International Women’s Day 2011: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Ukraine, Peru

It was great to see so many women’s celebrations and protests on and around March 8, International Women’s Day (IWD), especially in places that rarely or never had them before. At this moment when all eyes are on the mass movements in North Africa and the Middle East, we present reports from countries previously invaded by the U.S. and one that just toppled a dictator, as well as information sent to MHI about Ukraine and Peru. – A.J.

Afghanistan

Below is part of a letter from Manhiza, the Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women (WAW) (www.womenforafghanwomen.org):

Yesterday, on March 7th, there was a huge rally in Kabul organized by the Afghan Women’s Network in partnership with several other organizations including Women for Afghan Women. We were a group of about thirty women from WAW, proudly holding the banners we had made. There were more than 5,000 women demanding justice and women’s human rights from the government. The slogan was “We want justice.” We were rallying with extra passion on behalf of the women who were stoned to death and the girls who were lashed or beaten by the Taliban. We demanded that the government bring the perpetrators of violence against women to justice. We rallied for about an hour. Thankfully it was very peaceful. On International Women’s Day, March 8th, I was invited to the official event where President Karzai was speaking. I had with me three of our girls, Obaida, Nilab and Gulaboo. Obaida was sold by her father at the age of 11–we rescued her and have been taking care of her in our shelter. Nilab and Gulaboo are from the Children’s Support Center. I went with the signatures collected so far on the WAW petition.

Note: WAW is fighting to stop the Afghan government from seizing control of women’s shelters run by women’s organizations. Please sign the petition.

Iraq

This story of mass demonstrations and government repression comes from the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). Excerpts follow:

February 25 was a historic day in Iraq. The revolution earthquakes in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya sent shockwaves in our direction. The main squares of most Iraqi cities were filled with protestors raising the same demands of providing electricity, employment, an end to governmental corruption, and a plea for general freedoms.Although the government announced a curfew and closed all streets from vehicular movement, and the highest religious clerics discouraged the people from protesting, almost 70,000 people gathered in the main squares in all of Iraq, united around their main demands.

For the first time in eight years, the demonstration united people of different religions, ethnicities, sects, and political affiliations to denounce the extreme and continuous corruption and to demand a larger share in the country’s resources from oil for the people.

OWFI plays a role in the political participation of women within movements for national freedoms and liberties in Iraq. Although our numbers are small when compared to the huge demonstrating masses, the purpose was to help organize some of the freedom-loving youth groups which had started on Facebook, but grew and multiplied in February. OWFI was one of the organizers of the demonstrations in Baghdad and Samarra raising slogans of change, right to work, and of course, equality.
——–
Al Tahrir Demonstration in Baghdad
Although the demo was announced as a peaceful one, the security forces ended it at 5 p.m. by throwing sound bombs, splashing hot water, and shooting plastic bullets and live bullets at the demonstrators. When we would not move, but chant slogans of relentless struggle, the security trucks began to drive down the square to chase and shoot us with live bullets, and beat up many of the demonstrators who fled into the alleys surrounding Al Tahrir square. One of our male supporters was shot in the knee, while two others were beaten by the U.S.-trained anti-riot police and the Iraqi army. Almost 20 people were shot that day around the square, although the announced numbers were much less. Some died while the wounded were detained. For those of us who ran to safety, we had to walk 5 hours in order to reach our homes in streets where cars were not allowed to drive.
—–
In the western city of Samarra, OWFI women and men were leading the demonstrators, and raising banners demanding support for the widows, who are a majority among the women of Samarra. It was a precedent for a tribal community protest to be led by women. At the same time, in most Iraqi cities, the army shot the demonstrators in the evening, attempting to disperse the demonstrators. 7 were killed in this city, while 15 were wounded.


—–
Demonstrations happened in parallel in the Kurdish North and the South, making it clear that nobody cared for the artificially created division lines of sunni, shia, Arab, Kurd, Turkmen, etc. It was a day of a unified struggle against corruption, oppression, basic rights and freedoms.
—–
While most demonstrating groups carried banners demanding reform of the government, the shooting and harassment of the demonstrators by anti-riot police and by the army shifted the slogans toward ones which rejected the oppressive measures.
——
OWFI had carried the banner of “Change” since the beginning of the demonstration, and advised groups of cooperating youth demonstrators to do the same …. We are organizing for this coming Friday, hoping that the streets will be open, and that the army will let us into Al Tahrir square ….

Wish us good luck,
Yanar Mohammed, President, Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq

Iran

We hear from Iranians that women there conducted small, short, scattered demonstrations on March 8, attempting to evade the government’s on-going repression of all protests. Fearful that the uprisings in the Middle East will spread to Iran, the government has intensified the crack-down it began against the mass protests following the stolen election of June 2009. The regime not only jails and tortures protesters, but also executes many prisoners. See the news on  radiozamaneh.com and iranma.org, which published an “Iranian Call for Global Action for IWD.” Following are excerpts from the Call’s appeal to the United Nations:

  • “Stop gender-based apartheid
  • Stop the incessant execution of political prisoners
  • Stop the stoning of women
  • Send a delegation to Iran to investigate the conditions of the prisoners”

“Fact sheet on the discriminatory laws in Iran:

  1. Testimony of two women is equal to one man.
  2. A man can marry a female child as young as nine years old.
  3. A female is considered male property and subservient to him even in matters of sex
  4. Forceful sex by a husband is not recognized as rape.
  5. Divorce is the right of man.
  6. The custody of children is the right of man.
  7. Men have the right to have up to four wives and many female concubines.
  8. Inheritance right of a male is twice that of the female.
  9. Mandatory Hejab (covering of women) with no freedom of clothes for women.
  10. Honor killings of the women have increased in Iran. Iran Human Rights reported <http://iranhr.net/spip.php?article803> on November 29, 2008: “A high ranking official in the Iranian police said in an interview with the daily newspaper Etemaad that there have been 50 honor killings in the last 7 months.”
  11. Article 1117 of the IRI constitution empowers the husband to forbid his wife from accepting a job.
  12. Article 1005 of the IRI Constitution dictates that the husband has the right to control his wife’s freedom of movement and behavior.”

Egypt

The participation of women in the revolution was unprecedented, and WSS will carry a report of a recent talk on it by Nawal El Saadawi, the feminist-socialist writer. We heard about the “Million Women March” held on IWD, just a few weeks after the Mubarak dictatorship fell, from both her and from Ahdaf Soueif, another world-famous Egyptian writers, both of whom had just participated in the revolution:

Soueif, speaking in New York on March 8, was asked about reports that the march had been attacked by Mubarak-associated government “thugs.” She replied that she heard the march had only 200 women, and “they should not have gone out with so few.” She also stated that all the Egyptian women’s NGOs had maintained throughout that the revolution was about economics, justice, and equal rights of citizenship, and not about gender issues.

El Saadawi, speaking a few days later, had a different report of IWD. She said that several thousand people had marched, the majority of them young men. The demonstration had been planned by young men who were protesting the military’s appointment of a committee to revise the constitution that contains no women and no young people. And only one woman was appointed to the new cabinet, to a minor post. There was no attack on the march, El Saadawi said, but after the women went home, the young men resumed camping out in Tahrir Square in order to give notice to the military that the people intend to move the revolution forward. It was those young men who were attacked that night by “thugs.”

She also said that “legal” NGOs had worked with Mubarak, while the Egyptian Women’s Union, with which she worked, was banned.

Ukraine

The first-ever IWD demonstration in Ukraine was held in Kiev on March 8. It was called Feminist Ofenzyva, “protest against exploitation of and discrimination against women.”  Short videos can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/user/BRYUKHOVETSKA

Peru

Peruvian feminists marched on IWD under this banner: "Women of all races and desires, fighting for our rights!"

Peru has a long-established, vibrant feminist movement. For IWD, a coalition marched and proclaimed: “Women can change Peru! If we change the lives of women, we change the world.”

A Peruvian friend of MHI who is active with women’s groups sent us their proclamation:

We are feminists, grass roots and peasant groups, unemployed, housewives, women who work in homes, indigenous women and women of African descent, homeless women affected by political violence, lesbians, workers in unions, students, writers, artists, disabled, people living with HIV.  Being more than half the population and the electorate, we say to vote your conscience in the coming elections!

The proclamation includes a list of 10 demands, which are partially summarized below:

  1. a political system, free of male bias, that guarantees women’s participation and interests
  2. an economy that recognizes women’s domestic and voluntary work
  3. decision-making power over our lives and our bodies
  4. eradication of violence against women, lesbians, and transgendered people; an end to sex trafficking and exploitation, prostitution, and race and gender discrimination
  5. sexual and reproductive rights, eradication of maternal mortality, decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape and other cases
  6. truth, justice and reparations for women survivors of political or sexual violence
  7. education without discrimination and that helps to eradicate machismo and includes the indigenous
  8. an end to the corruption and impunity of the State, and for transparency and a public ethic
  9. faced with climate change, we want policies of prevention, mitigation and adaption
  10. we demand our right to engage in social struggles and an end to criminalization of protests. ­­­

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