Tehran Hosts Massive Women's Conference

Article Summary
Arab and non-Arab women gathered in Tehran last week for a conference about the place of women in the Arab uprisings, writes Haifaa Zaaiter. The founder of the movement distinguished the group from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists and president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke about the repression Western women experience.

Those who know a little bit about Iran know that it is not easy to gather 300 Iranian women and 1,200 foreign women from 80 different countries in the same place. For this reason, and given that Iran is a country that has employs excessive security measures, the event was of paramount importance.

Arab women, as well as 50 non-Arab foreign women, came from all over the world to take part in the International Conference on Women and the Islamic Awakening. The conference was held on Tuesday, July 10, at Milad Tower in Tehran. The participants agreed that the transformations taking place in the Arab region are dangerous for Arab women and are having an impact on their living conditions.

Aida Sabri, the secretary-general of the Iraqi Women’s Movement, told As-Safir that the women arrived in Tehran in full confidence. “Iran is a natural setting for such a conference … this is where the revolution began. Day after day women here have proven their ability and efficiency. The model of the Iranian woman has become the dream of Arab women,” she said.  This sentiment was echoed by many of the conference’s participants.

This conference was the third international gathering discussing the theme of Islamic Awakening. The first event was launched in 2011 by Iranian politician and diplomat Ali Akbar Wilayati to discuss the intellectual dimensions of the movement. The second conference was organized to discuss the role of the youth in the Arab uprising. It was followed by this conference on the role of women. In an address at the opening ceremony, Wilayati stated that women are the active cornerstone of today, and that we rely on them during the building phase.

Wilayati, who was Iran’s minister of foreign affairs for several years, asserted that the identity of those who took advantage of the uprisings is not as important as having confidence in the capabilities of Muslims, who have been emboldened by the recent events.

As-Safir asked Wilayati about the differences between  the Islamic Awakening and the Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood movements. He responded that the Islamic Awakening elevates the position of women while the Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood Islamic movements frighten them. He explained that many Islamic movements have emerged in the past decades, and some have exceeded the limits of rationality. He explained that this has deepened the gaps among Muslims and allowed the West to interfere in the region.

Wilayati said that out of Iran’s great heritage and revolution, the Islamic Awakening has emerged as a new type of Islamic movement, one that can save women from Western-influenced Arab leaders.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also gave a speech at the opening ceremony centering on the West’s attempts to exploit Arab women and the oppressive realities facing women in the US and in Europe. Ahmadinejad stated that the Islamic Awakening was responding to an urgent need in a world where pride and dignity are in decline. He claimed that people in the US and Europe, especially women, can’t choose for themselves.

He claimed that those in the West are subjected to the worst form of dictatorships, where politicians change while policies remain the same. The Iranian president stated that the Islamic awakening does not only mean the rise of Muslims, but of Christians and Jews too, adding that Islam — in every sense of the word — belongs to them as well. “The US and Europe have pulled women away from their role and identity,” he said, adding that “reforming the world is still possible. However, we need to take the right path... which starts with women.” 

The conference, which ended on July 11, was distinguished by the interest and spirit displayed of the Arab and Iranian participants, organizations, guards and inspection team at the event. The participants all felt free to express themselves openly. The excitement displayed in the pictures taken at the event was reminiscent of that in the squares, where they had previously stood demanding the fall of many an Arab regime.

This spirit of freedom was apparent in the six meetings and ad hoc committees that were organized to discuss women's issues. The issues discussed ranged from the capacities, experience, achievements and challenges facing these women, along with how they planned to confront these challenges. The meetings were based on the discussion of 500 articles selected by committees regarding the role of women in the Arab uprisings.

Although participants expressed multiple opinions regarding the appropriate mechanisms with which they should approach their current situation, all suggestions were based on Islam. Tunisian journalist and activist Leila Al-Husseini told As-Safir that “the previous regimes tried estrange us from Islam” adding that, “Islamists don’t scare us, they are a part of the people, and we have a strong civil society that has good pressure tools.”

The mother of the Egyptian martyr Ramy Jamal (who was killed by a sniper on January 28, 2012) listened quietly to discussions on mechanisms that would enable women to take on leading roles in society and raise a generation capable of building the future. She said that she is a capable mother by instinct and that she knows exactly how to be happy with the martyrdom of her son. She said that she had the courage to send her other sons to the squares after Ramy was killed, and that she knew how to turn her only daughter into an activist and mother.

The first day of the event left many questions unanswered, which is understandable given that the movement is still in its infancy — the movement faces several social, political and cultural obstacles. Using religion as a foundation for this kind of movement might seem exciting and promising to many. However, the danger lies in that it may be turned against those who at first championed its centrality, unless mechanisms are put in place to prevent it from being exploited. If Islam is exploited and radicalism is the outcome, women will, in the end still be affected the most.

Found in: women’s rights, women's issues, women's role, women, islamic awakening, international conference

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