International TV interview with Maryam Kousha
October 31, 2004

Maryam Namazie: Women have always been barred from running as candidates in the presidential elections in Iran; now it has been confirmed that the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran states that only religious and political “rejal” can participate in the elections. They have confirmed that this means men alone. Your comments?

Maryam Kousha: Well, in Iran women do not have the right to be candidates for presidency. It is not only that. Women do not have the right to be judges. Any high profile decision-making positions in the country are barred for women. Their reason is that women cannot make decisions! We all know that it is an excuse to push women down and not let them improve their position and have a say in what goes on in the country.

The word “rejal” definitely means men. Unless they redefine the literature and the history of the word, it still means men. I hope it can be changed because it is unfair and unequal for women not to be able to be candidates for presidency.

Maryam Namazie: One woman member of the Islamic Assembly has said that the issues that women are concerned with are not confined to the presidency. She says whether there is a woman president or not is not going to affect the issues women are faced with. Would you agree with her?

Maryam Kousha: In a way she is pointing out a true fact. In Iran, women are denied the most basic human/women’s rights that we consider to be universal. The question of women being able to become president or any other high official in the country might seem to be a secondary issue. To some extent it may be. However, I’m not going to go down that road, because it is a dangerous road and you are faced with choosing between bad and worse. I don’t want to be in a position to choose between the two. I would like to be in a position to choose between good and best. I want the best for women, whether that means being able to stand for presidency or not being forced to wear the veil or any other issue that concerns women. That choice should be there in the first place.

In a way, though, she is being evasive. She knows that she is not going to get anywhere. The whole system needs to be changed. You cannot reform the Islamic framework that is in existence in Iran. So what she is trying to say is that: OK it doesn’t matter how much we try (I’m not sure how much she is trying anyway! But let’s be optimistic and say that she is trying her best!!). You will not change the basic constitution of the country which clearly says women cannot be president. So she is being evasive in that sense, pointing to something else which is true, but at the same time ignoring the right of women to be able to stand and be elected for any post in society. Women have a lot of things to work for like banning compulsory veiling, having the right to divorce, not being executed and so on. What I am trying to say is that just because there are many problems facing women, it does not mean that we should ignore the basic right of women to be candidates for or be elected to any position. These are two separate issues.

Maryam Namazie: I think that because she is part of the Islamic Assembly, she has to somehow justify herself and say other matters are of more importance.

Maryam Kousha: Even if she is really genuinely concerned about women’s situation in Iran, she has been sitting in that Assembly for many years. What has happened? What have women gained? What provisions have they created for women? We are talking about a country where as we speak a 13-year-old girl is in prison awaiting execution. We are talking about 3-4 other women on death row. We have women in prison who refuse to wear the veil and want independence and equality. What is she doing about those? If she is so concerned about these issues as she mentions, and not the presidency issue, I wish she would do something about it. However we know these are just rhetoric. What they are trying to do is to justify their own position within the system. To be honest with you, I don’t think anybody will buy that argument.

Maryam Namazie: A recently published New York Times report states that the situation of women in Iran has been steadily improving. Your comments?

Maryam Kousha: First of all, we need more concrete examples of what they mean. It is very easy to make generalizations about any issue and in this case about women in Iran. We get news from Iran everyday; we have families, friends and contacts. We don’t have this optimism. I wish it was the case. As I said, women are being denied their basic rights. Did you know that there are 210 children under the age of 2 who are in prison? They have either been born there or been taken in with their mothers. We are talking about children under the age of 2 who are faced with malnutrition, living in horrible conditions, without any toys or provisions. We are talking about a country where children and teenagers are not only imprisoned but executed as well. What is the NYT talking about? What rights? It is unbelievable that they even have the cheek to mention that the situation of women has improved.

Actually, I read another report that the European Union has condemned the Islamic Republic of Iran regarding its violations of human rights. They have requested that the Iranian government take action by year 2006. So we get all these conflicting reports. You have to stand back and think: what is going on? Whose interest is the New York Times trying to serve? Or what is happening in the European Union? However, we as the independents, if you like, are claiming that human rights are being violated in Iran and have never diminished. They have actually increased.

Maryam Namazie: In the NYT report, you see girls playing basketball with their veils back. So it gives the impression that the situation is improving in Iran. Does that have anything to do with the regime?

Maryam Kousha: Any improvement such as women showing their hair from under their scarves has nothing to do with the regime. One might think that it is not a big deal. They still have their scarves on and are only showing strands of hair. But to women in Iran and also to the Islamic regime, it is a big deal. The credit for any improvement regarding women’s status goes to the people not to the regime. It is not as if the regime wakes up one sunny Wednesday and says: ‘let’s make it a little liberal! We’ve been too harsh; let’s give women a little bit of freedom!’ It does not work like that. All the gains, improvements and advances that we might witness on TV or see in the papers are because people do not agree with the Islamic regime. They are against it. When they find a chance to show their anger and protest, they do it – whether it is while playing basketball without a scarf or trying to get into a football stadium (which women are not supposed to enter). The credit goes to the women and the people and not the regime.

The above is a transcript of a TV International interview dated October 31, 2004.

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