Iran: Justice for Iran: A Shadow Report on Child Marriage

Weldd:Justice for Iran is a WELDD project partner that aims to  address and eradicate the practice of impunity that empowers officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as they perpetrate widespread human right violations against their citizens.

Under the WELDD programme, JFI aimed to raise awareness on the little-known fact of child marriage in Iran through a shadow report submitted to the UPR on culturally-justified violence against women. Their project, titled “Leaders for Change”, held forced marriage as its main tenant, and aimed to train at least 20 women (both outside and inside Iran) in campaigning and working with UN mechanisms, lobbying UN Special Rapporteurs and governments and reaching out to a wide public via online campaigns against forced marriage, creating, in effect, awareness on a national level.

Background

In Iran, multiple forms of CVAW exist. Stoning, for example, is one of them; lashing, flogging, execution—all for committing zina, or adultery.

A less-talked-about form of CVAW in Iran is that of child, early and forced marriage. The majority of women who have been sentenced to death by stoning for committing zina had been forced to marry at very early ages—punished for seeking escape, love, and acceptance, from their current situations of continual marital rape and other forms of domestic violence.

In Iran, a girl can be married at 13 and a boy at 15, and still the guardian can marry them off younger if he obtains court permissions. It’s not just children who are forced to marry, however; the LGBT, particularly lesbians, are subjected to it as well.

The women’s rights movement has ben trying to draw attention to all forms of CVAW for years, but the 2009 presidential elections saw a severe crackdown on civil society, making any kind of activity difficult—if not impossible—for activists inside Iran. Many have chosen to left, and others have been forced or exiled—preferring to leave rather than stay in the country and be imprisonment. Activists in the diaspora then take up the cause, but this has its own hindrances; disagreements with those within the country, issues of connectivity, the inevitable emotional issues that arise from leading a life in exile. All of this has grossly slowed down the activist movement for Iran.

Workshop Training

A two-day online training workshop was held online, where participants were trained about the methods of advocacy and campaigning at both a local and international level.

During the first day, different methods of campaigning such as through the media, through grass roots, and through awareness-raising, were discussed. Participants were also trained on international human rights organizations and their advocacy methods, such as gathering petition signatures, issuing press releases, etc.

In the second day, participants were trained on UN human rights mechanisms such the Human Rights Council, the Human Rights Committee, Special Mandates, and the Universal Periodic Review. They received basic training on how to engage with the UN system.

Project Objectives

JFI’s preferable criteria in identifying the key activists to involve in the project included those with a background on working on issues of sexuality; those with differing ethnic and orientation backgrounds. The organization aimed to organize one webinar on international campaigning that focused on stoning and forced marriage, and one on how to engage with UN mechanisms such as the UPR, Special Mandates, and the treaty bodies relating to stoning and child marriage.

The ultimate result was the shadow report that was then produced at the Universal Periodic Review on Iran on issues relevant to CVAW. The outcomes also included advocacy visits to Geneva to lobby the government representatives on issues related to CVAW.  In addition, a successful online campaign was created, raising awareness at a national level. This campaign was mainly led by activists inside Iran.

JFI in the Media

A successful Facebook event, which attracted almost 5500 members to join, saw over 150 women sharing their personal stories on child marriage. The overall reach for this event was almost 56,500 people, and was covered in the Guardian, Plan International, and Human Rights Watch.

On International Day of the Girl Child (October 11th), JFI released its bilingual research report on the status of girl marriages in Iran, highlighting their rising numbers and the legal roots for this phenomenon. It can be found inEnglish and Farsi.

The campaign has been covered in Thompson Reuters and the Guardian.  Video clips can be found on BBC Persian(second clip here) , VOA, Manoto TV, and DW.

Personal Impact 

Under the oppressive climate of government crackdowns, activists had begun to feel drained and discouraged. This workshop felped revive a lot of old energy that had gone rusty; new life, new ideas, and new collaborations now made things seem more possible. 

Afshan* claimed she had been so tired, she was considering giving up all her activities altogether. Her NGO had been forcefully shut down and she had no roof to act under. The workshop taught her courage to work harder for human rights; if it hadn’t been for her experience in those two days, she would have given up.

Farah* had had a personal story of abortion (illegal in Iran) and related it as the most painful and humiliating experince of her life, and came away from the workshop with a fresh idea on how to advocate for abortion and other health issues for women in Iran.

Golnar*, before the workshop, had no idea of the seriousness of the issue of child marriage in Iran, and afterward, contacted the Deputy President for Women and Family Affairs with the reports and statistics published by JFI. The Deputy reponded confirming that would take action; a follow-up is left to be conducted.

Hoda* realized the sheer extent of diversity in Iran, and how discrimination against women is indeed layered through ethnicity as well as race. She learned, after hearing of it from Kurdish and Arab women, the concept of CVAW as coming from not just cultures but sub-cultures as well; forced marriages based on khoun-bas or naaf-bori, or personal stories of an Arab Ahwazi’s classmates’ death by honour killing. She now understands that ‘sisterhood’ does not mean sameness, but rather that the diversity and difference to be acknowledged and appropriately addressed. There can be no one-size-fits-all solution to women’s issues.

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