Iran Women's Bill of Rights
Feminist Collective’s Proposal for “Woman, Life, Freedom"
Historically in Iran, as elsewhere in the world, multiple legal and cultural institutions have been at work to exclude women from corridors of power and decision-making. In Iran, this trend has largely used religion as justification, particularly since the establishment of the Safavid dynasty (1501-1736) that integrated religion into the political structure, but intensified under the Islamic Republic of Iran. While women had always tried to find ways to resist the limitations upon them at the individual and community levels, it was during the Constitutional Movement at the end of the nineteenth century that they joined the national movement towards establishing their citizenry rights and do away with social and legal institutions that reduced women to lesser humans. However, despite their sacrifices on the eve of the revolution's success in 1911, women's demands were ignored.
Decades later in 1978-79, hundreds of thousands of women joined another popular revolution in the hope that with the realization of plural democracy, women could freely decide about their lives and achieve their potential without cultural or legal obstacles. However, the revolutionary forces placed women’s demands for equality and justice on a back-burner, while the soon established Islamic theocracy imposed catastrophic social and legal restrictions on women. Women organized in response. The first mass protest against the Islamic Republic and its extremist religious ideology was held by women on 8 March 1979, when many poured into the streets to express their opposition to compulsory hijab and the top-down Islamization policies. Despite threats to their lives and freedom, women relentlessly organized and pushed for their rights, often without the support of other forces who claimed they championed democracy.
Throughout the past forty-four years, women have remained a major force of democracy, social justice, and freedom in Iran. As major actors, women have often organized and mobilized demanding gender equality, resisting patriarchal structures and attitudes using multiple strategies. They organized a sit-in in June 2006 in front of the University of Tehran and demanded the removal of the discriminatory articles of the constitution and laws of the country. The Iranian women’s movements also launched the One Million Signatures Campaign for egalitarian family laws, campaigned to stop-stoning and other forms of gendered violence, and organized for women’s equal access to sports stadiums and other public spaces. On numerous occasions, women have also joined forces across the ideological spectrum to express their demands in a more unified voice to the state, such as by preparing a comprehensive women’s charter in 2009, or collectively lobbying male political candidates on women’s greater access to political decision-making posts. Women’s political force was witnessed in numerous national elections and grassroots forms of resistance, including their brave presence in the 2009 Green Movement protests in demand for free and fair elections and respect for basic individual rights. The Iranian authorities’ securitization and harsh crackdown on women’s efforts to challenge the status quo, forced many women’s rights advocates to go into exile. Such globalization of the Iranian women's movement however helped inform the international community of the extent of state-sponsored violence against women and the breach of fundamental human rights. Inside the country, under severe state surveillance women worked diligently to make social media their platform and committed acts of civil disobedience on a daily basis, while others joined labour and environmental movements. All the while, the question of hijab remained among the most contentious subject between the state and citizens. Daughters of Revolution Street, by unveiling and peacefully waving their hijab, launched an open contestation to the state, despite the heavy price awaiting them. The vast majority of women, regardless of their level of religiosity, never accepted the Islamic gender ideology that denied their fundamental human rights.
At the dawn of the "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement, we, a collective of feminists of Iran, having experienced historical discrimination and injustice feel strongly that the time has come to make our rights as equal citizens a reality. Thus, we have come together to develop a bill of rights for inclusive and substantive equality for women in all their diversities with the intention of enshrining them in the future Constitution of Iran. We insist that the Constitution, in spirit and text echo the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and its sister conventions that reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in their equal rights regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, religion, language, sexuality, or any other status. Centering the “woman, life, freedom” framework, we demand women’s equal share of the seats of the National Constitutional Assembly and other spheres of national and regional negotiations, taking an active part in charting and mapping the future. At this historical juncture, we emphasize the importance of including the experiences, contributions, and efforts of women and historically marginalized populations in any deliberations about Iran’s political and legal trajectory. Through these efforts we aim to uphold commitments to gender equality and social and environmental justice in support of women’s movement inside the country, which are fundamental for a pluralist secular democracy.