Date: Thursday, March 11, 2010
Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, painter, sculptor and a professor at the University of Tehran, begins her talk by wishing the release of all political prisoners, especially the woman. She says: “I hope that all female prisoners will be released before the new year. Everybody, from women’s rights activists, child’s rights activists and journalists to the nameless women who were arrested while protesting in the street, and the female students who have done nothing but to demand their rights.
Rahnavard did not forget the mourning mothers. “our hearts and prayers are with those mourning mothers whose flowers have withered. The mothers of Neda, Sohrab, Seyed Ali, Ashkan, Kianoush, Ramin Ramezani, Alireza Eftekhari, Mahram Cheghini and the mothers of innocent martyrs like Naser Amirnejad, Iman Namzai, Kaveh Sabzalipour and those whose names we don’t even know. And those mothers and families whose loved ones have endured great injuries after the election, some have been injured in the protests, some have been tortured while in custody, and some have been in prison for months now.
She then takes the opportunity to wish a happy new year to all the freedom loving men and women: “I hope that the coming year will be year of freedom, democracy, justice and the end of discrimination, especially against women.
Kalemeh website has conducted a lengthy interview with Dr. Rahnavard which follows below:
It’s a good idea to start this interview with a question about women and the Green Movement. A while ago women’s rights activists released a statement writing that there has been no attention to their demands in any of the statements and discussions released after the day of the election. These activists wrote that they believe the issue of women is a big part of the current crisis, and without attempting to solve these issues, no solutions would be sustainable. That is why a group of these activists wrote a critical letter to Messrs Karoubi and Mousavi. What do you think about this? Do you believe that from the day after the election, the candidates were oblivious to women and their issues?
Truly, why do we women have to sit around and wait for someone to tend to us? We have to be the ones who step forward. We can learn much from the story of great women in history. We have thousands of years of history to draw on. From the time, which, according to the Quran, humanity was one unified nation, or the time when, according to some theorists, women were the prime decision makers, when, according to archeological findings, the gods were female and ruled the world. If not anything, the history of civilization tells us that the first industrialists, cloth weavers, potters and farmers (if not hunters) were women. Of course, in those times, there were unwritten agreements which, according to the physical, economic, religious and traditional beliefs, men and women divided tasks. And since it has not been historically proven that there once was a society ruled solely by women, at least we know that there was a time when [though they may not have been the pinnacle of rule,] they played a huge role in the laws and governance of their society.
What is stopping us now from learning from them? In the third millennium, during the recent election women were maybe treated as first rate citizens but right after the election that status was taken away from them in a flash. Despite what happened, we are in pursuit of our demands such as freedom , removing discrimination [against women] violence and stopping polygamy.
Are the Green Movement and women’s rights movement related? If yes, can you tell us about their link?
On the more general issues, there is considerable overlap between the two movements. On more specific issues, there is a need for the women’s rights movement to branch out and push its own agenda above and beyond the support that it gleans from the Green Movement. When it comes to basic rights—such as gender equality, democracy, and law abidance the two movements are in complete agreement. But I would like to firmly assert that in history, general political reform movements and revolutions have shown that women’s fight for equality needs to be distinguished from the general political movement for democracy.
In Iran, it is impossible to expect that the general political movement—in this case, the Green Movement—will be able to successfully eliminate inequality and violence against women without help from an established and independent women’s movement. The legal push for gender equality with regards to double standards in reparation money, court rulings, legally sanctioned polygamy, divorce laws, citizenship laws, and other ingrained double-standards should be fiercely pursued by advocates of the women’s movement.
The general political movements of the past two centuries, such as the industrial revolution, the French revolution, the pursuit of American democracy, the Bolshevik revolution, the fall of Russian communist regime, did not do much to propagate the advancement of women’s rights. It was only until much later, when women put up a separate fight of their own that they began to advance their legal rights.
What is the responsibility of the Green Movement towards gender equality?
The Green Movement must understand that today, women are at the forefront; they take initiative and sacrifice in an awe-inspiring way, much like they did during the Islamic Revolution. Hence, the movement should not overlook the pursuit of women’s rights. The movement’s platform needs to be mindful of women’s rights issues and has to incorporate gender equality into its platform. In the same way that Mousavi said in a previous interview that we are friends of the women’s movement and this friendship means camaraderie.
However, the reality is that the Green Movement is like an umbrella to several other significant social movements—for example, the women’s movement, the labour movement, the students’ movement, and the teachers’ movement. The general slogans of the Green Movement are freedom, equality, rule of law, and democracy. Leaning too much towards either one of the sub-movements can make the Green Movement appear biased. Like I said before, the women’s movement, while being supported by the Green Movement, still needs to be active and push forward its agenda independent from the Green Movement as well.
At the same time, the Green Movement should in its statements and views acknowledge the importance of each of these sub-movements and should demand the amelioration of the political environment, and should push for a government that would ultimately grant the wishes of each sub-movement—without appearing biased.
In this situation what is the role of the government?
I have repeatedly declared that this government is illegitimate. But, since it has been established as the official one and it recognizes itself officially, it should fulfill its responsibilities accordingly regardless. These should not consist of destroying families and condemning women and children to misery by neglecting their demands, repressing them, and proposing anti-women legislations in the name of supporting family while, [in reality], simply satisfying hedonists. If it claims to be a [legitimate] government, it should withdraw anti-women legislations immediately, designate committees to restore women’s rights and, inspired by the ideals of the women’s movement, interact with the Parliament and the Judiciary [to achieve these ideals]. However, this government is incapable of carrying out such deeds.
In the aftermath of 10th presidential election, a group of MPs along with their supporters have decided to pass the so called family support legislation . This is while the slightest protest by students, teachers, workers and journalists against violation of citizen rights is responded with threats, arrests and unjust trials. Why are they in such a hurry to pass legislation which would legalize polygamy and is more backward than the one passed 35 years ago?
This is puzzling [for me as well]. On one hand they are trying to take advantage of the situation to advance their agenda against the will of freedom-loving women of this country. They think that the Green Movement does not pay attention to women issues; therefore they can use the opportunity to realize their backward demands. This is of course [in their view] an opportunity for them but not the reason, so what is the reason [behind their actions] ? [ I believe] that this government has a retrogressive mindset that seeks violence. They are related to repressive pressure groups that have imposed their influence on certain layers of the Islamic society, who committed the chain murders, accused and threatened others and physically assault their opponents in public gatherings so that they can create a closed society. Today these groups are in power and have the authority to impose and enforce their views. But even if they succeed temporarily they will be defeated in the long term. They should know that they cannot present their backward views in the name of Islam forever. Islam is a progressive religion. It has the potential to interact with the modern world and new ideas and its dynamic Ijtihad  has provided an opportunity for innovation in a contemporary context. Overall I think the parliament is under pressure by the government to pass these anti-women legislations.
In an interview you declared that you do not recognize this government, and you will not compromise with it. That interview was greatly publicized and was the focus of the day. What reasons do you see behind such attention to your words?
There were rumors going around back then that leaders of the Green Movement each in their own way were compromising with the government. Of course this was the wrong interpretation. Such rumors were further promoted by right conservative [they do not deserve the word Principalists] newspapers. They were making a big deal out of baseless rumors to ruin the spirit of people [not to mention that they were not successful.] They glorified news that the Green Movement is frightened, that they have lost, and were regretting the course of action they had taken. As a member of the green movement, side by side with people, I declared what they thought. I did not say anything new. What I said were the words of people who have denied to retreat. It is these people that guide the leaders of the Green Movement towards demands of the nature of freedom and democracy.
How do you see the future of the Green Movement?
If a nation wants to change its destiny it would definitely be successful. This is the message of hope from the great Quran. If you help God, God will help you back, and fix your step on your path. It is the promise of the Almighty. If are steps are fixed in this path, we would definitely be victorious and we can breathe a new life into the body of our thoughts and lives.
Some are very concerned with outbreaks of violence on the celebrations of the last Wednesday of the year. What is your solution to stop the violence?
Those celebrations are among the ancient national rites of Iranians. It is a day of joy, a day where people wear smiles, and wipe the misery off their faces. It is when nature will flourish in an Spring-like fashion in colorful colors and flowers. Thanks to Norouz celebrations of the first of Spring, and the kind spirit of this day and its gift of freedom, the Green Movement would definitely be happy and proud. The Green Movement is with the purpose of compassion, resistance and calm. We would commemorate the memories of people like Neda, Sohrab and other martyrs. We would not commit any violence; we would love all people, whether they are Green, or any other color. We say to the military members that we love you too. Be our brothers, and give people flowers instead of batons and bullets. If there is a violence, it is violence of the government.
During the last 9 months you have been attacked many times. Sometimes these attacks were physical like the one on ‘Unvierstiy Students Day’ or on the day of anniversary of the revolution. Other times these attacks were in the form of slanders and accusations from the media attached to the government. One of the leaders of Green Movement’s oppositions had gone as far as saying that you are a Zionist, and support the Bahaie minorities and that you have hidden your real views from people. What is the reason behind all this violence against you?
They know very well what our women are capable of in the scientific and executive fields. They also know about my dedication and passion to the Green Movement and my role in it. Putting me in jail won’t do them any good at the moment so they have decided to torment me in the streets and the media instread. What illusions! Our good people have not yet forgotten about thirty books I’ve written that clearly demonstrate my beliefs and principles. What I can do is given to me by God. Following the saying of Quran, I’ll just tell them not to fight against what is given by God, as it is his will.
They will not be able to suffocate me with the curse of their lies and libel as the Green Movement provides me with all the fresh oxygen I need to cheerfully and briskly go on.
In one of the media attacks, the opposition to the Green Movement had said that Mousavi would have nominated Zahra Rahnavard as his chief of staff. Is this an attack on you or actually a praise to a woman?
The gentlemen who have spread these rumors, who are also aligned to the right, have not experienced the joy of being an intellectual and an artist in pursue of his/her nation’s freedom. Otherwise, they would know that if they gave us intellectuals and artists everything on the surface of this earth, including all the power in the country, we would throw it all back at them swiftly, as we are completely happy with working with our intellect and art or teaching our lovely students. Nevertheless, I decided to become active during the election campaign to support our ignored constitution, freedoms, and democracy and will continue to do so in the future. Perhaps as you mention, these comical statements by Green Movement’s opposition praise the woman more so than condemning her. I will tell them from here that I’m only one of many women in the Green Movement, all of whom are more capable than I am. What will you do with them?
Ms. Rahnavard, you are better known as an artist. You have been active as a visual artist. One of your most famous pieces is the “Mother’s Sculpture” that was placed in Mother Square in Tehran and has become one of the most famous sculptures in Iran during the first 2 decades of the Islamic Republic. Some of your antagonizers have put ropes around the sculpture’s neck. How do you feel about that?
For artists, their work is as close to them as their body. It comes from the heart. The artist puts all of his/her love into art and it becomes the tale of all the untold stories, cries, secrets, morals, and dreams that the artist has. But when the extremist forces take people’s lives just because they’re seeking freedom, whether it is through executions, brutal beatings, or other means, what can we expect them to do with a bronze statue? How can they understand what this statue stands for? How can they understand motherhood and art? You saw the reaction of our wonderful people who said if you take down the statue, we would bring Rahnavard herself, and put her on the stand. I now worry about all of my art. The paintings and sculptures can easily be object of such brutality. I hope God will save us all from their illusions.
What has upset the Green movement these days and what are your expectations for the future?
The Islamic Revolution, despite its greatness and glory, was an incomplete project whose goals and ideals should have been realized in the Islamic Republic, but this did not happen. So the Green movement is after issues like freedom, democracy, women’s rights and the rule of law.
But with regard to your question about the Green Movement’s afflictions, don’t ask me to list all the grievances and sufferings that the movement has endured, as it will take oceans of ink to write them. I don’t want to compare, but imprisoning intellectuals, cutting hands, making minarets of heads and heaps out of bodies has been documented before [many times] in the history of dictatorships. I hope that those currently in power would learn from these notorious examples and spare our beloved republic from having such an awful and bitter fate.
So what should they do? What do we expect? What will it take to satisfy us? It is important that the right thing be done; it is not important by whom. So we expect the regime to free the press and media, the reporters, women, men, the young and old. We want them to provide the military forces with flowers, so they can present them to people in compensation for their actions. We want them to free the prisoners to an extent that instead of having the jails holding freedom-seekers, they will be planted with flowers, will be turned into gardens. They should be turned into cultural centers and scientific research labs, all efforts should be put together for developing our industries and agriculture so our youth would have less problems in employment, marriage, and education. On the international level, we want carefully-thought and friendly policies that are in line with our national interests. We want the demands of the women’s, workers’, teachers’, and artists’ to be met. We want them to guarantee the freedom of expression and thought. These and much more can be fulfilled by any decent establishment. Among civil movements, the Green Movement has a particular sympathy for the women’s movement. The Green Movement demands the freedom of all prisoners, particularly the women, whose spouses, mothers and children are impatiently awaiting their release these days .
 Close to Nowruz – the Iranian New Year