protests in Iran. Frustrated workers protesting unpaid wages, teachers protesting their work conditions, a multitude of citizens protesting the loss of their lifesavings invested unwittingly in mismanaged financial institutions and family members of border couriers , shot dead by border guards, have repeatedly rallied in the streets, in front of the parliament, governmental offices and in front of their places of work, so that their grievances might be heard by responsible authorities.

Those complaints, which had consistently fallen on deaf ears, were heard during the recent protests that stretched across the country. The grievances of citizens demanding the very rights, which civil society and social activists have been steadfastly working to echo. But time and again activists, working in their homes, on the streets, while writing, protesting, or collecting signatures on petitions to reflect the demands of Iranians, have been met with violence. This is the same violence that we see unleashed on citizens who are protesting in the streets today. Civil society activists have for years warned against the consequences of ill-devised policies, of the deepening entrenchment of poverty, of inequalities and fractures across class divides, and of the intensification of pressure upon vast groups of citizens. These activists have expressed unwavering concern about unpaid wages to workers, structural adjustments to employment in the private and government sectors, privatization even in sectors such health, education, and natural resources, the forced labor of recent graduates artlessly masked in the form of internships, the feminization of poverty, the exclusion of women from the workforce, and the pressures of internal migration and marginalization of citizens, especially women who are most severely impacted. Today, more than ever before, women in Iran, are plagued by poverty and unemployment. Some women are afflicted by family incomes that fall far below the poverty line; and others are impacted negatively by extensive unemployment. In a statement issued 4 years ago, women’s movement activists protested the downward fall of women and warned of their increasing poverty. Today, even official statistics confirm their concerns.

Each year during a ten year space of time (2005 to 2014), one hundred thousand previously employed women were rendered unemployed. In one year alone, 2015, one out of every three women employed in the private sector, taking pregnancy leave was not able to return to work and was fired. At the same time, we are told that during a ten-year period, between 1991 and 2011, the number of female-headed-households has increased by fifty-five percent; while eighty-two percent of women heads of households are unemployed. In this context, the increasing number of educated women reveals that women too have been one of the main victims of the epidemic of unemployment in this country. Even if they were to bypass obstacles that require them to attend universities in their hometowns or prevent them from studying in fields deemed “masculine”, their degrees did not serve as permits to enter the labor market.

There are those today who invite the public to act calmly, they point to logical strategies for change, and who consider street protests to be dangerous and a justification for some within the State to use violence. But the record of activism of social movements over the past 3 decades is filled with examples of peaceful civil action, met with swift, severe, and violent responses by the State. Activists working to establish Trade Unions, engaged in legally registered organizations, or working in movements have faced the closure of their offices, have had their permits revoked, their offices ransacked, their members arrested and prosecuted. Time and time again, a mere invitation to a quiet and peaceful protest or march in parks or public spaces has been met with aggression, arrests, and prosecution, in continued effort to not to recognize the rights of citizens to protest and to object.

As activists in the Iranian women’s movement, we ask those who are calling on the public to be calm and hold “peaceful” and “legal” demonstrations, which part of our actions in the past, such efforts to collect signatures on a petition demanding change to discriminatory laws was illegal or violent, eliciting the detention and subsequent court cases of hundreds? How was the Campaign to Change the Male Face of the Parliament illegal, warranting crackdown and suppression even before commencing activities? Why were the peaceful sit-ins of women wanting to enter Azadi Stadium [to watch sports matches] met with violence and arrests? The women’s movement in Iran has always struggled, under constrained laws to peacefully wedge open even the smallest space for the equitable coexistence of men and women. Nevertheless regardless of the issue they chose to address, women’s movement activists have been met with crackdowns and their efforts suppressed.

As activists struggling against discrimination and inequality, we see it as our responsibility to prevent efforts, which deny and dismiss the existence of a history of peaceful activism by the Iranian people–efforts that hold the public responsible for the violence that is inflicted upon them. As in the past, we see it our responsibility to be present in the streets and in public spaces in step with the diverse nature of this movement and demand our rights. In turn we see the State as being responsible for responding to the people’s demands without threats, discrimination, and suppression. We demand the release of all political prisoners and guarantees allowing for the right to freedom of association and assembly. We further demand an end to policies that force women out of the public sphere, relegating them to their homes instead. We demand gender equality in work and employment, the implementation of policies supportive of women heads of households, and an overhaul of the legal system, which promotes systematic social and economic discrimination against women.