Free Faranak Farid: Azeri Feminist Speaks of Plight of Azeri Women in Iran

On September 3, Faranak Farid, an Azeri feminist, writer, poet, translator and secretary of the First Azerbaijan Women’s Congress was arrested in Tabriz. Since then, she has been interrogated for long hours and severely beaten by agents of the Tabriz Ministry of Intelligence. Her condition is deteriorating and she needs urgent medical attention. Below are excerpts from the translation of a speech which Farid had presented to a gathering of feminists in New York City in March 2010. I have taken the liberty of revising and editing the translation.

Author: Faranak Farid
Title: Where Are You From?
Source: (Persian) (English Translation)
Translator: Anonymous
Translation revised and edited by Frieda Afary

“Where are you from?” Is ethnicity an important factor in women’s struggle for their rights? When I was studying English in Middle School, this question seemed to me an interesting one. I would imagine myself living abroad and answering the question proudly. But this innocent picture was blemished as I came to face different types of discrimination.

As a woman I grew up in an environment in which different types of discrimination existed. These forms of discrimination have a cumulative effect. They shape you, break you, reshape you, mold you, break that mold and create a new mold for you. Finally, you no longer know who you really are…

In order to reach a correct understanding of ethnic discrimination as a factor which holds women back in their struggle to achieve their rights, we need to look at the subject as a whole. Iran is a country with a population of over 70 million with a variety of cultures, languages, ethnicities and religions. It is said that ethnicities constitute 65% of this population. [This figure has been disputed. Other estimates range from 35% to 50%] All are dominated by the language and culture of a minority.

The enforcement of this policy began 85 years ago before and in conjunction with the rise of the Pahlavi Dynasty. It now continues. Azeris who constitute one third of the population [this figure has been disputed], as well as other ethnicities such as the Lurs, the Kurds, the Arabs, the Balulchis, the Gilakis, the Mazandaranis, the Turkmen and the Ashayer[formerly nomadic pastoralists] such as the Qashqai and the Bakhtiari, are the aforementioned majority who have been denied their economic, social, civil, cultural and political right and have been marginalized.

Ethnicities whose language is not Persian, do not even have the right to be educated in their mother tongue. There is only one official language for all the ethnic groups. As a result of not having this basic right, women who belong to these ethnic groups can only minimally express themselves in society. Or these women forgo using their mother tongue in order to free themselves from further discrimination.

Given these circumstances, it is clear that these women face more complex challenges in achieving their human rights both as women in a patriarchal society and as marginalized ethnic groups. In this environment, gender discrimination creates greater limitations for them in accessing economic, political-social, legal resources and the media.

For example, in my hometown Tabriz, gender inequalities such as not having the right to divorce, have led to an increase in the number of women who have killed their spouse and landed in prison.

In addition to sexual discrimination, other discriminatory factors such as poverty, living in rural areas, and being a member of an oppressed ethnic group etc., can help us comprehend the many barriers that these women face.

Consider the case of Raheleh, from one of Azerbaijan’s villages. She was forced to get married at age fourteen. Like many other women, she was subjected to various types of brutality such as beatings, rape by her husband, and other inhuman acts. These very brutal and disrespectful acts turned her into a murderer. Raheleh was subsequently executed. Her public defender had told her that she must “defend” herself. However, she really didn’t know the meaning of the word “defend” in Persian.

…Among religious groups, religion as a factor leads to greater inequality and deprivation for them. The tensions that are brought about in combating inequality, injustice and deep-rooted prejudices, result in women’s toleration of greater violence in conflict zones.

The suicide rate among women [who belong to ethnic groups] is now four and a half times the suicide rate among men…However, self-immolation which is the most horrible form of suicide is more common among the Kurds and the Lurs. Honor killings are also very common. However, its agents are often not prosecuted.

Female genital mutilation is one of the lesser known problems faced by women among some ethnic groups in some regions. Women’s rights activists in poor and backward areas such as Sistan and Baluchistan also report the following: Girls who are still considered children are forced to marry old men in exchange for money; Some marriages are not even officially registered; Drug addiction exists. Similar to the Arab regions of Khuzistan, the lack of basics such as hygiene and clean drinking water is one of the main problems which women face.

Emigration from ethnic regions has been prevalent and still continues especially among men who leave in search of work. The negative consequences have especially affected women and families. The deepening gap between the central areas of the country such as Tehran with a population of 15 million, and the rest of the country, has led to tensions and a lack of mutual understanding.

Race, ethnicity, gender, language and culture, social class, religion, place of residence, disability, etc. are factors which create inequality and discrimination. Often, women confront most of these forms of discrimination. Under complicated circumstances arising from these inequalities, women lose their self-confidence and feel overwhelmed.

It is not only the powers that be which suppress ethnic groups. Most intellectuals also do not pay attention to their problems. Hence, paying attention to ethnic discrimination both at the national and the regional level is an urgent need.
On the one hand, women’s rights activists in these areas are labeled “political activists” and “separatists.” On the other hand, women who belong to national consciousness movements that exist in these regions are kept away from decision-making roles, by some of the authoritarian men who are active in these movements.

However, given the above mentioned circumstances, women’s rights activists in Azerbaijan are just as determined as women activists in other parts of the country, to achieve their human rights. During the past fifteen years, and in continuity with the past, they have used every opportunity to promote the movement of women to achieve their rights and to create opportunities for activity. They have turned to writing to express themselves. They especially engage in reading and writing in their mother tongue. Their participation has increased in all aspects of social life and in social activities. They continue to insist on their rights, just as they insist on other basic human rights. They are not willing to forgo any of these rights.

Thank you.
Faranak Farid
March 12, 2010

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