The following statement by a group of international socialist feminists in solidarity with Iranian women’s struggles was initiated by the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists on February 10.
The Socialist Alliance in Australia is among the signatories.
As socialist feminists, we support the courageous Iranian women who have been taking off their headscarves in public to express their opposition to the compulsory hijab in Iran.
Since December 27, dozens of women have taken off their scarves in public places. They have faced arrest, with some temporarily released after posting heavy bail.
These brave women who believe that wearing the hijab should be a matter of individual choice without any imposition from above, reflect the wishes of a majority of the Iranian public according to the Iranian regime’s own polls.
In fact, since December 28, a wave of popular protests and strikes has been spreading throughout Iran in opposition to the Islamic Republic. These protests have included broad sectors of the Iranian working class, women and men, mostly young.
They have been preceded by and continue to involve employed and unemployed workers, students, teachers, healthcare workers, retirees, the dispossessed and the families of political prisoners.
They also include members of various oppressed national minorities such as Arabs, Kurds and Azaris as well as persecuted religious minorities such as Baha’is.
The latest expressions of opposition to the compulsory hijab by individual women are not only part of this new wave of popular protest, but also part of a four-decade long resistance by Iranian women against the Islamic Republic, and for civil rights and human rights.
Despite severe repression, Iranian feminists have expressed themselves through novels, blogs, websites, group discussions and translations of works by international feminists.
Some socialists, inside and outside Iran, have belittled the protests against the compulsory hijab as “liberal feminism” and “not radical enough”. In the words of a seasoned socialist feminist inside Iran however: “Today, Iranian women need freedom from headscarves, full veils or any cover. They need the civil rights that they have been denied.
“Once the expansion of the demonstrations leads to the realisation of these freedoms… the struggle can go beyond them and become the beginning of women’s struggle against the reification of social relations.”
Almost 40 years ago, tens of thousands of Iranian women marched and protested for five days from March 8 to March 12 in 1979, to commemorate International Women’s Day and to say no to Ayatollah Khomeini’s order to make the hijab compulsory and abolish the limited rights which the family protection law under the previous regime gave them.
Those brave Iranian women who had participated in the revolution against the repressive regime of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, chanted: “We didn’t make a revolution to go backward.”
At that time, some Iranian socialist men supported the women’s protests. However, most Iranian socialists and socialist organizations opposed the protests and called on women to stop their marches and sit-ins because they were “diverting” the struggle from the main goal of opposition to US imperialism and the monarchy.
International leftist feminist Kate Millett, and socialist and Marxist feminists like Claudine Moullard, Leila Sebbatt, Simone De Beauvoir, Raya Dunayevskaya, however, reached out to Iranian women with statements of support, articles and even fact-finding trips to Iran to meet and march with Iranian women.
They recognised the importance of women’s protests against the compulsory hijab and the women’s liberation struggle in general as an effort to deepen the revolution and challenge Khomeini’s drive to impose a counter-revolution.
Today, we the signatories of this statement, refuse to separate our opposition to US imperialism and any imperialist war drive on Iran, from our support for the progressive and revolutionary social justice struggles of Iranian women, workers and oppressed minorities against their regime.
We too are suffering from rising authoritarianism, right-wing populism, and neo-fascism in the US, Europe, Russia, China, South Asia, Africa, Latin America and Australia, as well as whole of the Middle East.
In the West, hard fought women’s rights in what have been known as “liberal democracies” are under severe attack. At the same time, the new Me Too movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault is growing, and targeting the abuse of women in all spheres whether government, academia or the arts, corporations or factories, service sector jobs or the family.
African American women who have always experienced the triple oppression of racism, sexism and capitalism continue to represent the most radical dimension of women’s struggles.
Given the global nature of the assault on women, it is extremely important for women who oppose capitalist imperialist patriarchy, misogyny, racism and homophobia to come together and link our struggles. We must seek to find a new direction forward and develop an alternative humanist way of producing, living, organising and relating to our fellow human beings and to nature.
Toward this aim, we salute our Iranian sisters and reach out to them in solidarity. We call on others who agree with this statement to join us in this effort.