The One Million Signatures Campaign

In Western culture, Muslim women are often portrayed as meek, submissive, dutiful housekeepers and children raisers in traditional family roles. They are seen as completely at the mercy of the men in their life. Some westerners would go so far as to claim that the Muslim religion is in strict opposition to women’s rights. While it is a Western and largely false claim to say that feminism and the Muslim religion cannot coexist, there are many places in the world where women are denied what the United States would call basic human rights, under the guise of adhering to Muslim religious beliefs in lawmaking. The One Million Signatures campaign is an example of how Muslim woman are fighting for their rights and showing that a person can be a Muslim and a feminist at the same time.

The one million signature campaign began in Iran on August 2006. The goal of the campaign was to collect one million local Iranian signatures, in protest of discriminatory laws on women. This petition would then be presented to parliament, along with a draft bill to bring local laws into line with international standards on women’s rights and gender equality. The campaign differed from those previously eld by Iranian women, in that rather than focusing on one issue, such as outlawing stoning, the movement called for Iran to met all international standards for women’s rights. This campaign was more comprehensive and inclusive than those preceding it.

The response to the one million signatures campaign by the state of Iran was that it was “un-Islamic” and “un-Iranian.” Women who campaigned were often accused of endangering national security and spreading propaganda against the state. Campaigners also had to combat the state’s claim that calling for international standards meant that the movement could not be a home grown initiative. The response to this was that the campaign moved beyond the boundaries of the Islamic/secular feminist debate towards a common call for universal standards on gender equality.

The One Million Signatures campaign was born out of other feminist movements in Iran that faced hard crackdowns by the state. After the violent breakup of demonstrators on International Women’s day mach in March of 2006, women began to question the wisdom of public gatherings as an effective form of protest. Some women decided it was best for the movement to maintain a public presence despite state violence. At the 22nd Khordad event, a small gathering of women from the movement called upon the state to reintroduce CEDAW into parliamentary debate. The State sanctioned violence to get the women to disperse, and the extent of the brutality caused shifts in secular feminist philosophy.

Protesters were more determined than ever to overcome the atmosphere of fear, but secular feminists decided that to press on with demands for constitution revision as out of the question. The shift went from short-term initiatives seen as protesting and gathering to long term strategies. Feminists began to focus on the overall picture of women’s status in the Islamic Republic. Under the one million signatures banner, all local laws would be brought into line with international standards on gender equality.

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