March 8th was celebrated all over the world this week as a day recognizing women for their achievements. According to the UN, International Women’s Day is a time to “reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role.” In Iran, however, March 8th is like any other day – not a celebration of womanhood, but rather a constant struggle for women to gain not only recognition, but equality and basic rights.
And so, seemingly just in time for March 8th, a conservative Iranian lawmaker who had just been reelected (along with 14 women, up from 9 in the last election) was caught on video likening women to donkeys and monkeys – and asserting that none of the above should be in parliament.
The lawmaker apologized halfheartedly over the “misunderstanding,” but the damage was done, with gender equality advocates blasting the “obscene” comments and Western news outlets picking up on the story. Iran’s mainstream political establishment, too, tried to distance itself from the lawmaker and his remarks – and yet, tellingly, he had been allowed to run for parliament in the first place, while some 600 women were disqualified.
March 8th was a grim occasion for Iran’s women political prisoners, too. Since 1979, hundreds of women have been imprisoned, tortured, raped, and executed in Iran; according to advocacy group CFPPI, even today, dozens of women are in jail, some of them along with their children. However, Iran’s women political prisoners were mostly absent from posts dedicated to International Women’s Day around the world this week, in which Iranian women (and women’s rights activists) were featured mostly as female authors worth a read.
And in Iran? Yes, advocacy for gender parity – by both women and men – is getting louder, to the extent that abhorrent, overtly misogynistic and discriminatory sentiments such as those expressed by the lawmaker are not considered so politically correct. But actions speak louder than words, and in this realm, mistreatment of women is rife in Iran, and politically correct to boot.