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Iranian activists look for movement on women's rights

Originally published at:  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-11-25/iranian-activists-look-for-movement-on-womens/5115156

Iranian activists look for movement on women's rightsWhen Hassan Rouhani was elected as the new Iranian president three months ago, some of his pledges included strengthening international relations, and advancing the rights of the nation's women. The recent completion of a deal between Iran and the six world powers on the Iranian nuclear program is seen as a start on fulfilling one of these promises. But how are Iranian women faring in the new political climate, with the promise of greater security, and long hoped for rights?

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SCOTT BEVAN: The nuclear agreement is seen by some as an indication of change in Iran under its new president, Hassan Rouhani.

When he assumed office about three months ago, strengthening international relations and advancing the rights of the country's women were among Rouhani's pledges.

Yet political promises are yet to be converted into a better reality for many Iranian women, as Sarah Sedghi reports.

SARAH SEDGHI: Political moderate, social media savvy and committed to progressing the rights of Iranian women - these are some of the ways Iran's president Hassan Rouhani has been portrayed in the media since his election.

It's a contrast to the Iranian leadership of his immediate predecessor and one that's giving hope to nation's female population.

SUSSAN TAHMESEBI: He said that he wants to lift restrictions that were basically the hallmark of Ahmadinejad's period on civil society. So I think if he manages to do that, that will be a very positive step for the Iranian women's movement.

SARAH SEDGHI: Sussan Tahmesebi is an Iranian women's rights activist and the co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network. Since 2006 she has been involved with the One Million Signatures Campaign - a movement to change discriminatory laws against women. It's an involvement she was arrested over.

SUSSAN TAHMESEBI: Unfortunately, immediately after we started this campaign - which was extremely peaceful and it was centred on discussions and awareness raising with the public - I started getting arrested.

SARAH SEDGHI: Gissou Nia is from the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre. She says the last eight years of Ahmedinjad's government targeted activism and interfered in the daily lives of women.

GISSOU NIA: Security forces would come, break up the situation and would arrest peaceful activists. So a lot of women's rights activists that you'll speak have spent some stints in jail, they've definitely come under economic pressure. So it was a very different climate under the previous eight years.

SARAH SEDGHI: The women's movement is something she has followed closely and says that while promises have been made under the new Rouhani leadership, there is still a long way to go.

GISSOU NIA: We're hearing about women's activists organising again. Lots of hope, lots of hope in the atmosphere. And so we're very, I'd say cautiously optimistic that with this nuclear deal and the fact that Rouhani and Zarif were given this negotiating power, that we'll see a similar thing when it comes to human rights.

SARAH SEDGHI: Faraz Sanei is the Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch.

FARAZ SANEI: He made lots of comments about the fact that women need to be more involved in the political and civil process and the social processes in Iran. He made comments regarding the interference of the security forces in the way women dress and in their daily lives. So what he said I think brought a lot of hope not only for women's rights but also human rights in general.

SARAH SEDGHI: He says one of the biggest problems limiting the progress of women in Iran is the law, and until reforms are made, any major progress cannot be achieved.

FARAZ SANEI: There has been a disconnect in Iran with regard to what women actually do in society and how the law essentially looks at women.

SARAH SEDGHI: Equal rights for women in marriage, divorce and custody are just some of the laws campaigners hope to reform. They are changes Gissou Nia hopes more men can get involved with.

GISSOU NIA: They're essential to this discussion on how to push forward women's rights, and when brothers and fathers and husbands realise that the restrictions that are placed on the women in their lives are actually hurting their society as a whole, that's when you're going to see mass societal progress in that direction.

SARAH SEDGHI: Even though the new leadership in Iran has boosted hope among women and female rights activists, it's the work of women themselves in the tireless campaign that is more than a century old, that have produced the most results.

Sussan Tahmesebi says the rate of women's education is proof of this.

SUSSAN TAHMESEBI: Despite the fact the laws are so restrictive, women have made a huge progress inside of Iran. The rate of education of women in Iran is extremely high - it's 80 some per cent - and for a younger population it's close to 100 per cent. So pretty much all the younger women in Iran are educated.

Iranian women have never stood down, they have never accepted limitations against them.

SCOTT BEVAN: Iranian women's rights activist Sussan Tehmesebi, ending that report by Sarah Sedghi.

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