An Iranian friend drew my attention to the September 29, 2006 ZNet article â€œChavezâ€™s Embrace of Iran Leader Insults Womenâ€ by Jennifer Fasulo, under Feminism/Gender, to which I feel compelled to respond. While purporting to support womenâ€™s rights, Ms. Fasuloâ€™s article contains some arrogant and injurious statements about Iran and Venezuela, misinformation about the condition and position of women inside Iran, and shows deep ignorance about Iranâ€™s domestic realities.
Ms. Fasuloâ€™s initial efforts to ensure readers of her progressive, left â€œcredentialsâ€ began with the condescending and loaded statement: â€œOf course Venezuela and Iran have strategic political and economic interests in each other based on their roles as oil producers.â€ My first thought: if their reason for alliance is based on being oil producers, then Chavez should have been hugging King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Then came Fasuloâ€™s next clairvoyance: â€œAnd one expects Chavez to condemn all U.S. military threats against Iran.â€ Now that statement presumably puts Jennifer in the anti-imperialist camp, but behind the â€œOf courseâ€ and â€œone expectsâ€ statements, Fasuloâ€™s real intent is to slander both countriesâ€™ leaders. We have only to read on to be confronted with a crescendo of childish statements, misinformation and outright lies about Iran, first of all, and secondly about Venezuelaâ€™s revolutionary president, Hugo Chavez.
To quote Ms. Fasulo: â€œBut there is no excuse for declaring solidarity with a theocratic regime that treats women like sub-humans.â€ Apparently, Ms. Fasulo does not realize that the solidarity expressed by the governments of Cuba and Venezuela towards Iran is based on the broad and dominant issue of the defense of the sovereignty of nations who are confronted by a ferocious war machine that threatens their very existence by regime change. Who doesnâ€™t know that Chavez has already faced a coup attempt executed from Washington, and Castro has always faced plots and plans and a near 50-year-old embargo against the people of Cuba? Their solidarity with President Ahmadinejad of Iran is based on that reality. Ms. Fasuloâ€™s claims and position goes far beyond the question of women; it falls within the category of revolution and counter-revolution. The question, Ms. Fasulo, is which side are you on?
Facts and Fiction
Letâ€™s examine Ms. Fasuloâ€™s first accusation: â€œChavez appears not to have noticed that the current government of Iran has turned Iran into a country where gender apartheid and hatred of women are enshrined in law.â€ I couldnâ€™t help but wonder when was the last time Ms. Jennifer Fasulo (or those who supply her with such descriptions) was inside Iran, or at least investigated some of the socio-economic changes that have been documented by credible, international organizations with access to people and statistics of Iran. How does our writer explain that over 60 percent of university students in Iran are women? In a summary entitled: â€œIranian women in the workforceâ€ on BBC radioâ€™s Womanâ€™s Hour, the Tehran reporter stated: â€œItâ€™s one of the biggest social shifts since the 1979 Revolution. Iranâ€™s Islamic government has managed to convince even traditional rural families that itâ€™s safe to send their daughters away from home to study.â€ Todayâ€™s Iran sees women participants in every field: scientific, technological, trade, and environmental.
Is our defender of feminist values aware that under the government of the Islamic Republic, according to Article 77 of the Labor Law, employers are obliged to accommodate pregnant workers, without wage cuts, by providing them with less strenuous work, as determined by a medical practitioner of the Social Security Organization? Furthermore, women of Iran are entitled to maternity leave for a total of 90 days, at least 45 days of which have to be taken after childbirth. For multiple births, 14 days are added to the leave. After her maternity leave has ended, the female worker returns to her previous position and her period of absence will be factored into her future entitlement benefits. (Above Excerpts from the book, Women’s Rights in the Laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran by Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Published in Iran in 2002.)
According to research conducted by Shamsosadat Zahedi, female researcher and professor of management at the Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, Iran, in an article entitled: â€œWomenâ€™s Resources are wasted in Iranâ€: â€œThere are measurable improvements in womenâ€™s situation since 1979. And Iran has surpassed other countries with respect to womenâ€™s progress in some areas. Womenâ€™s life expectancy has increased to 70 years. Womenâ€™s literacy has increased to 79%. Attendance at elementary school is now at 94% for all girls. For young women age 14 to 17, school attendance has reached 65%. Women now comprise 38% of all the work force in the public sector.â€
(http://kilden.forskningsradet.no/c17224/artikkel/vis.htm.?tid=25043). Western readers should bear in mind such statistics have come about since the overthrow of the Shahâ€™s despotic government, and rival many other developing countriesâ€™ statistics on women, especially with large Muslim populations, such as Pakistan, India, Sudan or Indonesia, for example. In June 2002, the Population Reference Bureau, (PRB), located in Washington, D.C., released a report entitled: Iranâ€™s Family Planning Program: Responding to a Nationâ€™s Needs which documented the stunning results of the Islamic governmentâ€™s Family Planning Program and the Rural Health Care Network:
â€œIran has experienced dramatic demographic change in the last decade. Levels of childbearing have declined faster than in any other country, and maternal and child health have greatly improved. These changes have coincided with the revival of the national family planning program, which is delivered through a nationwide network of primary health care facilities. Many observers have wondered how such a dramatic increase in contraceptive use could have occurred in a traditional society ruled by Islamic law.â€
â€œThe program has succeeded in removing both cultural and economic barriers to family planning, and the information and education campaign has assured the public that family planning is consistent with Islamic tenets and does not threaten family values (see Box 2, page 6). By providing free family planning services, the program has given low-income couples in both rural and urban areas access to services that would otherwise be too expensive for most families. In 2000, the ministry of health and medical education provided 75 percent of all family planning services (91 percent of services in rural areas and 67 percent of services in urban areas).â€
Instead of an honest presentation, Znetâ€™s readers are presented with an example of abuse as the rare and out-dated practice of stoning. And she goes on to write: â€œA cursory example of Iranian society will show that the Iranian people are in utter revolt against their despotic rulers, with women leading the way.â€ Well, in fact, a statement like this â€œshowsâ€ nothing as much as it shows Fasuloâ€™s utter ignorance. In an opinion poll conducted earlier this year by the U.S.-based firm Intermedia, 71% of the Iranian respondents expressed satisfaction with the general direction of the country.
Preferring to give her readers a fast-track lesson in fighting imperialism, Jenniferâ€™s next gem was an â€œeye-openerâ€: â€œBy embracing Ahmadinejad, Chavez is adding steam to the growing and dangerous alliance between left-wing and right-wing anti-imperialism.â€ This statement is contradictory. Isnâ€™t imperialism itself a right-wing force? How could a right-wing be fighting another right-wing, defeating its own purpose? Ms. Fasulo has to show how, when and where in history a right-wing force has been anti-imperialist? This is a frivolous concept benefiting imperialism in fact. It appears that Ms. Fasulo gets some of her information from the so-called Workers Communist Party of Iran, the WPI, calling it â€œa leading leftist group in Iran.â€ As far as we know, not one of their activists here in the U.S. has been in Iran in a quarter of a century, and even more telling, this group has not been an integral part of the anti-war movement here!
According to Toofaan, the official monthly of Iranâ€™s Labor Party, the WPI praises and condones the U.S. invasion of Iraq under the cover that it will result in the weakening of political Islam, which WPI brands as a form of terrorism. One of WPIâ€™s spokespersons, Mansour Hekmat, defined the recent struggle in the Middle East as â€œcivilized Americaâ€ against â€œbarbaric Islamists.â€ Ms. Fasulo holds up the WPI as a beacon of hope for Iranian women, yet its leaders have joined Britain’s far right politicians in a vicious campaign against London’s socialist Mayor, Ken Livingstone, who alone hosted Hugo Chavez earlier this year (the Queen and Tony Blair refused to see Chavez, too). The same British tories had proudly welcomed Chile’s mass murderer Augusto Pinochet to London a few years ago. Weâ€™re looking for genuine anti-imperialists, Ms Fasulo!
If Ms. Fasulo has no agenda other than the defense of women, why doesn’t she address the problems facing women here, such as the dismal statistics regarding women prisoners in the United States (a report by UCLA Center for the Study of Women and of women’s legal issues in the United States?
â€¢ the U.S. is number one in the world in the number of woman prisoners;
â€¢ children of imprisoned parents are more likely to get in trouble;
â€¢ there are 1.5 million children in the U.S. with at least one parent in prison;
â€¢ over 200,000 women are incarcerated in the U.S., and their children, instead of getting help, often end up in prison too.
According to a report released by Amnesty International, â€œThere are 148,200 women in state and federal prisons in the U.S. In federal womenâ€™s correctional facilities, 70% of guards are male. Records show correctional officials have subjected female inmates to rape, other sexual assault, sexual extortion, and groping during body searchesâ€¦Male correctional officials retaliate, often brutally, against female inmates who complain about sexual assault and harassment.â€ http://www.amnestyusa.org/women/womeninprison.html. Subjugation and violence against women anywhere is a crime, and such statistics documenting the conditions facing women inside U.S. prisons presents Ms. Fasulo with an opportunity to defend womenâ€™s rights right here, but choosing to use the woman question to criticize the leaders of two nations directly in the cross-hairs of U.S. imperialism raises a question. Why has Ms. Fasulo not chosen to write about the recent horrendous crimes against the women and children of Lebanon who are facing bombs, displacement, degraded infrastructures necessary to support life and family? Are these not crimes we in the American progressive community should be shouting about? And isnâ€™t it clear that the spokespersons for U.S. imperialism have been raising the cry about â€œwomenâ€™s rightsâ€ and â€œauthoritarian controlâ€ in the U.S. media to justify intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Iran? It seems Ms. Fasuloâ€™s vision of progress does not go beyond her opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Equality and the Emancipation of Women
The struggle for equality and the emancipation of women, and the working class as a whole, of which women are a critical and integral part, is an on-going task under global capitalism, in all countries both advanced imperialist nations like the U.S. and in the held-back, developing nations like Venezuela and Iran. In todayâ€™s situation, U.S. imperialism is threatening not only the national sovereignty of Iran, but also the relative security of its working and middle class, including women from both classes. Individuals, groups or some ill-informed organizations who stand on the slippery slope with the neo-cons and old monarchists, repeating their charges and accusations that dominate the media regarding life in Iran, creates confusion as to the political identity of the Iranian women protagonists in the U.S., not to mention among the American progressive community.
If Ms. Jennifer Fasuloâ€™s intention is to defend women, how is it that the countries she has spotlighted to condemn and â€˜exposeâ€™ for their â€œanti-women, student and worker abuses,â€ are the two countries that have made the most advances in the shortest historical time for the vast majority of the working and poor people â€“ Iran and Venezuela? Wouldnâ€™t her time be better spent railing against the condition of women in Saudi Arabia, Americaâ€™s ally, where women canâ€™t even drive or vote, or exposing the horrendous conditions facing women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan where the social and economic fabric has been torn to shreds by the U.S.-British and Nato occupation armies. Why isnâ€™t Ms. Fasulo crying out against the total destruction of the life support systems by the Zionist IDF forces in the assault on Lebanon and the daily attacks in Gaza and the West Bank, where the lives of thousands of women and children worsen by the day and hang in the balance between life and death? That would be a real contribution to the defense of women and the struggle against imperialism.
Eleanor Ommani, is a retired NYC educator, peace and justice activist with Wespac, Nowarwestchester, Progressive News Network, and the American-Iranian Friendship Committee. Ms. Ommani lived in Iran 1979 -1980, and returned this past March 2006 to visit family in Shiraz, Esfahan, Saman and Tehran. She can be reached at: [email protected] and readers can listen to her brief report on changes in Iran at www.progressiveportals.com/aifc .