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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Manifesto of Liberation of Women in Iran

The very existence of the Islamic regime of Iran is incompatible with freedom of women. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a misogynist state, architect of gender apartheid and perpetrator of three decades of the most odious forms of abuse, discrimination and violence against women in Iran. A society cannot be free if women are not free. Without the overthrow of the misogynist Islamic regime, women in Iran will not achieve their rights. The Islamic Republic must go! This is the message of Neda Agha Soltan, the symbol of the ongoing revolution in Iran; it is the decree of the brave women who at the front lines of people’s protest have been challenging the entire Islamic state for the past seven months.

Thirty years ago on March 8th, 1979 in Iran, we freedom-loving women and men stood up to the reactionaries who had just come to power, with shouts of No to compulsory veil! Today, with the painful and bloody experience of three decades of gender apartheid, gender slavery and nonstop suppression of women behind us, we state even more clearly and forcefully, along with the young and progressive generation of today, that the Islamic Republic, as a misogynist state, as a regime of gender apartheid must be overthrown. We say that the leaders of the Islamic Republic must be arrested and put on trial for systematic crimes against millions of women, for crimes against humanity. This is the decree of the revolution in Iran. With the overthrow of the Islamic Republic we will lend a helping hand to millions of women in Islam-stricken countries who are prisoners of terrorist Islamic states and gangs and honour-worshiping, male-chauvinistic Islamic traditions.

Today, support for the ongoing revolution in Iran can and should become a vast international movement. March 8th is International Women’s Day, which this year bears the mark of solidarity with women and people in Iran in the struggle to topple the Islamic regime. We call on women’s rights activists and organisations to express their solidarity with the women’s movement in Iran, while remembering Neda Agha Soltan as the symbol of the revolutionary movement against the Islamic Republic. March 8th this year is the day of solidarity with the movement of the people of Iran for freedom!

We issue the following Manifesto of the Liberation of Women in Iran, and call on all women’s rights’ activists and secular and progressive forces to support this Manifesto and join up in solidarity with the people of Iran in the struggle to overthrow the Islamic regime of gender apartheid:

1.Prosecution of the leaders and officials of the Islamic Republic for crimes against humanity, including for thirty years of the vilest abuse, discrimination and violence against women in Iran

2.Abolition of all misogynist Islamic laws and all laws that discriminate against women; complete equality of women and men in all economic, political, cultural, social and family spheres

3.Complete separation of religion from the state, the educational system and all laws

4.Abolition of segregation of the sexes and gender apartheid

5.Prohibition of sighe (Islamic ‘rent-a-wife’) and polygamy; unconditional right of separation (divorce) for women and men; abolition of all laws which make women’s civil rights (such as the right to travel, social intercourse, participation in social activities, etc.) conditional on obtaining the permission of the husband, father or other male members of the family; complete equality of women’s and men’s rights and duties in the custody and care of children following separation

6.Abolition of compulsory veil (hejab) for women; prohibition of hejab for children; full freedom of dress

7.Abolition of all the barbaric laws of stoning, execution, retribution (qesas) and other Islamic punishments

8.Unconditional freedom of expression, protest, strike, assembly, organisation and forming parties

9.Immediate release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience

10.Freedom of religion and atheism and freedom to criticise religion.

Mina Ahadi
Mahin Alipour
Shahla Daneshfar
Maryam Namazie

22 January 2010

To sign up to the manifesto, please go to: http://equal-rights-now.com/IntWD/IntWD649.php?nr=63719093&lang=en

To see Maryam Namazie’s call to show solidarity with the people of Iran, click here:

To see how you can support the people of Iran, click here:

For more information on the manifesto or March 8 events, email manifestzanan@gmail.com or iransolidaritynow@gmail.com; call 0049-1775692413 or 0044-7719166731 or visit http://equalrightsnow-iran.com/ or http://iransolidarity.org.uk/.


I've put this here to assist people who might want to sign it, or might otherwise be interested in its content. Please give it your consideration as it's generally a worthy cause.

However, I have not signed it because there are parts of it that I don't fully agree with, and it's my policy not to sign any document unless I'm in total agreement. Of course, that raises questions about whether this is a good policy to follow or whether we should be prepared to sign off on things like this if we agree with the spirit and most of the detail, without quibbling too much about relatively minor points of disagreement. Still, although I'm open to discussion, I'm unlikely to change my policy on that.

- Russell


Charles Sullivan said...

Please do tell.

Russell Blackford said...

My quibbles are relatively small - I can imagine them not bothering some people at all; in which case, why not sign it? I do think that such manifestos are better kept short, though. This one has quite a lot of detail, so almost anyone might think twice about something that it contains. But I'm certainly not discouraging signatures.

The thing that first leapt out at me was the proposed ban on polygamy. This troubles me partly because I'm not sure what it means. I don't believe that the state should necessarily recognise polygamous marriages (or any marriages if it comes to that, but that's another story). But will existing polygamous marriages be automatically dissolved even if the people involved in them are happy, which some women in these marriages doubtless are, and irrespective of the effect on children and existing financial and social arrangements? Will all polygynous relationships be made illegal, or just not recognised by the state? If the former, that's an interference with people's liberty that I must oppose (in the US it would almost certainly be uncontituional, based on Lawrence v. Texas). Why not legalise polyandrous marriages rather than banning polygynous ones? That would be a more principled step.

Doubtless some regulation could help, since there are doubtless many forced marriages and marriages of very young girls.

But I cannot accept any state interference in people's sex lives if the are, say, 16 or over and the arrangements are fully consensual; and, to be blunt, I'm an advocate of polys' rights, so I'm not going to sign off on something that seemingly goes against their rights.

In all, when I look at it, I find stuff to worry about in the whole of point 5. It could have been left at point 2.

This alerted me to look closely at it, and there may also be other issues.

But I totally understand if someone thinks I'm being too purist and theoretical. If that's the case, then sign it by all means. I certainly accept the main thrust of the manifesto. I'd happily sign it with reservations, and I'm happy enough if other people can sign it in good conscience.

NewEnglandBob said...

Russell, you are tough. I happen to disagree with your quibbles, but even if I did agree with them, this document is far too important and needs support.

I disagree with the US constitution's right to bear arms (at least the interpretation that is common) but I would still vote for it in a nanosecond for the worth of the rest of it.

Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa said...

Repost (sorry!)


It must be said that banning polygamy has been one of the key goals for feminists in Muslim nations for over a century, and it's certainly not a coincidence that those majority Muslim countries that consider themselves most modern (Turkey, Tunisia, Bosnia, Azerbaijan) have banned it. There's never been a question of allowing women to have multiple husbands; that's just not in keeping with any form of Islam. Polygny has been widely feared and despised by quite a few Muslim women for centuries since it invariably leads to favoritism, jealousy, heartbreak and intrigue -- despite the Qur'anic injunction to treat all wives fairly (4:129), even Muhammad, supposedly the most perfect of men, feminists have noted, was completely unable to do so, favoring Ayesha and later Mary the Copt to the point of ignoring several of his other wives.

Also, as traditionally conceived, the husband does not need the permission of the first or other wives to marry again; their wishes are completely irrelevant. It's only recently that many Islamic countries have introduced a requirement that the wife's permission be obtained, and even so this is often skirted, because they'll marry the second wife outside the civil/legal framework, but it'll still be considered a valid marriage under shariah law, even if technically illegal under state law.

It's worth noting also that, under Islamic inheritance laws, if a man dies, his widow gets a quarter of his assets...unless there are children, when she gets an eighth. If there's more than one wife, they have to share in that eighth! It's not for nothing that the term for a co-wife is "darrah," harm! Women can and do put in provisions in their marriage contracts forbidding their husbands to take another wife or else the marriage will be automatically dissolved, but some scholars claim that because Islamic law allows polygyny, these provisions are invalid. Still, it's not a good idea to irritate one's wife, because Muslim women are surprisingly strong and forceful!

Regarding current polygynous households, statistics indicate that 2% of marriages in Iran are polygynous (women generally won't stand for it and it's hugely expensive). I'm reminded of a hadith: when the verse limiting the number of wives to four was "revealed," some of the early Muslims had more than that. Muhammad told them to choose four and divorce the rest. When polygynous Jews from Muslim countries came to Israel, even though polygamy was forbidden, they were allowed to keep their current wives provided they didn't take any more.

I suppose what I really want to say, though of course you might disagree, is that it's one thing to push for recognition of different forms of marriage in a culture where sexual liberation has taken hold, and quite another to do so in a society that is enormously misogynist, where there are enormous sexual double standards. Honestly, to take issue with this manifesto because of the polygamy issue seems to me to be like taking issue with a human rights document that calls for compulsory education as a violation of children's personal rights -- when 50% of the girls don't go to school at all. Or maybe complaining about a failure of some country to decriminalize prostitution -- when it's well known that the vast majority of prostitutes are forced into it by extreme poverty or even sold into it. It just seems a bit...odd to focus on that particular issue. It's not even legal in the West (although I think the Netherlands might allow it, now), so why would it be such an issue? As the situation stands, allowing polygamy to be legal would merely have the effect of legitimizing what the conservative religious leaders in the society are saying, as against the views of the feminists and liberals, even if a more "liberal" position in the West might be to recognize all forms of marriage.

Lisa said...

"when it's well known that the vast majority of prostitutes are forced into it by extreme poverty or even sold into it"

I mean "prostitutes in that country." I don't doubt that there are plenty of sex workers who do it voluntarily, but I'm thinking of places where sex trafficking and sex slavery are rife.

A not dissimilar case obtains in India, where liberal abortion laws have led to the widespread abortion of female fetuses because of grossly misogynist cultural factors, to the point where the sex ratio is grossly unbalanced. How does one balance reproductive rights vs. the position of women in society? Might one have the unfortunate effect of decreasing the other?

Russell Blackford said...

Dammit, I lost a long reply to Lisa. It'll have to wait until tomorrow.

Russell Blackford said...

Okay, try again. I can't deal with every loose end in Lisa's comments, which covered a lot of ground. I'll probably need two comments as it is, just to deal with the central points.

First, note that I posted the manifesto here to draw it to people's attention. If you can sign it in good conscience please do so. I fully expected and hoped that the net effect of my action would be to add to the number of signatures. I'm not campaigning against it; quite the opposite.

However, I can't, in good conscience sign it myself in its current form. Further, it would have been hypocritical to post it here without admitting that I haven't signed it myself. And further, it would have been precious to refuse to say anything at all about my reasons when asked (by Charles Sullivan above).

There are various points of concern, not just point 5., but it was point 5. that made me look at the whole thing more closely.

For the record, I've signed things posted by related groups in the past. I am totally opposed to the current regime in Iran, not least for its misogyny and homophobia. However, I will not knowingly sign things unless I agree with them in their entirety. Doubtless I've signed things in the past that had "iffy" clauses that I didn't notice, but I do try to be careful.

No one really has to justify why he or she does not want to sign something, by the way. It's up to the drafters of manifestos and petitions to use words that can attract full agreement from a wide range of people. There's no onus on anyone to sign something because it's "close enough" to their thinking. If someone who is obviously sympathetic has a stumbling block, that's usually a good reason to consider revisions or to allow signatures with reservations.

Russell Blackford said...

Okay, on the polygamy point, I totally understand that polygamous marriages in Iran are regulated in accordance with a lot of nasty and unfair concepts that basically come from the Islamic Republic's version of shariah law. The same applies to the regulation of monogamous relationships. Those shariah concepts should no longer be part of the law of Iran if there's a successful revolution.

I thank Lisa for summarising some of that in handy way, but I was already aware of the basics.

However, none of that is a reason to prevent people entering into polygamous relationships. It's a reason to allow the general secular law to regulate such relationships.

Point 2. of the manifesto contains everything that is necessary to achieve this.

It's not true that polygamous relationships are illegal in Western countries. They cannot be registered as formal, state-recognised marriages, but they are perfectly legal and can give rise to legal rights under the general secular law. This applies to polygynous relationships, polyamorous relationships, and other poly relationships (e.g. a heterosexual woman and two bisexual men; or three gay people of the same sex) that are not easily classifiable as "polygynous" or "polyandrous".

These sorts of relationships are quite common in Western countries and meet many people's emotional needs. I don't see why Iran would be any different if it became a secular state. If people are free, they often work out very diverse ways of living their lives.

Such relationships should be legal and governed by the general secular law in Iran, exactly as they are in the West. Types of relationships that are currently banned, including homosexual and polyandrous relationships, should be legalised. All laws restricting the consensual sexual activities of people above a certain age (perhaps 16) should be repealed. Existing traditional polygynous relationships should not be broken up by the police, but should be governed henceforth by secular concepts - such enforcement of reliance interests, recognition of financial and non-financial contributions if the relationship breaks down, and the best interests of children - rather than by shariah concepts. People should be educated as to what their rights are under the new legal regime.

As I said, point 2. is enough to cover this. There's no reason to spell it all out.

Russell Blackford said...

Ugh, at one point I wrote "polygynous relationships, polyamorous relationships, and other poly relationships". I meant to write "polyandrous" where I wrote "polyamorous", of course.

Lisa said...

I understand your view, Russell, and I'm not really trying to convince you, just trying to lay out the objections (as you mentioned).

However, there's a deeper issue, which I alluded to in my (long) post. Because marriage is considered to be under the purview of shari'ah in Islam, even most (semi-)secular majority Muslim countries either have special shari'ah courts to deal with "family law" or refer to shari'ah in their family law codes, and this even extends to countries with a sizeable Muslim minority such as India or Singapore or the Philippines. And in some supposedly secular countries such as Lebanon or Israel, marriage is completely under the control of the various religious bodies -- there's no civil marriage.

Thus, even if Iran became a nominally secular state, that still might not be enough to get rid of these misogynous rules. You say they "should no longer be part of the law of Iran if there's a successful revolution," but I believe that it's only Turkey that's succeeded in fully extirpating shari'ah in all areas. Incidentally, I get quite upset when defenders of having shari'ah courts in the UK or elsewhere say that it "only" affects family law and inheritance, since those are the most objectionable parts of shari'ah from a female point of view!

In addition, there are quite a few instances of Muslims being married as per shari'ah but not legally recognized, such as with technically illegal polygynous "marriages" in the US, UK and Australia, among other places, and this is legitimized by some of the religious leaders. Even women who know their rights under the secular law will sometimes submit to this -- and be in trouble if it doesn't work out and they are divorced under Islamic law, which doesn't allow for much in the way of alimony. ("I thought he was a good Muslim brother and he wouldn't do that to me!" is not that uncommon a plaint by naive Western converts, for instance.) And many women who don't know their rights, or are pressured not to take up matters with secular courts, are going to be at a huge disadvantage.

I don't know what would be the best way to deal with this situation without riding roughshod over everybody's rights, but at the same time just allowing it to go on because "it's their culture" is obviously not right. Even Muslim feminists and Muslim female social workers are trying to get these women to understand their rights under Islam and stop tolerating these abuses, so saying that "it's their religion/culture and how dare you criticize it" is profoundly simplistic and quite mistaken.

Russell Blackford said...

Sure, Lisa. I think the issue of people agreeing to arrange their affairs in accordance with shariah law outside the secular law is difficult. We usually allow people to arrange their financial, and most other, affairs how they please, and not use the secular court system unless they want to. It's hard to say that anyone except Muslims can do that. But perhaps we have to for various reasons; I'm wrestling with this.

I agree with you about the "just" family law thing. It's precisely in the area of family law that it's important to look after the interests of women and children. But even if all shariah courts are made illegal (in the strong sense of prohibited by law; not just "not recognised") there may be some limit to what the state can do to ensure that no woman ever acts against her best interests. I suspect there's no perfect solution at the level of state action. In a sense that's not surprising, because the clumsy mechanisms of the state aren't a panacea for all problems. Still, I don't want to see the bad outcomes for women either.

In Iran, all these problems on the ground will continue with monogamous relationships - let alone polygamous ones - and will have to worked out in some way, probably imperfect, that helps women without massive police repression or state surveillance. As you suggest, it won't be easy.

It would be better not to throw around the word "illegal", because I think it creates confusion. This also arises in the debate about gay marriages. The word "illegal" suggests that you can be prevented by law from actually having the relationship, which is usually not the case. Registering two marriages may be illegal, but actually having a de facto gay marriage, or two de facto marriages (whether straight or gay) is usually not. The situation is usually that a poly relationship is legal (i.e., legally permitted), even "technically", but not recognised by law as a formal marriage - but depending on the jurisdiction it may well be recognised by law in other ways, possibly as a cluster of de facto relationships each giving rise to certain property rights.

Athena Andreadis said...

Russell, I recommend that you spend some length of time in Iran (or Yemen or Saudi Arabia) before deciding to split fine theoretical moral hairs on this manifesto. The amount of unquestioned privilege in some of your statements here is disquieting.

Russell Blackford said...

Athena, I always find ad hominem accusations like that both unfair and intellectually unimpressive.

Athena Andreadis said...

You described your personal reasons for not signing the manifesto, Russell. So don't complain that I refer to your personal reasons in my response.

The reasons you advance, which even you yourself call quibbles, are risk-free armchair philosophizing, when this issue has blighted countless lives and cultures. Chosen polyamory in a permissive system is light years away from this. To conflate the two is an error even in your own domain of logic.

Russell Blackford said...

Nice try, but I don't find that very impressive either.

Meanwhile, the dogs bark but the caravan moves on. So does Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.