Student Confronts Middle Eastern Stereotypes, Women's Issues

Author: Bahar Ansari

Publication Source: The Daily Titan

Publication Date: 12/08/2008

I speak from experience when I say that growing up under the strict laws of the current Islamic regime in Iran is extremely difficult for women.

My family moved here a few years ago for the sole purpose of finding a better future for my older sister and me. 

With the recent events in the Middle East, certain stereotypes need to be confronted.

As an Iranian-American journalist whose sole purpose for choosing this profession has been to voice the unspoken words of the minority, I felt compelled and appreciative of the opportunity to share my opinion and knowledge regarding this matter.

Whether I agree with the current situation in the Middle East and the way the current administration in the United States has handled foreign policy issues in the Middle East are beyond the scope of this article.

By now, many of us have heard about the story of Esha Momeni, a Cal State Northridge graduate student who was arrested by the Iranian government while conducting research for her masters thesis in Iran.

She was also involved in the One Million Signatures Campaign, a group of volunteers seeking legal equality for women in Iran.

Momeni’s purpose for doing this project was to show Americans how powerful Iranian women in Iran are and to confront some stereotypes Americans use in portraying Iranian women. Her sentiments are echoed by me and other Iranian men and women around the world.

Though the laws of Iran don’t allow equality for women, they do not stop women from being active in society. 

It has not been easy for women to break into the society once ruled by men. Women hold higher ranking jobs and make up 60% of the university student population. They are ambitious and hard-working. The scope of gender inequality in Iran makes her achievements even more impressive.

What bothered Momeni the most, as well as me, is the confusion of different regions in the Middle East. Iranian women are not the same as Afghan women: they do not wear the same attire nor are they prisoners of their homes as were the Afghan women under the Taliban regime.

 

Unlike the women in Saudi Arabia they are allowed to vote and drive cars. To clarify a few myths about the Middle East: not all Middle Easterners are Arabs. Nor all Arabs Muslims. Each country in the region has its own unique culture, language, and religion.

I am not going to sit here and defend the Islamic regime of Iran because of the obvious flaws in their legal system. But these flaws are not reflected in the people, particularly the woman of Iran.

Although some of these barriers have been broken, Iranian women still face a great deal of discrimination and inequality. Under the Iranian law, a woman does not have a legal right to divorce. The children belong to the father and custody of the children is automatically granted to the man after divorce.

Under that the current law, a woman cannot get married without her father‘s permission. As a witness in court, a woman’s testimony counts as half, meaning it would take two female witnesses to equal to that of a man. 

A woman’s inheritance is also half of what a man will inherit. 

Women are not allowed to apply for a passport without written permission from their husband, if married, or their father, if unmarried.

Although women can become vice president of the country, as one of the ten current vice president‘s in the Iranian cabinet is, the law requires permission to exit the country and applies to her as well. 

There are numerous groups and human rights activists in Iran and around the world demanding equality for women in Iran as well as other neighboring countries.

Esha Momeni belongs to one of these groups. She was filming a documentary, interviewing women in Iran and other activists in her campaign when she was arrested. She is not the only one who has been imprisoned for her beliefs and activities. Over the past few years journalists, scientists, professors, and human rights activists have been captured by the Iranian government. Many have been tortured and some have died in police custody.

There are numerous people fighting in the forefront of the war on discrimination and inequality in this world. Some are risking their lives to educate others about the world that we live in. As students and the next generation made up of educated men and women, we need to be more informed about international current events. Some may ask “Why should I care?I live all the way on the other side of the world.”

Beyond pointing out the obvious morality issues of human rights violations around the world my answer to that question would be more than your $720 million of your tax money is being spent in the war in Iraq each day, according to the American Friends Service Committee, which used to Congressional Budget Office figures to calculate the daily cost of the war in 2007.

 

Because thousands of American soldiers who are currently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because it is your money and your people in that part of the world and it directly affects your future as the next generation of this country. I don’t have an unrealistic dream to change the world, nor do I intend to sit here and naively write about promoting world peace. The conflicts in the Middle East will not be easily resolved, though the knowledge of the past and current events will be helpful in dealing with the situation as time goes on.

With the technological advancement in the recent years, the business market has transformed into a global market. Whether we like it or not, we will be dealing with people from all over the world in our future jobs. So being informed, and taking part in stabilizing this region, no matter how smart the part is, would greatly impact our future.

Note from the Author:

While this article was written in 2008, my words still hold true today. 

 

One of my achievements that I am super proud of was winning the “Best Opinion Award” from my college newspaper editorial staff for many reasons:

 

  1. I was given an award for my opinion. That helped build my confidence over the years as a writer, attorney, and the person people turn to for advice.

  2. I was given an award by my peers who had gotten to know me. It was an amazing feeling to know that my peers praised & respected my opinion. 

  3. I moved to the U.S. in 2000. To receive an award for my English language writing was an honor, especially English being my 2nd language. 

  4. I was only 22 years-old when I wrote this article. I still have strong opinions when it comes to human rights, especially women’s rights. 

  5. I became a journalist to give people a voice. I became a lawyer to empower that voice. 


 

I am not sure where life will take us from here but I know that I will remain active for this cause. 

 

The 22-year-old me ended the article with: 

 

“I don't have an unrealistic dream to change the world, nor do I intend to sit here and naively write about promoting world peace. The conflict in the Middle East will not be easily resolved, though the knowledge of the past and current events will be helpful in dealing with the situation as time goes on.

 

With the technological advancements of recent years, the business market has transformed into a global market.  Whether we like it or not, we will be dealing with people from all over the world in our future jobs.So being informed, and taking part in stabilizing this region, no matter how small the part is, would greatly impact our future.” 


 

The 34-year-old me would like to amend what I said to include: 

 

“I don’t have an unrealistic dream to change the world” because my dream of world peace is very realistic. What is unrealistic is humanity’s greed.

 

I believe that for the world to change, we must change ourselves individually. And I know we will see peace in the middle east before I add my next addendum here at 44. 

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