03 April 2007

Women's Petition Organisers Arrested

As the Iran hostage drama drags on, life continues much as normal for the Iranian population. For two women who were collecting signatures in support of a petition to reform Iranian laws that discriminate against women, this has meant their arrest. Charged with "actions against national security," the two women are members of the One Million Signatures Campaign which aims to educate women in Iran about their legal rights and promote reform of discriminatory laws. This follows the arrest ahead of last month's international women's day of more than 30 women protesters, who were subsequently released.

As we look at the state of the country today, it is worth recalling that a century ago Iran made real advances towards the emancipation of women. In 1906, seven years before our Emily Davison was killed during the Derby after she ran out in front of the King's horse, Iran's Mrs Jahangeer threw herself in front of the Shah's carriage demanding gender equality and warning him to adopt the proposed constitution. In January 1953, the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh, soon to be overthrown in a joint British-CIA coup, proposed in Parliament to give women the vote, and Iranian women won legal rights before the Revolution that are still rare across the rest of the Muslim world today.

So, if you join the free the navy 15 protest Wednesday evening, spare a thought for the citizens of Iran, who may be mobilised to protest against us Brits*, but are not free to protest about other matters that might in fact be closer to their hearts.

* I often remember a story John Simpson tells of how he walked through a rabid crowd of Iranians chanting "Death to America! Death to Britain!" only to be stopped and asked where he was from. When he hesitatingly responded that he was British, he says the man's visage was transformed to one of friendship as he welcomed John to their country, before turning back to the protest with more chants of "Death to Britain!" That anecdote captures the spirit of Iran perfectly :-)