Thursday, February 28, 2008

The "One Million Signatures Campaign"

Imagine being told to go home before dusk, before you have completed your day's work to be with your family. Every time you return to your office you have to catch up from the previous day, and consequently are always trailing behind your male counterparts. In Iran, this is what the female culture ministry officials and journalists at the state run newspaper and news agency have been asked to do. Don’t be led into believing that this is a novel way to bring in that elusive work-life balance; most Iranian women believe that this is just one way to halt the progress that they have been making over the past few years during the former President Khatami’s liberal rule.

The nation’s women have endured many hardships to try and beat the system. Every woman in her own way has contributed to the remarkable changes that this nation has seen. The "One Million Signature Campaign for Equality"was begun in 2006 in hopes to change laws that treat women with inferiority towards men. Many of the women involved in this operation were arrested but they believe that it would be worth the effort, that one day their fellow countrywomen would live a normal life and have a greater say in Iranian society.

The mullahs (Islamic clergy) of the nation have banned a modern feminist magazine ‘Zanan’, claiming that it was showing women in a bad light! Zanan published articles and stories that promoted women's liberation and denounced their unequal, and sometimes inhumane, treatment. Stories of stoning and public hanging of women continue to do the rounds even to this day. The custom of ‘Hijab’ which mandates a woman to cover her head with a scarf and thus not reveal her hair to the outside world is still the norm, and women that are tired and desire to break the traditional norm are beginning to speak out.

Things are different in Iran than they have been since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Iranian women have a far greater presence than women in any other Muslim nation; they vote, drive, work and occupy public offices. Consider this – in 1975 the illiteracy rates for rural women was greater than 90% , while in the urban areas it hovered around 45%. Now the literacy rate has risen to a massive 98% for girls aged between 15 and 24. 80% of the teachers, 33 % of the doctors are women. Parvin Ardalan, a journalist won the International Olof Palme Prize for her contribution to the women’s right groups, and others continue on similar paths to professional recognition and equal rights.

The "One Million Signature Campaign" is one of the many ways to join the fight, and add to the voice against gender inequality around the world. For more information, please visit

-Praveen Sequeira

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