Signal boosting: Competing intersections in Iranian feminism

News of what happens to Iranian women arrested for “disrupting public order” during their advocacy for women is often very chilling. Iran’s current regime is quite blasé regarding its numerous human rights violations and at this point it can’t even be said they’re bothering to stage such democratic trappings as Right to a Fair Trial or Innocent Until Proven Guilty. One of the added difficulties Iranian feminists are having in their attempts for reform/revolution, in addition to a draconian government, is that those feminists belonging to predominant groups–ethnic majorities and religious moderates or progressives (insofar as you can be openly progressive in Iran) tend to pave over the more “radical” Iranian humanist feminists or the ethnic minority feminists.

Feminism under a theocratic government that severely suppresses any challenge to its “divine” rules is an endless struggle. Any activity must be undertaken with extreme caution and has severe repercussions.

Iranian-Canadian academic Homa Hoodfar was recently arrested upon visiting Iran and has been for the most part incommunicado since.

An article published in the Revolutionary Guards-affiliated press stated that Hoodfar’s work with Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUM) to promote feminism and women’s equality in Muslim countries and enhance women’s bodily autonomy was aimed at “disrupting public order” and “prompting social-cultural changes that can ultimately pave the ground…for a soft overthrow.”

Indeed, if Iranian women of diverse backgrounds were to unite and speak in solidarity, they could overthrow the regime.

But the Iranian women movement is divided and is facing many challenges.

The contradictory perspectives of religious female activists versus secular ones is one of the main obstacles.

While one group believes “genuine” Islam can be emancipating for women, the other considers secularism as the first step out of male domination.

Urban and rural women are also divided. Middle and upper-middle class women seek occupational and educational rights, while for poorer women, health issues and welfare are primary needs.

But an important, yet unacknowledged, source of division among feminists in Iran is the ethnocentrism of the dominant group.

Women of Kurdish, Baluch, Arab or Turkmen origins in Iran suffer ethnic as well as gender oppression. However, the first level of subjugation is not admitted by the feminists of the dominant group.

The plight of ostracized women is marginalized not only by the patriarchy in their culture and the national chauvinism of the ruling state but also by the negligence of mainstream feminists.

Last week Kurdish women began a campaign to support female cyclists who were harassed and threatened by officials. The women were biking as part of an environmentalist movement, namely “Green Tuesdays.”

Despite the momentum it gained in the Kurdish region, the initiation was largely overlooked by prominent Iranian feminists.

Those of us in the West recognize the similarities between White Feminism and Iranian Feminism. In both cases they represent concerns from oppressed women who are privileged in other ways, oblivious to the compounded nastiness that involves occupying multiple intersections.

Reformation implies that the government is willing to play ball to enact change–however small. At this point, the government is only going to budge under the threat of revolution. Look for the radicals in Iran–there’s a reason they’re subjected to state-sanctioned brutality.