Championing women’s rights in Iran: Sussan Tahmesebi
The gender inequality existent in Iranian society is woven into the law of the land. Perceptions, mentalities but most importantly legislation needs to be changed in order for women in Iran to enjoy the same freedoms as their male counterparts.
This is where Sussan Tahmesebi comes in. Sussan has dedicated over 20 years of her life to putting women’s rights and equality for women on the Iranian government’s national agenda.
Sussan, an Iranian activist, is one of the founding members of the One Million Signatures Campaign, an initiative which is striving to reform the discriminatory laws ingrained into Iranian society. The Campaign collects signatures of Iranians, both male and female, who want to put an end to the gender-biased laws pervading Iran. These signatures will eventually be taken to Parliament in the form of a petition.
Some of the laws which Sussan and her campaigners want to be reversed include: stopping the signing of a marriage ‘contract’ by a woman being conducive to the woman signing away her life and becoming a second class citizen. A married woman in Iran can neither work without the consent of her husband, nor can she have legal guardianship of her child, nor the right to divorce.
The One Million Signatures Campaign has provided a platform for Iranian citizens who want change to express themselves peacefully and proactively. Sussan is one of a number of influential and persistent women who have organised peaceful protests to raise awareness of the Campaign for women’s rights in Iran.
Sussan, as a result of her campaigning has been harassed by Iranian security forces, who have invaded her home and arrested her for supposedly spreading propaganda against the Iranian government. In June 2006 Sussan arranged a peaceful protest in Iran in support of women’s rights and was subsequently arrested and charged with a suspended 2 year sentence for posing a threat to national security. Between December 2006 and January 2009 Sussan was banned from traveling on numerous occasions, and her passport was confiscated by Iranian security forces. These endeavours to halt her Campaign have by no means deterred Sussan in her ambition to write women’s rights into Iranian legislation.
In an interview with Amnesty International, Sussan admits the difficulties of leading a successful, inclusive and peaceful campaign which goes against the current laws in place in Iran. In order to combat this, the Campaign, which is active in over 15 provinces of Iran, lobbies with community and religious leaders where possible to galvanise broader sections of society. Sussan also discusses in this interview that conferences, seminars and art are methods which the Campaign uses to reinforce its peaceful motives while raising awareness across the country.
The One Million Signatures Campaign transcends politics and religion; the Campaign has the sole aim of uniting the Iranian people who are in support of legislating equality for women. It is important to note that the Campaign, and indeed those who comment about it, are by no means dismissing intrinsic and traditional Islamic cultural values about women and family life as obsolete. But Sussan and the members of the Campaign believe that the modern woman in Iran needs opportunity, equality and freedom of choice on the same grounds as men.