Women and the Struggle for Equality, Freedom and Social Justice - Speech of the representative of the Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women.


It gives me great pleasure to be here on behalf of the Democratic Organisation of

Iranian Women to celebrate with you the 100th Anniversary of the International

Women’s day.

These have been hundred years of arduous and momentous struggle by women for

the recognition of their rights and for progress and social justice.

Women’s struggle for their rights has been closely linked to the class struggles and to

the socio-economic developments of the era. Where the capitalist system had the

most urgent need for women’s labour acquired at low cost, women succeeded in

gaining concessions through organised protests. In relative terms these concessions

are remarkably recent. It was only in 1928 that in Britain women succeeded in gaining

the right to vote on the same terms as men. In the United States, it was in 1918 when

the Congress passed what became the 19th Amendment, when ratified by sufficient

states in 1920, and prohibited state and federal agencies from gender-based

restrictions on voting.

The history of Iranian women’s struggle for progress is a long and impressive one.

The first celebration of the 8th of March, in Iran, was held in 1903, by progressive

women in the northern city of Rasht. In a country at the feudal stage of socioeconomic

development, women fought profoundly backward social relations regarding

the status of women in order to gain basic human rights, including the right to vote.

The rise of women’s struggle in Iran is closely linked to the working class struggle. In

1941 the Tudeh Party of Iran was established, by political prisoners released from

Reza Shah’s prisons and it was soon afterwards that progressive women joined the

movement and played a significant role in the anti-colonial and anti-dictatorial

movement in Iran.

8th February, this year marked the 68th anniversary of the foundation of the DOIW (in


Overall, in the ten years of its open and semi-legal activity, up to the CIA coup of

1953, the DOIW succeeded in raising awareness and organizing local meetings

(especially in the run-up to the review of the law of elections), organizing weekly

conferences and running literacy classes, as well as skills classes teaching sawing,

Women and the Struggle for Equality, Freedom and Social Justice – 12 March 2011 – Marx Memorial Library 2

giving lessons on health and giving aid to deprived areas, setting up and remaining

active in the organisations such as the Union of Working Mothers, the Council of

Mothers, the Society of Supporters of Peace, and the Society for the Protection of

Children, among others. In that period, hundreds of women joined the organisation.

Iranian women played a significant role in the Iranian Revolution, from the street

demonstrations against the Shah’s army to armed struggle as well as the industrial

workers’ strikes that finally brought the Shah’s regime to its knees.

With the victory of the 1979 revolution a new chapter started in the struggle of women.

The DOIW commenced its open activity and started reviving its organisations. Its first

programme of action after the Revolution stated: ‘women, too, have a share in the

determination of the country’s future and must be actively involved in politics, which

determines the future of women and their families’. The Programme demanded

women’s social rights, their rights within the family, in factories and workplaces,

women workers and farmers, particular laws regarding carpet weavers, women in

teaching professions, health, fight against corruption and drug addiction.

In the thirty-three years that have passed since the 1979 Revolution, the women’s

movement has faced enormous challenges. The Democratic Organisation of Iranian

Women resumed its open activities in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution.

Once the Islamic Republic was established, one of the main issues before progressive

women was whether and to what extent, to make a stand against the regime’s moves

to impose Islamic dress codes in the country. The new dress code was introduced

brutally and was established relatively quickly, as progressive forces and women who

supported the Revolution, took the view that it was more important to press for

fundamental rights.

The imperialist-imposed Iran-Iraq war started by the dictatorship in Iraq had a

devastating effect against the revolutionary movement. The 8 year long war of attrition

became a new front in the battle of the people to protect their freedom and

independence and grew into one of the most determining factors in allowing the

entrenchment of reaction in the country. Women’s struggle at this time included their

work in defending the sovereignty of the country as well as being active in the peace

movement. At a time when the regime’s slogan was War, War, till Victory, this was in

itself a brave act of resistance, as was the founding of the organisation: Mothers for


Women and the Struggle for Equality, Freedom and Social Justice – 12 March 2011 – Marx Memorial Library 3

The onslaught on the Tudeh Party of Iran as well as all other progressive organisation

in the early 1980s meant that much of the democratic activities of women were also


Following the 1980s’ onslaught, all political organisations including the Tudeh Party of

Iran, trade unions and youth and student organisations as well as women’s

organisations including the DOIW were banned and their leaders and cadres

imprisoned. In 1988, thousands of political prisoners were executed. Among these

were many women who have become legendary for their heroic resistance, such as

Simin Fardin, a leading member of the Party and the Democratic Organsiation of

Iranian Women, who was killed under torture. The mass executions of political

prisoners that followed the end of the war were meant as a signal that the regime

would go to any length to silence dissent. The search for the bodies of the loved ones

became another scene of struggle. The mothers of missing political prisoners would

face the regime’s brutality with patience and courage, to let them know they were

answerable for their crimes.

Despite the regime’s attempt to destroy the people’s movement against dictatorship,

the people’s struggle soon was on the rise again and women in Iran played a

significant role in this resurgence.

The presidential elections of 1997, once again became the scene of massive

presence of Iranian women in the political arena. They ensured the election of

Khatami to the post of president, based on a reformist agenda.

It is no exaggeration to say that women and students played the most important role in

bringing victory to Mr. Khatami and the defeat of the regime’s favoured candidate.

Despite their promise of reform and modernisation, the Khatami government, in its 8

years in government, delivered very little in terms of women’s rights. Nevertheless it

provided an environment in which women’s independent movement and social activity

flourished. Women set up their local groups and cultural and sports activities and

became a significant social force for change against religious dictatorship.

It was during this time that the work of the human rights lawyer and women’s rights

activist, Shirin Ebadi was acknowledged by a Nobel peace prize.

The reactionary forces in Iran representing large mercantile and bureaucratic

bourgeoisie viewed the reformist movement and the developing social forces as a

major threat and were determined to reverse the gains made during those eight years,

and re-established the police state with the 2005 election of Ahmadinejad with heavy

military interference.

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One of the most potent and successful actions organised and conducted mainly by

women was the One Million Signatures Campaign. This campaign aimed to bring

attention to and protest against the anti-women laws of the country and demanded an

end to discrimination against women. It had a galvanising effect on women and helped

broaden and deepen the movement for equal rights. Many women were arrested and

imprisoned because of their activities in the campaign.

The presidential elections of June 2009 were the latest major event in which women

took their rightful part in bringing about change. Many women were killed, beaten up,

arrested and tortured in the crackdown after the rigged elections.

In June 2010 on the 1st anniversary of the elections, at least 30 women activists -

lawyers, journalists and human rights activists were in prison. Among these is the

lawyer, Nasrin Sotoodeh, who was the first to campaign against the execution of

children and under 18s, she is on the board of directors of the Society for the Defence

of Children’s Rights and one of the first members of the One Million Signatures


The treatment of women in Iran is deplorable. Discrimination against them has been

enshrined in the law. Ahmadi-Nejad’s government is taking measures to withdraw

even the most modest concessions women’s movement has achieved in its long years

of struggle. The new mis-named Family protections law is a case in point. The

notorious article 23 changes the marriage contract further against the interests of


The regime’s economic policy is a rabid form of capitalism. Workers’ wages are

extremely low, there is no job security, poverty is rife, and deplorable trends such as

the sale of body organs as a way of alleviating poverty are on the rise. Drug addiction

is high.

The Islamic Republic of Iran uses international policy posturing as a tool for diverting

attention from the unsustainable economic, social and political crisis in the country.

As the battle rages between the people as women, students, workers, trade unionists

and political activists, there are conflicts emerging between different forces within the

regime. These are: the traditional mercantile bourgeoisie of the Bazaar, the new

bureaucratic bourgeoisie of the Revolutionary Guards (the power base of Ahmadi-

Nejad) and the traditional Clerics (the Office of the Imam, religious charity

organizations etc.).

Women and the Struggle for Equality, Freedom and Social Justice – 12 March 2011 – Marx Memorial Library 5

As the different forces and figures maneuver, it is important for them to ensure the

opposition does not take advantage of the situation. The torture of prisoners, preemptive

arrests before significant social and political dates in the calendar, the arrest

of journalists, women activists, students and trade unionists and the recent arrest of

de facto leaders of the reformist movement, Mousavi and Karoubi, are part of the

terror campaign to prevent the repeat of the mass demonstrations of last summer in

Tehran and other cities in the country.

The Middles East has been going through momentous changes in which women are

playing a significant role. This is also true in Iran today where the progressive forces

are fighting a despotic and medieval regime. Despite thousands of political prisoners

and a semi state of martial law imposed in many major cities over the recent weeks,

nevertheless women celebrated the 8th March in protest against the continued savage

suppression of their rights. We are confident that our peoples struggle for freedom,

independence and social justice will triumph sooner or later and in this struggle we are

sure we can rely on the support of our sisters and comrades all over the world

specially our sisters and comrades here in Britain.

Long Live 8th March International Women’s Day; Long Live International Solidarity.