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For Orange November; An Effort to End Violence Against Women

| One Month; Thirty Milestones One to Seven. Women in Prison of the Body |

Persian Reference: Bidarzani

Author: Mahsa Gholamalizadeh

Translated from Persian into English: Sarvenaz Ahmadi

For publishing in Tanide

|One: What and why|

Violence against Women is one of the most important and common human rights violations in the world; It is something that does not depend on specific time and space coordinates and is happening continuously in different geographies. In 1960, three women’s rights activists were assassinated by order of the dictatorial leader of the Dominican Republic. In later years, women’s rights activists saw that day as the day of raising awareness about violence against women, and finally, in 1999, the United Nations formally declared November 25th the day for the elimination of violence against women. On the occasion of this day, this month is usually known as Orange November; A month in which different countries take different measures to raise awareness about the types of violence against women and ways to end it.

On this occasion, in this month, in thirty notes, we talk about thirty legal milestones that are lying in wait for the violation of women’s rights. Obviously, women’s issues are not limited to these cases, and the causes and factors mentioned in these writings are only narrators of a part of the existing truth. These notes examine the Iranian legal system with a critical approach. In these writings, the main emphasis is on legal gaps and shortcomings. In other words, legal violence in its general sense is criticized; How successful the legislature, as the main custodian of fair and just legislation, has been in fulfilling this mission, and finally how the outcome of this process leads to discrimination and violence against women, is the focal point of these writings.

With this introduction, in the first note, we talk about what violence against women is. The important component in defining violence is the use of force or coercion. It is also important that the impact of the violence is hurtful. In simple terms, any behaviour that is done to someone without their consent and hurts the person in any way is considered violence. Force does not necessarily mean the use of physical force, and it includes both soft and hard types. On the other hand, the damage has different intensities. In short, if an individual or a group or a system completely ignores our consent or imposes something on us, whether directly or indirectly, on a matter related to us, it has committed violence against us.

In the case of women, the violence in question is gender-based; This means that women, just because they are women, are targeted to behaviours that basically ignore them as human beings, and ultimately lead to all kinds of violence, including physical, psychological, emotional, economic, legal, etc. A noteworthy point in this regard is the pervasiveness or non-specificity of violence; In fact, although women are the main victims of gender-based violence, other groups in society, such as men, children, and LGBT people, have not been spared. That is why, in addition to the importance of women’s rights as an independent issue, the impact of this phenomenon on other social issues also encourages us to endeavour to end violence against women.

In a month there is enough time to rethink our beliefs and behaviors. The purpose of writing these notes is to become aware of the truth of the habits and customs that sometimes as a discriminatory law have prevented us from thinking about what they are and why. These short essays are supposed to stimulate the readers’ questioning spirit rather than provide them with detailed and analytical answers.

It is not bad to doubt a little about what we once thought to be the absolute truth!

|Two: Let Me Be a Child!|

My grandmother has always told me that she had not had her period when she got married. She gave birth to her first child on a farm. Her big belly was covered with a scarf and she was harvesting rice and bent down to her waist when she felt it was time. Embarrassed by her body and femininity, she reached a lake without informing others. With a little effort, she pulled the baby out, cleaned the baby’s head and face, crumpled her scarf, and put it in her underwear so that the sinister blood did not dishonour her. She breastfed the baby a little and tied the baby behind her back and returned to work quickly. This baby died after less than a month. My grandmother has been pregnant thirteen times and has nine children. She has always told me with a bitter smile that her stomach has been empty for less than two months every year.

If this narrative had a historical description and belonged to distant periods, it might have been interesting and unputdownable. Understanding where we came from and what strange and seemingly impossible traditions previous generations had could be the story’s fantasy and help us understand history. But this story is a reality in many children’s lives today. News recently reported that in the first six months of this year, child mothers gave birth to nearly 800 children. You may ask, are all these children who have now become mothers dissatisfied with their lives, their spouses, or their children? Or you may simply say with a grin that I swear to God that our grandmothers were happier and luckier than us. This actually warns us and shows us that important issues aren’t taken seriously enough and the depth of the catastrophe is hidden from the eyes of the citizens of a country.

Child marriage means the marriage of people under the age of 18, which is a glaring violation of human rights. The most important reason for opposing this phenomenon is the deprivation of childhood as the most basic stage of people’s lives for individual and social growth and development. The insistence of our legal system to not explicitly determine the age of childhood has led to irreparable consequences in various fields. The fact that a child can marry at a certain age but is not qualified to vote, or that his or her consent to sexual intercourse at a certain age is considered valid but at the same age does not have the right to file a complaint, indicates legal confusion and a lack of a single standard for defining childhood. In fact, we are faced with a system that doesn’t take care of the best interests of the children and raises and lowers the age of childhood whenever it pleases and benefits others.

Although child marriage is not specific to girls, the effects of this phenomenon on girls are much greater and deeper. Early pregnancy can endanger their physical health and even cause their death. On the other hand, immature bodies and a lack of health standards impose displeasing experiences on them, such as miscarriage. Also, girls who become so-called brides lose their child-friendly groups as well as their opportunity to go to school; In other words, they are excluded from the society in which they grow and learn. The isolation of girls, on the one hand, and the lack of an adequate legal mechanism, on the other, lead to an increase in domestic violence, a kind of violence that usually goes unnoticed, and family or the legal system does not support reporting it. In fact, these girls have witnessed all kinds of violence including physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence since their early childhood, each of which alone can lead an adult to paths such as suicide, addiction, or running away, let alone children who are more sensitive and in special conditions and therefore less resilient to such consequences.

Poverty is also one of the factors influencing this phenomenon. Due to difficult economic and living conditions, families decide to arrange a marriage for one of the children as soon as possible, who is usually the daughter of the family and is not as economically productive as she should be. On the other hand, middle-aged men, have economic welfare goals and are strongly motivated by them. In fact, in addition to their sexual goals, they are concerned about their aging so they prefer a young and mature woman who can take care of them for free and permanently. In this regard, the most important reason for the increase in the marriage rate of girls under 13 years, according to many, has been the increase in the rate of marriage accommodations; A decision that, like many others, was made without paying attention to children and women and structural problems and legal shortcomings.

Recognition of childhood and the protection of children by fundamental international documents such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women are unquestionable duties of a political system. Childhood is not a time of transition. Children are not miniature adults. Childhood itself is important and an indisputable right of human beings.

Let our girls and boys be children!

|Three: Motherhood is a choice! |

One of our relatives used to say that when her pregnancy test was positive for the first time, she cried for hours because of this unwanted event. While living a happy life with her husband and they were both trying to achieve their personal goals and feeling successful and happy, she was shocked and saddened by this sudden incident. They both knew how much they did not want this child and they had talked about it many times. They believed that being unwanted is really painful in this world, and on the other hand, they did not see themselves as ready to accept the extremely difficult role of parenting. She had a huge lump in her throat as she told me that the situation became more difficult for her when the gynecologist told them that their situation was ideal and allowed herself, not only to persuade them to keep the child but also to make them understand that they had no choice but to bear the child. The woman knew that she did not want the child and was not ready to become a mother at all, but she seemed to be blamed by the whole world. You are afraid to share this pain with anyone. She was not sure if she could find a safe and healthy way to have an abortion. Simply put, she could not decide for her body. As the undisputed owner of her body, she could not decide about her own personal life without worrying, remorse, and fear of punishment. Apparently, she has to answer to everyone, from her parents to the law and its executors, and everyone would call her selfish and guilty forever.

The criminalization of abortion in the Islamic Penal Code, on the one hand, and the widespread ideological propaganda for the sanctity of motherhood and population growth, on the other hand, show the exploitation of women and the female body by the legal system. In fact, it seems that this system perceives no other function for the female body than carrying the next generation. Absolute prohibition of abortion is considered a type of human rights violation in human rights documents. This issue is directly related to the right to the body, or in other words, the autonomy of individuals. In the sense that the sole decision-maker for a body is the owner of that body, not those around it, laws, or familial-social customs. On the other hand, this issue is also related to the right to privacy. The decision to become a parent is a matter of consensus and privacy between couples, and external interference by power institutions in this matter is considered a violation of individuals’ privacy.

Ignoring the importance of this issue has irreparable social consequences. Trying to achieve social goals such as increasing the population and preventing its aging by making mandatory and grammatical statements at first is a violation of the inalienable individual rights of citizens at the expense of ideologies approved by the political system and then it makes the citizens to choose illegal ways of abortion and ultimately leads to the criminalization of a large part of society. This issue is directly related to the health and lives of people. Lack of access to safe and healthy ways to end unwanted pregnancies is ignoring the citizens’ right to health, the right that the government is responsible for providing and protecting. In fact, eliminating legal ways does not necessarily lead to the elimination of the phenomenon, but rather leads to the emergence of illegal ways that usually do not have a happy ending for individuals who choose them.

On the other hand, the lack of an appropriate environment for childbearing in society and the lack of efforts by government institutions to improve economic, social, and cultural conditions, play an important role in the reluctance of women and families to become pregnant. Coercion and criminalization of the opposition, regardless of the prevailing conditions and ignoring the inalienable rights of individuals, are nothing but acts of egregious violence against women!

|Four: Compulsory hijab; Purification of society or humiliation of women?|

Court guards have sharp eyes; like a super professional device, they see everything in a fraction of a second. There is not a total of three steps between pulling back the curtain of the first door and reaching the second. In the bustling courts, one wonders who is watching me. Here the voice of the guards answers the question. Either they say pull your scarf forward, or fasten the buttons of your manteau, or why don’t you cover your ankles and other reactions like these! The trial may start at any time. You have not slept the night because of the anxiety of this day and now you have to answer such meaningless questions! Most of the time they leave you alone if you just say ok, sir. But we have seen times when they do not allow you to pass the door until you cover your body in a way they desire.

These few lines are just a small part of the daily humiliation of women in one of the official offices of this country, no matter it is early in the morning, or it is evening time, their honorable occupation is full-time, no matter you are in Vanak Square or Enghelab Street, or University Education Office or a language class, no matter you are a lawyer or a student, old or young, married or single, walking alone or with family members, no matter you have the most tired and colorless face possible or too much makeup on your face!

They always find a reason to ruin your moments and do not need any criteria to disturb your body and mind.

The issue of hijab has two dimensions, or I better say two levels. At the first level, it is said that the compulsory hijab is basically one of the manifestations of human rights violations. In the modern world after many years of attempts of legal systems to reach a point where individual freedoms and human rights are obvious and agreed upon by the international community, the choice between wearing or not wearing and in the next stage choosing the type of wearing is one of the basic and fundamental rights of individuals. Thus, the basis of such a law is discriminatory, contrary to human rights, and invalid and illegitimate from the perspective of women’s rights activists.

But simplistically, at the next level, if we do not consider the basis of this unjust law and consider “not wearing hijab” as a simple crime in the Iranian legal system, the situation will not be better. According to the legal community and many officials, what is going on in society and what women face is utterly contrary to existing laws. Note to Article 638 of the Islamic Penal Code criminalizes presence in public places without a canonical hijab. The punishment for this crime is ten days to two months in prison or being flogged up to 74 times.

First, the hijab is not skeptical or spectral in jurisprudential texts; In simpler terms, it is either a hijab or not. What is considered a crime in the article is the presence of a hijab. Therefore, according to this article, punishing what they call bad hijab has no legal validity. On the other hand, the punishment for this crime is under the criminal law of the 8th-degree punishment, and under the law of criminal procedure, the investigation of the 7th and 8th-degree crimes is done in the courts. Simply put, the issuance of criminal verdicts by the Ershad (Guidance) Court, known as the Vozara Court on Ghaem Magham Street in Tehran, has no legal validity at all. In fact, if judicial officers arrest a woman for not wearing a headscarf in public, the Ershad Court should immediately send the case to a competent criminal court by issuing an incompetence order, rather than investigating and issuing a criminal order.

Also, how women are arrested by the Guidance Patrols (Gashte Ershad) is basically against the law. For years, the world has concluded that no one can be arrested without a court order and process of law. The harsh, illegal, and inhuman acts of Ershad officers towards women are incompatible with any human rights logic and illegal and contrary to the fundamental rights of individuals, by the laws enacted and enforced by the Iranian legal system. Article 32 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic explicitly confirms this.

In addition to physical abuse and public defamation of women, other reactions are also rejected from the perspective of criminal law. For example, sending text messages about not wearing a hijab in a car, no matter what reason or logic behind it, has no legal justification in the Iranian legal system. In short, we should say that, first of all, inside the car, it is not a public space and it is a kind of private place. Therefore, it is basically impossible that the crime of not wearing a hijab occurs in a car, according to the article we mentioned. Assuming that this crime can occur in a personal vehicle, proving the occurrence of the crime requires evidence. We have recently seen that text messages were sent randomly and not based on the recordings of the cameras, and the plaintiffs had no evidence to prove the occurrence of the crime. On the other hand, the moral security police do not have the authority to cite the accused. According to the explicit text of the law, only the prosecutor or the court can cite the accused. This act is also in clear opposition to the principle of Individual Criminal Responsibility, a principle accepted in all legal systems of the world. This means that a text message is sent to the owner of the car, while in many cases the owners themselves did not commit the so-called crime. In addition, sending a second text message for the confiscation of the car is strange, surprising, and contrary to criminal procedure principles. How is it possible that an institution that has no jurisdiction to inquire into this crime, cite a person other than the accused person without any specific evidence and impose a punishment such as confiscating the car after ten days without holding any trial and not during legal procedures?

Accordingly, we can say that the hijab is more of a security issue than a religious issue, and the desperate efforts of all these years to impose the hijab on women have been for sabre-rattling and showing political and ideological power. In fact, those in charge of deepening the culture of hijab seek to humiliate women in general and continue to oppress them. According to them, the hijab is the first fortress that, if it fails, will inevitably lead to other problems. Therefore most of the time we are confronted with really different acts and the severity of them changes periodically. In fact, the essence of what we are facing is completely violent and against women, and because of the invalidity of the principle of the legality of crime and punishment and the prevalence of extra-legal institutions, incompetent authorities, and unjustified instructions show themselves more than ever.

|Five: I am the only owner of my body! |

This sentence is very common in the world of Iranian law, both among professors and academics and among judges and lawyers;

“A woman’s body is inherently stimulating.”

When I hear this sentence, I always think of the moments when my body is in the unsexiest state possible. I mean, at least in those moments I’m personally determined to experience living in this world regardless of gender or sexual stimulants. For example, the times when I walk in the streets while I’m telling stories in my head and I don’t want to pay attention to anything and anyone in this world except what is going on inside me or, for example, when I feel a desire to ride a bike, I don’t want the world to pay even the slightest attention to my body, and I sincerely want the whole world to ignore me and leave me alone. Or when I start my so-called preaching and talk about everything with my audience and tell them about my wishes, what I have learned, and what I know, I indeed expect my words to be seen and chewed instead of my body. This is when I think to myself, what role does this repetitive sentence play and where does it come from?

The answer is clear; The origin of such a sentence and idea is the ever-burning patriarchy. Patriarchal thoughts want to continue oppressing women by confining women in the prison of sex and erotic experiences.

Look! It uses the term “inherently”. By saying this, it relieves itself and us that the will of a woman does not matter, she does not have control over it, and this body, whether she wants it or not, will stimulate us. What’s the solution? to make her cover her body as we say, make her speak as we say, and behave so that this stimulation reaches the lowest level, and she is safe from our bites and injuries.

Ownership of the body means having the power and will to decide for the body without fear of violence or away from other domination, which is an inalienable right of all human beings. Laws and customs such as genital mutilation, lack of access and the right to use contraceptive methods, virginity testing, not having the right to abortion, and compulsory hijab all directly question the right to the body. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), half of the world’s women do not have the power to decide on their bodies! For example, in 20 countries, women are forced to marry their rapists, and in 43 countries, marital rape is not criminalized.

Our body has countless other functions besides sex, regardless of its structure and sexual orientation. Sex is just one of the capabilities of this body. Every person has complete and absolute ownership of his/her body. The use of the sexual aspect of the body is solely at the disposal of the owner of that body. Reducing and restricting the female body to the world of sex and sexual pleasures, in a way, signifies the female body slavery. In this process, like a free street show, women’s bodies are constantly judged, admired, or blamed by others. It is as if a woman unwittingly carries her body and invites others to this imposed theatre.

In this process, the beauty industry encourages and even obligates the pursuit of fixed patterns of beauty. Therefore, women are caught in a forced competition to become sexier. The dominance of the body as a violation of the autonomy of individuals, like other forms of violence, also affects men and LGBTQI+ people. The dictated criteria of beauty and the concentration of thoughts on the sexual and sexy dimension of the human body involve everyone in an erosive process, and in this process, everyone is a victim.

A woman’s body seems to be criminal and evil no matter what she wants or does. The physical experience of women in the world is strongly denied or blamed. For example, we can mention the shame of puberty and menstruation in women, the bulges of our breasts and the blood that naturally comes out of our bodies every month should always be kept private. Many girls deliberately hunch in puberty so that no one can see the bulges.

Or who can say that the experience of buying menstrual pads was not accompanied by embarrassment and facial flushing for her and that she did not end up carrying them as a forbidden cargo in a black bag on the way home? Or we all have probably heard that the presence of menstruating women in mosques and holy places is rejected and forbidden! Or many women must ask for permission from their husbands to take birth control pills and find it difficult to imagine forcing them to use condoms without seeing a violent response. All of this shows how far human societies, especially traditional and religious systems such as Iran, are from respecting the ownership of the body as a fundamental right of a citizen.

Possessing a woman’s body and focusing on the sexual and sexy dimension of her body is nothing but a violation of her rights and the continuation of slavery and submission of her thoughts. Let’s respect people’s ownership of their bodies and not collaborate with the domination system by submitting to patriarchal and heteronormative beliefs!

|Six: Women Against Femininity|

I dare say that one of the bitterest narratives of violence against women, which recently made headlines in the media, was the horrific story that Sepideh Gholiyan told from the women’s ward of Bushehr Prison. These stories are just one aspect of the tragedy that is happening in women’s prisons. According to Sepideh Gholiyan, a prison is a place near the end of the world for women. Violence in prisons is egregious, and every voice and protest is suffocated with more violence. In my brother’s words, who is a prison soldier, it is as if “there is no God in prison!”

But why? Why do accused, convicted, and imprisoned women experience more violence than men?

Femininity has long been associated with attributes such as innocence, gentleness, softness, and being oppressed. In fact, a good woman is a woman who does not commit a sin or crime, does not do violent and hard tasks, and always is submissive in front of an oppressor. Dividing traits and behavioural patterns based on gender is the same stereotyping process.

Among these, sex, addiction, and crime stereotypes are very important and significant. Simply put, these clichés see the realm of sex, addiction, and crime as masculine realms. In other words, sex and free sex, addiction to drugs and alcohol, or committing all kinds of crimes by men are accepted. Acceptance here does not mean that these acts are unpunished. In fact, such men do not face a value judgment in this society. It means that these behaviours do not question the masculinity of these men. However, as soon as women enter these realms, their feminine dignity and prestige are damaged. Women who seek multiple sexual relationships, women who use drugs, and women who commit crimes are worthless women who are not only deserving of punishment but also deserving of blame and deserving of exclusion from human society.

Feminist criminologists believe that delinquent women suffer twice as much social pressure as delinquent men because women have not only violated social laws by committing a crime but have fundamentally disregarded the rules of nature, rules based on the innocence of women. In fact, guilty women are not just people who have committed a crime and should be punished! In addition to being criminal citizens, these women are corrupt mothers, rebellious wives, and disobedient daughters. Therefore, it is appropriate to exclude them from all human groups, and what Sepideh Gholiyan clearly said about the prisoners’ relationship with their families confirms this.

We women are subjected to all kinds of violence just because we are women! Imagine how much we would be victims of violence if we went a little out of this narrow framework of masculine values and became addicted or committed a crime!

Addiction is not a crime; having multiple sexual relationships is a consequence of the right to own your body, and committing a crime has a heavy price called criminal punishment in law. Therefore, none of these three groups deserves double oppression. These people have human rights and dignity, and the violation of these rights is the same as violence. Addicts and criminals, both men and women, have human rights. The cycle of violence will not stop as long as we are not sensitive to violence against human beings and the violation of their human dignity and recognize them as worthy of violence simply because of their actions!

Let’s read what Sepideh has narrated and imagine only one moment of what is happening to the prisoners. No human being deserves these acts and this amount of violence.

|Seven: Together with LGBTQI+ people |

When Ali Fazeli Monfared’s brothers slaughtered him, I remember how sickly I started reading the comments below the news and was shocked by the amount of violence in the words and beliefs of the people. Many people said that if their brother or child were like Ali, they would use more violence. A 20-year-old boy is brutally murdered by his family, and the audience of this news, instead of expressing hatred for the killers and the reason for the murder, thinks that the victim deserves worse than death.

Ali’s assassination was described as an honour killing in many media outlets, raising concerns among human rights activists as well as the LGBTQI+ community. We may ask ourselves what is the difference between Romina’s murder and Ali’s murder? How did they both become known as honour killings? Was not honour equal to the women of a family and a society?

The answer is that there is no difference between the two murders; Both are rooted in the controlling patriarchal system. Masculinity has a deep connection with the truth of heteronormativity in the world. Such a belief sees the identity, sexual orientation, and relationships of human beings as confined to a fixed model. As usual, it equates this belief with human nature and the only truth of history. As a result, it considers any person who is or goes beyond this natural framework to be curable, otherwise, the person deserves death and non-existence. Since honour is the honour of a patriarchal system, anyone who can dishonour it even a little bit is doomed to decay. Thus, a homosexual man or woman is simply killed as easily as possible just because he or she is different from the dominant system.

At this point, however, what can stand to some extent against such heinous beliefs is the law and the legal system. According to human rights documents, all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have obvious rights, including the right to life and survival. As a consequence of international law, governments must enact and pass laws that not only do not violate human rights but also go beyond and punish those who violate human rights. In Iran, however, their laws not only lead to violence but also are basically one of the strongest roots of attacks on LGBTQI+ people.

Article 237 of the Islamic Penal Code explicitly criminalizes homosexuality and its punishment is flogging. This punishment also applies to behaviors such as touching and kissing. But in the case of sexual intercourse between two men, the person who did the intercourse will be flogged 100 times and the other will be executed, and in the case of sexual intercourse between two women, both will be flogged 100 times.

It is traditional and far-fetched to divide the sexual identity of human beings into men and women. People have different sexual orientations as well as different gender identities. Contrary to popular belief, these issues are not necessarily coerced; This means that some people, for whatever reason, completely freely and independently of hormonal restrictions, decide to choose their gender identity. The intention of this group of people may be fighting against common stereotypes or any other motive. What is important is recognizing the rights of individuals and respecting differences. This is what is expected in the first place from the laws of a civilized country and in the next step from the citizens of that country.

If we open our arms a little to accept different people, we will experience a more beautiful and safer world, both ourselves and others. Until the day when our law welcomes the obvious rights of individuals, we, as libertarians and egalitarians, will overthrow the extensive dictatorships in our homes!