- Iran: Eight Prisoners Hanged on Drug Charges
- Daughter of late Iranian president jailed for ‘spreading lies’
- IRAN: Annual report on the death penalty 2016
- Taheri Facing the Death Penalty Again
- Dedicated team seeking return of missing agent in Iran
- Iran Arrests 2, Seizes Bibles During Catholic Crackdown
- Trump to welcome Netanyahu as Palestinians fear U.S. shift
- Details of Iran nuclear deal still secret as US-Tehran relations unravel
- Will Trump's Next Iran Sanctions Target China's Banks?
- Don’t ‘tear up’ the Iran deal. Let it fail on its own.
- Iran Has Changed, But For The Worse
- Iran nuclear deal ‘on life support,’ Priebus says
- Female Activist Criticizes Rouhani’s Failure to Protect Citizens
- Iran’s 1st female bodybuilder tells her story
- Iranian lady becomes a Dollar Millionaire on Valentine’s Day
- Two women arrested after being filmed riding motorbike in Iran
- 43,000 Cases of Child Marriage in Iran
- Woman Investigating Clinton Foundation Child Trafficking KILLED!
- Senior Senators, ex-US officials urge firm policy on Iran
- In backing Syria's Assad, Russia looks to outdo Iran
- Six out of 10 People in France ‘Don’t Feel Safe Anywhere’
- The liberal narrative is in denial about Iran
- Netanyahu urges Putin to block Iranian power corridor
- Iran Poses ‘Greatest Long Term Threat’ To Mid-East Security
Monday 02 May 2016
Security agents from the Islamic Republic of Iran made up a fictitious life story for illiterate young Kurdish girl Shirin Alamhooli, who did not even speak the Persian language, claimed her lawyer, Khalil Bahramian. He said the alleged confessions were untrue and written not by Shirin but by her interrogators, yet they nonetheless led to the girl’s execution by the Iranian government for acts of “enmity against God” in 2010.
As a campaigner against the death penalty in Iran, I noticed that the testimonies of women on death row were frequently misunderstood, rejected or used against them. These women are wronged in many ways but one of the most damaging ways is in terms of their testimonies.
Women face injustice in Iran because their voices do not contribute to official and accepted conversations, and their ideas and arguments are not considered viable. This occurs not just in Iran, but in countries such as Australia, where women seeking asylum are unable to find justice through the legal system.
Methods of terror, tyranny and constraints on freedom are used to punish the rebellious body and mind of women who escape from their homeland where they are considered less valuable than men. White patriarchy tries to justify belief in racial superiority by restricting refugees’ access to power resources, thereby increasing economic anxiety, which contributes to violence against them. On 8 April 2016, Iranian asylum seeker Azita told me from the Nauru detention centre :
Being branded as an asylum seeker is a strong reason not to be listened to and believed. Last week my 18 year old daughter ate shampoo in a suicide attempt. All of her psychologists diagnosed that she was suffering from severe mental problems. If you simply looked in her eyes you would realise this, however immigration believe it’s all a lie.
In Iran, women are sometimes executed in public, sometimes in private; but in Australia a different kind of execution takes place. Asylum seeker women are held in immigration detention for long periods and suffer unspeakable forms of sexual, physical, psychological and emotional abuse. They are stripped of their dignity and capacity to become complete and flourishing citizens.
Mina, an Iranian asylum seeker living at the Nauru detention centre told me:
I’ve been in the detention centre for three years and I live in Nauru where Australian people wouldn’t even keep their animals; however, being sent back to Iran is still my nightmare. At the age of four I was raped by my step-sister’s son. Afterwards, despite being a little girl, my family put the blame on me and I was abused physically by my father. I was forced to marry and the abuse from my father changed to abuse from my addicted husband. Eventually my husband left me and I escaped alone from Iran, from all the torture and humiliation, to seek asylum in Australia. I was yearning for justice in a country which claims to uphold women’s rights, but all I experienced was trepidation and panic.
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In September 2015 Malcolm Turnbull pledged more than $100m in federal funding to help stop violence against women, saying that, “Disrespecting women does not always result in violence against women. But all violence against women begins with disrespecting women.” However, his government’s policies contribute to humiliation and violence against asylum seeker women.
Iranian asylum seeker Nazanin was allegedly raped on Nauru in May 2015. These reported incidents are surely the tip of the iceberg. Mina also told me:
For a long time I couldn’t even sleep properly. I live in a tent which is only secured with a door of plastic. All night I feel the huge male security guards walking around my head. Security guards are huge men supposed to protect us, however they torture us and behave like we are their slaves. Last week one of them stared at me and held his penis and pretended he was having sex with me. I asked another officer to look at the footage and see how the guard had harassed me, but he claimed they don’t keep camera recordings.
I was personally told by H.P, an Iranian asylum seeker, that because she wishes to protect her reputation, she will not publicly reveal her experience of being sexually abused in a detention centre.
Equality is a basic principle of western democracy, and western governments claim that their policies promote an equal society. However, in Australia, asylum seeker and refugee women are marginalised, stigmatised and silenced – sometimes inadvertently – through misunderstanding and ignorance of the traumas they suffered in their homelands. Just like in Iran, their contribution to public discourse on issues that affect them is often misunderstood, rejected or used against them. Sometimes this is done by the very people in Australia who claim to advocate on their behalf.
Generally, it is the citizens of a country, not refugees, who have greater social and cultural capital, and are in a privileged position to access opportunities and benefit from programs and support structures. In Australia, the social discourses are patriarchal and mono-cultural, and they help to maintain various forms of structural exclusion, symbolic violence and systemic prejudice. Refugee women, in particular, are subject to this type of institutional bias.
It is undeniable that race affects an individual’s choices, opportunities and experiences. How many asylum seeker or refugee women are leaders of campaigns, or in decision-making positions? They often do not even appear as leaders or thinkers in the human rights organisations that support their rights. How many female refugees have been directors of UNHCR, commissioners in the Australian Human Rights Commission, leaders of Amnesty International, or even prominent in media broadcasting fields such as documentary filmmaking which deal with humanitarian issues? Their absence is not a coincidence and sends a message of distinct exclusion to already marginalised women, further reducing their likelihood of receiving equitable access to leadership positions.
This complex chain of underrepresentation of asylum seeker and refugee women in all forms of public life is a subtle and covert form of subjugation and oppression. An insidious form of exclusion becomes apparent when we consider that these women are rarely visible as keynote speakers, performers or artists in the mass media and at prestigious events. In many cases they are not even visible participants in the very activities organised to advocate for their rights; instead we witness a long line-up of white women and men speaking on their behalf.
Listening to refugee women’s testimonies not only helps to transform their agonies, it helps to empower them.
The previous experiences of refugee women and the resulting sense of isolation, invisibility and injury are further heightened in their new country by the inequality that results from dominant cultural assumptions. The simplistic objectification of refugee women needs to be challenged because it gives credence to the misconception that they are uneducated consumers of western culture. While they may have fled from corruption, violence or inequality in their homelands, they did so in order to be free to express their wounds, fears and desires with their own narratives. The role of the privileged in these situations is to enter into a dialogue with them rather than impose the structures of the dominant discourse or speak on their behalf.
While some people may claim to speak on behalf of refugees or asylum seekers because of language barriers that make it difficult for them to speak for themselves, surely this could be easily overcome by providing an interpreter or other support networks. Claiming language as a barrier to free expression, especially in relation to human rights, is surely just another form of discrimination.
This ignorance fosters exploitation and it does tremendous damage to the already marginalised, making it even more difficult for them to be part a social justice revolution. We must rethink our stance and become allies with those who are oppressed, not oppress them further when they are in crisis. Listening to refugee women’s testimonies not only helps to transform their agonies, it helps to empower them by challenging mechanisms of intimidation and negative portrayals in mainstream media.
Scholars who work in decolonial and transnational feminism play huge roles in supporting activists to provide alternative views, and are a necessary part of the reform of intellectual and practical human rights services in the western community.
Patriarchy and racism are grounded in economy and culture. In different economic circumstances, women’s experiences and resistance appear differently. For example, while one aspect of the Iranian feminist movement’s resistance is expressed in removing the role of compulsory hijab, for the Palestinian women’s movement, wearing hijab is a visible part of their resistance. These two very different manifestations of the same feminist activity demonstrate how the richness of people’s lived experience can be infused into feminism.
Only when a society values the voices of its entire people will each of us be free to add our narrative to the dominant social and political discourse, and only then will our country be equipped to engage in a fair and diverse feminist debate which has the potential to empower us all.