Where are they now? - Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani
Where are they now? - Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani
One of the most interesting articles in our March 2007 issue on Iran was from Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani. She talked about how afraid she was going to many houses to get one million signatures to fight to change laws that discriminate against women.
Many of our readers loved your article, but they were afraid for you. What has happened to you since then?
That year was very difficult for me and the others in the One Million Signatures campaign. Many were arrested or taken to court for many different untrue reasons. I was arrested in March 2007, after a protest outside the Revolutionary Court. The protest was against unfair punishments for women activists). I was later freed on bail from the Evin [prison]. But the following year I was taken to court for this, at Branch 13 of the Revolutionary Court with Nasrin Sotoudeh (who is now in prison and has been on hunger strike) as my defence lawyer.
Also in 2007, the women’s centre website Zanestan was banned and shut down after a court decision. I helped to start this website and all the members of the Women’s Cultural Centre were active in the campaign. So I and many of my colleagues in the campaign, started another site called the ‘Feminist School’, and we continued with the One Million Signatures Campaign. But there was still a lot of pressure on us.
After the presidential election of 2009 and the ‘green’ movement after this, we became active under the name ‘Green Coalition Movement of Women’s Activists’. But many of us were arrested and prosecuted. I was questioned by police three times and then, in March 2012, I went to court. My ‘crime’ was ‘protesting in the street after the presidential election’. For this, and for editing the Feminist School website, I got a one-year suspended sentence.
In your 2007 article, it was very interesting how you talked about how you have to overcome your fear to start knocking on people’s doors when you go out campaigning. Do you still feel afraid now sometimes? Now you have a suspended sentence, do you live and campaign in a different way?
Our fear of people’s reactions (especially women) is less now because of our experience in collecting one million signatures and because of learning how to be activists. But we are now afraid of arrest by the police.
The presidential election campaign of 2009 gave us space. We used this space to demand women’s rights. Before the election, there was less state security so we could campaign in our parks and streets with no fear. We ran workshops on why everyone must follow the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, for example. And we put pressure on the presidential candidates to join the Convention and make changes to help women.
But after the elections, the security atmosphere suddenly changed. There were many arrests and society became more closed. Many of the organisations that existed before 2007 are no longer known.
Many civil-rights activists are in prison or have suspended sentences; many others have been forced to leave the country. So things are different from that year when we campaigned for the collection of One Million Signatures.
Today our society has many economic problems that seem to be more important than democratic and civil-society demands.
Unemployment among women is one major problem of the bad economic situation – even according to official state statistics, unemployment among women has increased by five per cent in a year.
In response to your question about changes in my social activities, I can say that my suspended prison sentence terrifies me. But, more than that, it is the political and economic crisis in our society (fear of war, worse economic situation) that affects my activities and plans.
For me, the fight for women's rights is like life. So, like many other women's-rights activists, it is almost impossible for me to stop. While women from my country suffer from discrimination and prejudice, my fight against this is one of the most important things of my life. But I know that the fight to change inequality and the campaign plans must work with the political and social conditions of society.
The Million Signatures Campaign won international awards and recognition. One of the things that made it special was that it was organized on a non-hierarchical basis (ie. everyone as equals, with no leader. I know you have written a whole book about this but could you tell us why this method of organization was so important?
This organisation helped us. State security pressures could not stop the whole campaign by taking out one group or leader. Any member of the campaign could easily continue with the work, in Iran or another country. And this helped the campaign to spread and get to different parts of the country.
Did you achieve the goal of getting one million signatures?
Unfortunately not. Because of the [state] security around the campaign. But perhaps more important than collecting one million signatures was getting everyone to talk about ‘equal rights’, and I think we did this.
Do you think we are now closer to women’s equality in Iran than in 2007?
Unfortunately, after the 2009 [elections] we have had new polices about women. This is not progress; this is worse than in 2007.
Are any of the other campaigners in prison now?
Today there are about 34 women in Evin prison in Tehran. They were involved in social and cultural activism. Several of them were active members of our One Million Signatures campaign, but none of these women were imprisoned only for campaigning. They are put in prison for their civil or human rights activities or for their journalism, or for helping political defendants. This includes the lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was one of our colleagues in the One Million Signatures campaign. She was arrested in September 2010 and is now in prison for six years.
What can readers in Western countries do to help?
If people around the world could help make the domestic and foreign policies of their government more democratic, this would help all others around the world. If women around the world can persuade our governments to solve conflicts between different countries through peaceful negotiation, I am sure we will be helping ourselves and women in other countries too.
As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/features/2013/03/01/noushin-ahamdi-khorasani/