Archive for March 8th, 2010

Iran barred renowned poet Simin Behbahani from leaving the country to attend an event marking International Women’s Day in Paris, an opposition website reported.

The website Kalame, which belongs to Green Movement leader Mir- Hossein Moussavi, said she was held for several hours by two intelligence officers at IKA airport in Tehran after she had gone through passport control.

“The authorities asked me a series of questions and then seized my passport and finally gave me a letter referring me to the revolutionary court to get my passport back,” said Behbahani.

“I had prepared a text on feminism and a poem as an homage to women for the event,” added the 82-year-old Behbahani, who was invited by the Paris municipality to Monday’s event.

Behbahani is well known for her poems as well as her struggle for women’s rights in Iran.

Her signature can be found at the bottom of almost all open letters requesting freedom for those detained after the waves of protest which followed the June 2009 presidential election. The opposition claims the elections were rigged.

Barring activists from leaving the country has reportedly occurred more frequently in the past nine months.

A similar incident happened last week when police prevented the son of leading opposition cleric Mehdi Karroubi from leaving the country.

Mohammad-Taghi Karroubi, a university lecturer, was leaving Iran for London on Friday reportedly for academic purposes when the police at IKA airport in Tehran seized his passport without explanation.


A time to focus on adolescent girls

“Last week in Guatemala I visited a UNICEF centre that houses girls as young as thirteen who have been rescued from brothels. The stories of suffering are simply unimaginable — horrific situations of rape, prostitution, torture and lost innocence.

With the help of UNICEF and its partners, many of these girls are now being given the opportunity to heal and build a better life through education and care. While these girls have been rescued, unfortunately so many more remain trapped in an underground world of abuse.

Stories such as these are not uncommon in many other parts of the world and serve as a reminder of the work that must be done to ensure young girls and women are better protected.

Millions of adolescent girls live in poverty, experience gender discrimination and inequality, and are subject to violence, abuse, and exploitation. The result is not only the suffering of girls themselves, but a continuing cycle of oppression and abuse.

While progress has been made towards equal rights and equal access for women and girls in areas like basic health and education, too often adolescent girls are still excluded. Investment in education and health are essential, but so too are much tougher laws, penalties, and prosecutions against the abusers.

Education is one key to better lives for girls, their families and their communities. Expert studies estimate that every extra year a girl spends in secondary education lifts her income by more than 15 per cent. Better educated girls have better employment and health prospects and, as they grow to womanhood, they pass these benefits to their children.

There is a strong link between the educational levels a country provides for its girls and the size of that country’s economy. But more importantly, education empowers women and gives them the opportunity to have a greater voice in society.

As we recognize International Women’s Day this March 8th, the international community, together with governments around the world, must work more aggressively to ensure that every girl has the right to a childhood that provides her with the opportunity to reach her full potential.”

So-called ‘honour killings’ are an extreme symptom of discrimination against women, which – including other forms of domestic violence – is a plague that affects every country, the United Nations human rights chief says, calling on governments to tackle impunity for this crime.

“The reality for most victims, including victims of honour killings, is that State institutions fail them and that most perpetrators of domestic violence can rely on a culture of impunity for the acts they commit – acts which would often be considered as crimes, and be punished as such, if they were committed against strangers,” states High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

In a statement issued ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day, which is observed annually on 8 March, Ms. Pillay notes that traditionally, there has been some debate around the issue of State responsibility for acts committed in the private sphere.

“Some have argued, and continue to argue, that family violence is placed outside the conceptual framework of international human rights,” she says.

“However, under international laws and standards, there is a clear State responsibility to uphold women’s rights and ensure freedom from discrimination, which includes the responsibility to prevent, protect and provide redress – regardless of sex, and regardless of a person’s status in the family.”

It has been estimated that as many as one in three women across the world has been beaten, raped or otherwise abused during the course of her lifetime. And the most common source of such violence, Ms. Pillay states, comes from within the family, and amongst the most extreme forms of abuse is what is known as ‘honour killing.’

“Most of the 5,000 honour killings reported to take place every year around the world do not make the news, nor do the other myriad forms of violence inflicted on women and girls by husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles and other male – and sometimes even female – family members.

“In the name of preserving family ‘honour,’ women and girls are shot, stoned, burned, buried alive, strangled, smothered and knifed to death with horrifying regularity.”

The UN human rights chief points out that the problem is exacerbated by the fact that in a number of countries’ domestic legal systems, including through discriminatory laws, still fully or partially exempt individuals guilty of honour killings from punishment. Perpetrators may even be treated with admiration and given special status within their communities.

“Honour killings are, however, not something that can be simply brushed aside as some bizarre and retrograde atrocity that happens somewhere else,” she adds. “They are an extreme symptom of discrimination against women, which – including other forms of domestic violence – is a plague that affects every country.”

Addressing the UN observance of International Women’s Day in New York yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out that injustice and discrimination against women persist around the world, manifesting in violence in some cases.

Over two thirds of women experience violence in their lifetime, most commonly at the hands of an intimate partner. “We sometimes hear it said that such practices are a matter of culture,” the Secretary-General said, strongly emphasizing that “they are not.”

In a related development, the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) today announced that it has recorded 183,132 actions to end violence against women through its Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence against Women initiative, surpassing the initial goal for Say NO of stimulating more than 100,000 actions by International Women’s Day.

Launched in November 2009 as a web platform to facilitate, showcase and count efforts to address gender-based violence by individuals, governments and civil society, Say NO is a direct contribution to the Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign.

In addition, UNIFEM launched a Global Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls. The one-stop centre will support practitioners around the world in effective design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes.

The web-based site brings together lessons learned to date and recommended practices gleaned from initiatives on ending violence against women and girls, whether originating from the women’s movement, civil society organizations, governments, the UN system or other actors.

Dear friends

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) International Solidarity Network would like to wish you a positive, pro-active and peaceful International Women’s Day 2010! We would also like to thank all of our networkers for the good wishes we have received today. To quote from Aswat : “On this day we celebrate our achievements and accomplishments, we also remember that our road is still long and the struggle needs more women willing to fight for their rights”

WLUML and the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women (SKSW) recently hosted a very successful panel at the 54th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (you can read their statement here where many of the most critical challenges facing women living in Muslim-majority contexts were addressed, often with reference to particular countries: ‘Culture’ and Violence Against Women as a global phenomenon; Stoning is not our culture, Iran and Nigeria; Criminalisation and inhuman punishment of women and girls through laws, Indonesia; VAW in the context of conflict and culture of lawlessness, Afghanistan; Sexual Harassment: the hidden, unspoken form of Cultural VAW, Sudan.

Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, together with the other UN independent experts, called today for a new vision of women’s rights informed by the lessons learnt from the 15 year review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, warning that: ‘… old challenges in the protection of women’s rights remain, such as multiple forms of discrimination. In addition, new challenges have emerged in conjunction with phenomena like the global financial crisis, political violence, displacement and migration, and the acceleration in environmental degradation. The continued use of brutal violence against women, including sexual violence, as a weapon of war in conflict situations also remains a pressing concern. At the domestic level, lack of implementation of laws and other commitments to secure women’s rights, and the lack of gender sensitive budgetary policies, remain chronic problems….’

We learn that in Afghanistan, ambivalence, impunity, weak law enforcement and corruption continue to undermine women’s rights, despite a July 2009 law banning violence against women, and in an open letter to the United Nations Secretary General, the European Women’s Lobby declares that “The 54th Session of the CSW…represents a step backwards by its failure to offer a new vision and mechanisms for implementation”.

Resistance by women to an unjust global economic order is, however, very much alive. In Iran, women are revolting against an oppressive regime; in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian women are organizing an international boycott of Israel; in Italy, France and Spain, immigrant women have gone on strike against xenophobic racism; in Australia, feminists convened a national conference to coordinate and re-energize the abortion rights movement.

Here we look at some of the ways that IWD is being celebrated by WLUML networkers in spite of the spread of fundamentalisms and increased militarisation in many regions:

Brussels – Women’s World March On March 6, the Belgian Women’s World March celebrated the 100th International Women’s Day. 5,000 women and men marched through the streets of Brussels in a festive and militant march calling for justice, equality, peace and solidarity.

Pakistan – WEMC

WEMC-Shirkat Gah is part of SG’s efforts with other human rights groups to support peasant women who will gather in Lahore from all over the Punjab province to convince the provincial government to emulate a Sindh-based scheme of land distribution to women which they learned of through WEMC. Indeed the two formal peasant women’s organisations associated with the Punjab Peasants’ Association were catalysed through WEMC research. WEMC shall accompany the women and also film them to complete the SG-WEMC film on the peasant women’s struggle.

Senegal – WLUML-SKSW

As part of the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women (SKSW), on the 5 March there was a day of reflection and a workshop addressing the theme of ‘Violence is not our culture’ and from the 8 to 22 March, there is an exhibition of women artists at the Leopold Sedar Senghor gallery.

United States – CWGL

The Center For Women’s Global Leadership’s 20th Anniversary Symposium on 6 March featured prominent speakers from the global women’s movement (including Charlotte Bunch, Pinar Ilkkaracan and Lydia Alpizar) reflecting on body economy movement as well as taking the opportunity to celebrate IWD by hosting a dance party.

Please contact us with news of how you celebrated International Women’s Day!

In Solidarity,

Women Living Under Muslim Laws
International Solidarity Network

Official statement by a group of Iranian women’s rights activists who participated in a Green gathering commemorating March 8th.

The Feminist School – On the afternoon of March 7, 2010, a ceremony celebrating International Women’s Day took place in Tehran. Participants included Zahra Rahnavard, Minoo Mortazi, Shahla Lahiji, Fatemeh Rakei, Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Mansoureh Shojaee, Farzaneh Taheri, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Farideh Mashini, Fatemeh Gavarayi, Shahla Foroozanfar, Parastou Sarmadi, Marzieh Azarafsa and a number of other women’s rights activists and families of prisoners.

Every year in anticipation of International Women’s Day, there is a particularly refreshing feeling in the air. Several days before the celebration and a few days after, women’s groups and associations in Iran begin meeting, making decisions, and planning for events. The hustle and bustle associated with preparing for this day is a testament to the constant and ever lasting presence of women, regardless of the conditions; particularly when the conditions have been difficult and under pressure. Proof of this dynamic presence is the commemoration of International Women’s Day under the very difficult and critical conditions of the past four years.

This year once again, despite the many pressures and constraints imposed, a number of programs and ceremonies were held both openly and behind closed doors by verious groups. One such ceremony and conference was “The Green gathering of women’s rights activists in Iran.”

The commemoration of International Women’s Day by influential female members of the Green movement was a spark of hope for all women’s rights activists who look to the Green movement for defending their identity and rights.

Due to the current restrictions, the ceremony took place with the presence of only a limited number of women’s rights activists and families of those imprisoned during recent events. The groups that were present include Mothers for Peace, The Forward Thinking Religious Women’s Organization, The Women’s Participation Front, a number of members of the Committee Against Violence Toward Women, members of The Feminist School, The Association of Iranian Women, The National and Religious Women’s Association, The Committee of Women Supporting Female Prisoners, and a number of prominent female lawyers.

Those present discussed the importance of collaboration between women with different political and intellectual view points within the women’s movement and the reciprocity between the women’s movement and the Green movement; emphasizing the continued support by both movements for the demands and concerns of women in Iran, particularly the importance of freedom of expression in honour of International Women’s Day.

The first speech was by Minou Mortazi, one of the organizers and sponsors of the event. Other speakers included Marzieh Azarafza, a member of the Women’s Participation Front; Fatemeh Gavarayi, a member of The National Religious Women’s Association; Shahla Lahiji, a member of the Committee Against Violence Toward Women; Fatemeh Rakei, a member of the Forward Thinking Muslem Women’s Party; Farideh Mashini, secretary of the Women’s Participation Front, who spoke of the role of women in the Green movement. Mashini discussed the constructive role of women prisoners in the prison culture as it relates to non-political prisoners and the efforts by Azar Mansouri in jail. Other speakers on International Women’s Day included Shahla Forouzanfar, a member of Mothers for Peace; Parastou Sormadi, wife of political prisoner Hossein Nourinejad; Nasrin Soutoudeh, a lawyer and women’s rights activist; and Mansoureh Shojaie, a member of the Feminist School.

Mansoureh Shojaie reminded all participants of the extensive efforts in the past two decades in the area of women’s rights by prominent Iranian women like Mehrangiz Kar, Shirin Ebadi, Shahla Lahiji, and Simin Behbahani. She honoured all female political prisoners by naming them individually. Mansoureh Shojaie talked about the key roles, the approaches, and methods of the women’s movement in strengthening the Green movement. She also reiterated the importance of collaboration between the various social movements in further developing the Green movement. To conclude she read a prepared statement that upon discussion by those present was approved as the official statement for International Women’s Day. The statement included seven demands in regards to women’s rights in Iran.

The following is the statement by a number of women’s rights activists attending a Green gathering in commemoration of March 8th, with the goal of eliminating discrimination and violence to establish democracy:

Statement by Iranian Women for International Women’s Day

The 8th of March, International Women’s Day, is a reminder of the common protests by women around the world. Women all over this planet have made efforts on this day to declare their demands based on existing socio-economic conditions. Throughout history, Iranian women have made their voices and demands heard across our country. This year, however, the Iranian women celebrate International Women’s Day during a time when a dynamic movement is fighting for the “right to citizenship” and “civil liberties” – a movement in which it can be said that women are bearing the brunt of the responsibilities, and if not, are at minimum equally involved and responsible as their male counterparts. Women are paying a high price in many areas such as detention and imprisonment, deprivation from work and education, being banned from leaving the country, deprivation of their civil liberties, and even death and martyrdom.

Even though Iranian women have played a central role throughout the past 100 years of our history in the advancement of justice and freedom (take for example the Constitutional Revolution, the tobacco movement, the nationalization of oil, the Revolution of 1957, and a variety of other social movements and protests in the past thirty years), and fighting by the side of their male counterparts. This time, however, women have been present in a more determined and informed manner than in the past. They have been cognizant of their gender and have played an active and influential role in the movement. The experiences of the various women’s groups fighting against injustice and discrimination in the past decade (through collaboration, cooperation, campaigns, and various coalitions) were collectively, consciously, and responsibly transferred by women onto the Green movement.

We women demonstrated that we can move in a common direction and resolve social problems and political crises. We find appropriate and intelligent solutions through dialogue, regardless of our ethnic, racial, religious, or social differences. It was these experiences that demonstrated to achieve civil demands, a principle adherence and commitment to non-violence and an ability to remain patient and resist is needed. It also demonstrated that one can hope for change and allowed for the green movement to stay away from any form of violence and conflict.

As a result of these historic efforts and struggles, Iranian women expect their aspirations and demands to be advanced not because they pertain to a specific group but rather as aspirations belonging to society at large, so that our nation can move toward progress and democracy. As such, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, women activists in Iran will once again announce the demands that have been raised by women over the years:

    1- Elimination of discrimination against women in all civil laws, including family law, criminal law, etc.

    2- Iran to become a member of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

    3The establishment of legal, social, and political frameworks for the reduction of family, legal, political, and social violence.

    4- Equal opportunity for women in all administrative, political, and management areas.

    5- Elimination of all gender based segregation, in particular segregation in universities and public places, etc.

    6- Freedom for peaceful activities for women as it relates to their rights.

    7- The release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, including women and the dismissal of all charges against them.

On the threshold of March 8th, we announce loud and clear that we will remain by the side of the people and the Green activists. We will also continue our independent efforts and will not sit still until we achieve our aspirations and demands, because we are countless. Signed by a number of women activists in Iran.

Translation by: Negar Irani,

As UNHCR offices around the world marked International Women’s Day, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said it was vital that all people of concern to the agency, male and female, are given equal opportunities and are able to realize their individual rights on an equal basis.

Guterres, in a special message to staff, added that this year’s theme, Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All, was “a principle UNHCR has already committed to implementing through, for example, its strategy for Age, Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming.”

The High Commissioner, noting that nearly half of all people uprooted by conflict are female, said inequality between women and men, and discrimination on the basis of sex occurs during all stages of the displacement cycle. “Moreover, difficulties accessing and enjoying rights are likely to be worsened during displacement leading to even greater gender inequality,” he added.

Guterres stressed that UNHCR was also dedicated to ensuring women’s equality within the organization. He said UNHCR’s three-year-old policy on gender equity reflected the organization’s determination to achieve gender parity in staffing.

UNHCR staff in offices and refugee camps around the world have arranged various programmes for today and the rest of the week to commemorate International Women’s Day. In the agency’s Geneva headquarters, female staff were selling handicrafts made by Iraqi refugees in Damascus for programmes aimed at the prevention and response to sexual violence.

Later in the week, Ugandan refugee Kate Ofwono from Kakuma camp in north-west Kenya is due to take part with Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller in a panel discussion in Geneva entitled, “Listen to Women for Change.” Ofwono will also show a film she made, with UNHCR’s support, about her life and challenges in Kakuma and how she has made use of the opportunities available for skills development and employment.

Luisa Cremonese, a senior UNHCR gender specialist who is helping organize the events in Geneva, said forced displacement often led to many human rights violations against women, both during flight and in camps. She added that in some cases abuse occured “even when they return home and the rights they have gained as refugees are no longer respected.”

Meanwhile, in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad UNHCR and a local partner, Struggle for Change (SACH), convened a special International Women’s Day meeting on Monday of local and refugee women to discuss the day’s theme of equal rights and equal opportunities.

A 48-year-old Somali woman, Hadja, told the gathering that she had been abducted and held by a militia group for four years in her homeland before managing to escape. “I was subjected to a lot of physical and mental violence and the numerous scars on various part of my body are a reminder of the pain and hurt I had to endure,” said Hadja, who has been living in Islamabad for the past three years.

Her husband, a former UN driver, was killed by militiamen in Somalia along with her father and eldest son. She said that she had been warned that she would be killed if she returned to Somalia because Hadja had refused to marry her brother-in-law. She lives in Pakistan with one of her daughters, but her three other children remain in Africa.

Hadja survives largely on an allowance of 4,500 Pakistani rupees (US$52) a month from SACH. She has a refugee card from UNHCR, but no right to work or permanent residence. Despite this, Hadja’s strength has made her a leader among the Somali women in Islamabad.

Sharing her story at Monday’s event, she said that “in spite of the traumatic experience and violence inflicted on me, I still have a will to live and hope for the future.” She added that her “passion is to assist the weak, the needy and the voiceless.”

Humaira, a 21-year-old refugee from neighbouring Afghanistan, told the meeting she had come to Pakistan when she was only four years old. “I feel Pakistan is my home country. I speak Urdu very well,” said the maths teacher. “As a woman, I feel I can strive harder toward a better future,” she said.

In Bogota, UNHCR marked the day by launching a video, “Sin Nombre (Nameless),” which tells the story of displaced Colombian women. The groups Mesa Mujer and Armed Conflict, meanwhile, presented their ninth annual report on socio-political violence against females in Colombia, which shows forcibly displaced women to be particularly vulnerable to sexual violence.

In Venezuela, UNHCR was taking part in an International Women’ Day fair at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. The UNHCR office in Zulia was scheduled to make a presentation on international law at a conference on women’s rights, with the focus on indigenous communities in the region.

Women in the Asia-Pacific region are lagging behind most of the world with little economic power, political voice and legal rights, while their reduced status is depressing economic growth prospects in developing nations.

Those are the conclusions of the U.N.’s Asia-Pacific Human Development Report, which was published on Monday to mark International Women’s Day.

The report ranked the region near the worst in the world — often lower than sub-Saharan Africa — on issues related to women’s employment, parliamentary participation and property ownership.

“The key message (of the report) is that to meet any development goals that a society sets, you need the full participation and involvement of women,” Helen Clark, head of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) told AlertNet.

“The fact is that when women do have equal rights, it is very good for the society they live in and it is very good for the economy they live in, so there are many levels on which we should be promoting equal rights for women.”

Asia-Pacific is currently losing an estimated $89 billion every year due to the lack of women in the workforce, according to the report titled: “Power, rights and voice.”

Clark said raising the rates of women in the workforce to levels in developed countries would certainly raise the annual gross domestic product (GDP) of many of the countries in the region.

In countries like India, Indonesia and Malaysia, conservative estimates show that GDP would increase by two to four percent if women’s employment rates were raised to 70 percent — comparable to the United States, the report said.

While many women in the Asia-Pacific region have benefitted from improved education, health and prosperity, they continue to face barriers to the same opportunities available to men.

Almost half the adult women in South Asia are illiterate, more than any other region in the world, and women in this region can expect to live five years less than the world average of 71 years, the report said.

Asia-Pacific women also hold only a handful of legislative seats — fewer than anywhere else in the world except the Arab region — with the Pacific sub-region accounting for four of the world’s six countries with no women parliamentarians.

Those who do manage to gain a voice at local or national level face trouble.

“Women politicians, particularly those with extra vulnerabilities of poverty or association with marginalised groups, have been killed, raped or faced physical threats for challenging the status quo,” the report said.

It cited an example of a village council in India where male members spread stories that female members were sexually promiscuous, harassed them with obscene phone calls and made sexual innuendoes during meetings.

The report added that legal rights of women were also lacking with laws related to property and assets biased in favour of men.

While agricultural jobs account for more than 40 percent of women’s jobs in East Asia, and 65 percent in South Asia, only 7 percent of farms in these regions are controlled by women, compared to 20 percent in most other regions of the world.

It said that the lack of property and asset ownership left women in vulnerable to poverty, with no control over household finances.

Few countries have also adopted laws prohibiting violence against women and nearly half of the countries in South Asia and more than 60 percent of those in Pacific have no laws against domestic violence.

UNDP’s Clark called on policymakers to make it a priority to correct gender imbalances.

“Human development cannot be achieved if 50 percent of the population is excluded,” she said.

Women displaced by war should be given a greater voice in decisions directly affecting their future, especially those taken by humanitarian organizations and others helping internally displaced people (IDPs), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said.

In the run-up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, the ICRC drew attention to the extraordinary strength and resilience of millions of women displaced by armed conflicts worldwide.

In situations of war and displacement, women’s voices often go unheard and their specific needs are overlooked.

“The stereotype of women as passive beneficiaries can result in their being excluded from decisions that affect them directly,” explained Nadine Puechguirbal, the ICRC’s adviser on issues relating to women and war.

“Failure to consult women about their needs and how best to address them diminishes the quality and efficiency of the aid provided.” The ICRC has been increasingly involving women in planning, implementing and evaluating aid programmes.

For example, since women are often responsible for their families’ food supplies, the ICRC consults them before deciding what type and quantity of food aid to distribute and to ensure that locations for food distributions are safe and accessible.

Women displaced by armed conflict – often living alone with their children – are frequently exposed to sexual violence, discrimination and intimidation.

Many face poverty and social exclusion as well.

International humanitarian law therefore includes specific provisions protecting women, for example when they are pregnant or as mothers of young children.

Iraq, where an estimated 2.8 million people have had to flee their homes in recent years (1), is a case in point.

Deprived of traditional sources of income, many displaced women are forced to defy social expectations, and adopt a new role as the family breadwinner, in order to earn money and put food on the table – through whatever means possible, including manual labour.

The situation is especially serious in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where displaced women such as Marie (2), a 22-year-old rape victim, fight to overcome hardship and despair.

In addition to the trauma she suffered, Marie was rejected by her community.

Nevertheless, with help from the ICRC, she managed to start her own small business and take care of her three children independently.

“Far too often, women are victims of horrific violence and cruelty in times of war,” said Ms Puechguirbal.

“But this is not the whole story.

Many women also show remarkable grit and determination in coping with their problems, and build new lives for themselves and their families.”


See also:

The displacement of populations is one of the gravest consequences of today’s armed conflicts. It affects women in a host of ways. But far from being helpless victims, women are resourceful, resilient and courageous in the face of hardship. Nadine Puechguirbal, the ICRC adviser on women and war explains.

Iran should stop infringing on women’s rights and take immediate steps to meet Iranian women’s demands for full equality, Human Rights Watch has said. Iranian women’s rights activists have issued a call for freedom and gender equality in Iran in connection with International Women’s Rights Day on March 8.

Their campaign, Call for Solidarity: Freedom and Gender Equality in Iran, seeks an end to state-led violence and other forms of repression directed against both men and women. On January 10, 2010, for example, more than 30 women were beaten at a weekly vigil in Tehran. The women were seeking news of their sons and daughters who had been detained during the protests following the June 2009 presidential elections. This campaign calls on the authorities to immediately release all political detainees, including many women’s rights activists.
“This initiative of Iranian women’s rights activists is crucial to the overall struggle for democracy in Iran,” said Nadya Khalife, women’s rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. “It is also a tribute to the strength of women, who continue to demand their rights and support fellow citizens in the toughest of times.”

For more than 30 years, the women’s rights movement has been at the forefront in the struggle for human rights and gender equality in Iran, Human Rights Watch said. Iranian women have been subjected to a range of discriminatory laws and practices, often under the guise of enforcing Islamic law.

As an example, the Legal and Judicial Commission of the Islamic Consultative Assembly of the Parliament is pressing for passage of a Family Support Bill, including an amendment that would legalize polygamy. Under the proposed measure, a husband could take a new wife if his wife is diagnosed with a terminal illness, is away from home for six months, or even if she is imprisoned for a bounced check.

“Iranian women have bravely sought over and over to end gender-based discrimination, only to be met with threats, arrests, and imprisonment of activists,” Khalife said. “Human Rights Watch calls on the Iranian government to allow women’s rights groups to operate freely, without harassment, or worse.”

In February, Human Rights Watch released a report, “The Islamic Republic at 31: Post-Election Abuses Show Serious Human Rights Crisis“, which documents widespread human rights violations including extra-judicial killings, rape and torture in detention, and extensive violations of the right to freedom of assembly and expression since the disputed presidential election June 12.

Among Clinton’s remarks, she said “we are honoring women from around the world who have endured isolation and intimidation, violence and imprisonment. Many have even risked their lives to advance justice, freedom, and equal rights for everyone. Their stories remind us of how much work there is left to do before the rights and dignity of all people – no matter who you are or where you live – are respected and protected by the world’s governments. But these women prove that change is possible. They are brave and they are making a difference, and they are up against powerful interests determined to bring them down. By honoring them today, the United States and the Obama Administration sends a very clear message that though they may work in lonely circumstances, they are not alone.”

Award recipient Jestina Mukoko of Zimbabwe spoke on behalf of the other recipients. She said, “The International Women of Courage award is a solidarity message that unites women from all over the world regardless of race, religion and color and we have learned that even language has failed to be a barrier to understanding and acknowledging what each one of us is doing. This indeed, Madame Secretary, not only resonates with your strong notion that women’s rights are human rights, but is in line with the theme this year of the International Women’s Day: equal rights, equal opportunities, progress for all,” reported Democracy NOW.

Honorees included the following:
~ Shukria Asil of Afghanistan for “promoting government responsiveness to the needs of women”
~ Colonel Shafiqa Quraishi of Afghanistan for “integrating women into the government and police force”
~ Androula Henriques of Cyprus for “Fighting human trafficking”
~ Sonia Pierre of the Dominican Republic for “Ending discrimination based on country of origin and the human rights abuses of statelessness”
~ Shadi Sadr of Iran for “Advocating for women’s legal rights and an end to execution by stoning”
~ Ann Njogu of Kenya for “Seeking social transformation and at the forefront of reforms in Kenya”
~ Dr. Lee Ae-ran of South Korea for “Promoting human rights in North Korea and aiding the refugee community in the Republic of Korea”
~ Jansila Majeed of Sri Lanka for “Strengthening rights for internally displaced persons”
~ Sister Marie Claude Naddaf of Syria for “working for social services for women”
~ Jestina Mukoko of Zimbabwe for “documenting human rights abuses”