Women’s movement in Iran’s presidential elections

The ancient country of Iran in the last two centuries has witnessed many internal and regional political crises. The major internal political events in the last 150 years include the attack by Tsarist Russia on Iran, the Tobacco movement, the Constitutional Revolution, the movement for the nationalization of oil, the 1979 Revolution and the 1997 reform movement. The political transformations in Iran have always been accompanied by popular uprisings and under the slogan of justice as the ‘major’ (maximum wish) demand.

In 2005 as government reforms reached a dead end, and as the political order was renewed in favor of military and authoritarian forces, suddenly a militaristic government came to power under the leadership of Ahmadinejad. This authoritarian government adopted idealistic and sweeping slogans such as the eradication of world dominance and governance and proposed populist slogans at the same time as it engaged in the suppression of the poverty-stricken strata and set out to silence social movements with total brutality. Hence it is after 4 years of suppression and violence by the absolutist and ideological government, that the people, and in particular the social movements of Iran, once again face the approaching 10th presidential elections. But this time a number of new slogans, alignments and social developments distinguish these elections from the previous ones.

Slogans: For instance one of the differences in this round of elections is the candidates’ new tactics in the choice of their campaign slogans. The Iranian electorate are encountering un-theological and un-Islamic slogans that reflect the pragmatic and earthly concerns of the candidates. Currently the candidates are emphatically expressing issues that affect the day-to-day lives of different social strata, that is to say, issues that the activists of social movements representing different social strata imposed on the government officials, having paid a heavy price in the process.

New Factors: One of the new and determining factors in the political arena in Iran is the independent presence in the arena of the elections, of the social movements, in particular women’s movement that has succeeded in asserting the concrete and pragmatic demands of its peaceful struggle. This independent and unprecedented presence (albeit through enduring violent and extensive persecution, the incarceration of the civil activists and their being given criminal records) has become a new factor in the political equation in the country, making this election different from the preceding ones.

New Directions for Transformations: Given the earlier points, perhaps the most important factor which makes this election different is the “new directions that social transformations” may take, i.e. taking a complete new direction which is derived from its objective needs of their day to day life (their material needs). Fortunately, this direction is gaining ground in all arenas and across the wide spectrum of activities of those who strive for a civil society.

The adoption of such a direction cannot and must not be underestimated, given that Iran is the birthplace of ideologies. This ancient country — whether before or after the attack by Muslim Arabs — has been the cradle of religious ideologies and the birthplace of ideological religions. State religions or religious states have dominated the lives of our people since ancient times. Therefore when after centuries we see our people (in particular the middle class) turn away from abstract slogans for maximum demands, and turn their gaze from the skies down to the earth, seeking change not through global governance or the obliteration of some country or nation or establishing justice in the whole universe, but instead to show an interest in small reforms (small is beautiful) — so we can claim with confidence that our country Iran is on the verge of a major and epoch-making shift and that the climate of the forthcoming elections has revealed the tip of an iceberg.

With their sensitive antennae, the women’s and students’ movements have sensed the possibilities. The absolute majority of those active in these groups have come together in self-organized groups and have formed broad (and temporary) coalitions in order to advantage of the prevailing climate. The women’s movement has taken the opportunity to call for the “women’s solidarity movement for election demands” and a civil society. This unprecedented and broad coalition of women comprises 40 women’s organizations and 700 activists. The activists of the women’s solidarity movement have already participated in joint meetings with other social movements such as students and some of the independent trade unions among others.

It is hoped that in the years to come, the women’s movement of Iran can establish and broaden the dialogue for attaining its ‘fundamental demands’ — a dialogue that can assist Iranian society in its journey to democracy through peaceful means.

Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani is a well-known Iranian journalist and women’s rights and community activist. This article was originally posted by Committee for the Defense of the Iranian People’s Right,