In Iran they stop you if you don’t wear your veil properly or if you leave a lock of hair visible. In Afghanistan, girls are prohibited from going to school from the age of 12, and women do not go outside unless accompanied by their guardian. Skipping these prohibitions has severe consequences. So far this year, in Spain, 38 women have been murdered by their partners or ex-partners, and many young women feel that their mobile phones are an instrument of control for their boyfriends.
But what do these women and girls, living in countries with such different cultures and political systems, have in common? They are united by gender violence, a form of discrimination for the mere fact of being women. A violation of their rights that takes multiple forms and causes physical, sexual, and psychological damage, and that includes threats, coercion, and deprivation of liberty, whether it occurs in public life or in private. This is proclaimed by the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which, approved by the United Nations in 1993, was the first international instrument that explicitly addressed this type of injustice.
Today, November 25, we unite to demand an end to all the abuses that are carried out against women and girls in the world. Today we also want to talk about State violence when it is also gender violence, that is, when States establish discriminatory laws against women, when they deny them the right to protest against those same laws that annul their dignity, and when they repress, detain and attack, even with sexual assaults, in demonstrations in defense of their rights.
Afghan women, despite the fact that the Taliban have expelled them from the public space, continue to demonstrate and take to the streets with protest signs to demand their rights. And there they also want to silence them
Immersed in this circle of arbitrariness are women in Iran. The laws of this Islamic republic do not punish marital rape or ensure proportional punishment for men who murder their wives or daughters. The courts, when complaints arrive in the family sphere, give priority to reconciliation and not to holding the aggressor accountable. Girls can be married from the age of 13 or even earlier if their parents have legal permission. In fact, between March 2020 and March 2021, 31,379 marriages of girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were registered, more than 10% compared to the previous year. In this country, women cannot study certain technical careers, and those who are not married or do not have children find it very difficult to access public employment, because the State’s priority is to increase the population as a strategic power policy in the region. .
The death of Mahsa Amini, on September 16, after being detained by members of the Iranian morality police for not wearing a veil properly, was the last straw on an already overflowing camel. Now, women and girls, more than half of the population of that country, rebel against discrimination and revolt against the State that rules over their lives and even over their most intimate desires and against the omnipresent police of morality. that controls them in any public space.
They, and the men, especially the young, who accompany them in their protest, speak of revolution. They want a radical change that ends the autocratic government that prevents them from having an autonomous life as women and that takes away their freedom. “Woman, Life, Freedom” is the slogan that unites them, as well as “let the handkerchiefs float in the wind.”
Nika Shakarami and Sarina Esmailzadeh are two 16-year-old girls who died after receiving fatal blows to the head by security forces during recent demonstrations. Now their families are harassed and intimidated into supporting the official account of their death: that they “committed suicide by jumping off a roof.”
In the same circle of violence of patriarchal power, Afghan women and girls have been immersed since the Taliban took power in August 2021. Those who previously worked as lawyers, journalists, teachers, businesswomen, police officers, and also those who they were athletes, artists or defenders of human rights, now they are prohibited from continuing to carry out these activities. Faculties have been segregated by sex and many students have dropped out because the Taliban have made the university environment dangerous for them, harassing, controlling and disadvantaged them.
Brishna, a 21-year-old student at Kabul University, told Amnesty International that guards outside the campus yell at the students and demand that they fix their clothes and headscarves, and that some ask why they are seen the feet. “The head of our department came to our class and told us: be careful, we can only protect you when you are inside the faculty building. If the Taliban try to harm or harass you, we will not be able to stop them,” she recounted.
They beat us on the breasts and between the legs. They made it so we couldn’t show it to the world
But the Afghans, despite the fact that the Taliban have expelled them from the public space, continue to demonstrate and take to the streets with protest signs to demand their rights. And there, too, they want to silence them, repressing the demonstrations, stopping them. There have even been forced disappearances. And there, too, the authorities, as in Iran, want to hide the abuses against them. The arrested women are forced to sign a document, pledging not to demonstrate or speak publicly about their detention again. Neither they nor their families. Amnesty International obtained the testimony of a protester who was detained for several days: “They beat us on the chest and between the legs. They did it so we couldn’t show them to the world.”
Other circles of violence
When gender prejudices are combined with other discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion or poverty, the risk of suffering violence and exclusion increases. In the United States, during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, police used excessive force against protesters, but also against the press. In the state of Iowa, journalist Andrea Sahouri was pepper-sprayed, even though she yelled “I’m from the press, I’m from the press!” and was detained, accused of failing to disperse. A year later she was found not guilty.
In Mexico, in 2020, 3,723 women were murdered, that is, 10 died violently every day. They are murders that remain silenced and go unpunished because the State does not comply with its duty to protect women and to exercise justice and reparation. Although the feminist demonstrations against gender violence are peaceful, and it is the police who respond with excessive use of force, it is the protesters who are stigmatized as violent. Gender stereotypes are very present in police behavior. Detainees are harassed and threatened with sexual violence.
It is no coincidence that in some of these countries, and in others in which the State exercises, by action or omission, violence against women, the accusations in legal proceedings against women human rights defenders are always loaded with gender stereotypes. . In addition, the crimes they are charged with are often accusations fabricated to discredit them.
It happened to Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian lawyer who has defended women accused of failing to comply with strict dress regulations imposed by the ayatollahs. She has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and receive 148 lashes for “inciting corruption and prostitution” and “openly committing a sinful act, appearing in public without a hijab”, according to the sentence.
The accusations in the judicial processes against women human rights defenders are always loaded with gender stereotypes. The crimes they are accused of are often fabricated to discredit them.
In Egypt, the young women Hanin Hossam and Mawada el Adham have been sentenced to 10 and six years in prison, respectively, accused of acting against “decency” and “inciting immorality” on social networks.
In turn, the recent ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the case of Digna Ochoa, a human rights defender murdered in Mexico, has condemned the Mexican State because the investigations, which prejudged that she had committed suicide, were plagued with gender stereotypes. Among others, they pointed out intimate aspects of her personal life in order to damage her reputation in order to minimize the fact of the murder.
Because gender-based violence in its multiple forms always has, as its ultimate goal, annulling women’s freedom and, with it, their ability to be responsible, to make decisions, to act, to be present in public space. With all this, he intends to place them in the minority.
But the resistance of women around the world, their demonstrations and struggles against gender violence and in defense of their rights, is just the opposite. It is collective resistance. They show in group the human rights that are not taken into account by the State, the neglected. They demonstrate in public in a non-violent way. They agree and generate consensus to achieve a good life together. It is the strength of “we” to produce change, to start something new. The energy of the Iranians, of the Afghans, who disobey the discriminatory laws of power to defend their rights as women.
Lola Liceras She is an expert on women in the global movement Amnesty International Spain.
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