16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: Iran, Women and the Internet

Women’s Rights in Iran

The UN’s gender inequality index ranks Iran 109th among 149 countries. According to the report, which measures reproductive health, empowerment and the economic activity of women, empowerment remains low in Iran with only 3% of women holding seats in parliament at that time, a low ratio despite the relatively high level of education. This discrepancy between the advancement of women in almost every economic and education indicator, and the actual representation of women in Iran’s government reflects the state of women’s rights in Iran — opportunities to thrive exist, but not where it matters with rule of law protections and women’s rights.

In response to this inequality, Iranian women are defying discrimination in the workplace, in politics and at home whenever they can. As an organization working to support Iranians online, ASL19 has encountered many women’s rights related initiatives, including the following:

The One Million Signatures campaign, launched in 2006 to change discriminatory laws against women in Iran. With the goal to collect a million signatures in support of equal rights, the campaign has successfully raised awareness about women’s rights issues and create a space for discussion about women’s issues. This is one of the most prominent women’s rights campaigns to come out of Iran, and has galvanized international support from Amnesty International and others.

Equality (برابری ), a campaign against discrimination of women. With over 350,000 Facebook followers, they raise awareness about women’s rights by covering discriminatory laws, posting updates on women’s rights activists and female prisoners, featuring successful women and promoting gender equality.

Women’s Citizenship Centre (کانون شهروندی زنان ), a Facebook campaign that invites people to post selfies with signs proclaiming “No to violence against women”. Taking advantage of crowd-sourcing and the power of images on social media platforms, the campaign has featured many selfie submissions, with over 2,000 likes.

In addition, while women in Iran still lack equality before the law, their growing economic influence and status has been a boost to women’s empowerment, enabling women to take control of their lives, at least up to a point. A recent Reuters article credited the rising status of women for their greater independence, as a result of greater education and financial empowerment. Iran also has one of the highest female to male graduation rates in the world.

Moreover, prominent and influential Iranian women have also helped raise the profile of women’s issues and strengthened the image of independent and empowered women. Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University professor, was the first woman to receive the Fields Medal earlier this year, also known as the “Nobel Prize for Math”. Women tech entrepreneurs are also paving the way for women leaders in the workplace. Nazanin Daneshvar is the founder of Takhfifan, the Groupon of Iran and a successful national business with 60 employees.

Without directly advocating for women’s rights, Mirzakhani and Daneshvar have helped the movement by asserting their influence in public spheres. In separate interviews, both have mentioned the unique challenges women face. And these are only a couple examples of Iranian women who recently made headlines in English media, let alone other role models whose work is more accessible in Farsi.

To be sure, these are just a handful of positive indicators and no substitute for concrete changes in the law and the reversal of gender inequality trends. A lot has already been said about gender-based violence and the imbalance of power women face in Iran every day. This paints a dire picture that can only be remedied by deep and long-lasting structural and rule of law reforms.

But what is often overlooked is the existing voices and struggles for change that are worthy of celebration, and most importantly, consistent support. There is a strong national movement for women’s rights and gender equality that is raising awareness and driving conversations on these issues. As we take stock of the work that needs to be done for women’s rights in Iran and the practices that cannot be condoned, let’s also remember the initiatives underway in Iran, and find a way to support and encourage these ripples of change.

The Internet has played a key role in amplifying these voices and enabling women’s rights initiatives to reach a large audience across Iran. Those outside the country have also been able to lend their support, and while language barriers prevent full access to the range of initiatives launched in Farsi, the ability to reach an international audience has also helped put pressure on the Iranian government and increased the political cost of gender inequality.

As a powerful tool for women’s rights activists, equal access to the Internet should be protected as a safe space for civil societies and online communities. ASL19 is doing what we can by enabling improved access to information online. As we mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, we observe the great changes that remain necessary for Iranian women to enjoy equal rights and protection, and celebrate the voices working for women’s rights in Iran.