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Standing up for Iranian Women

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At the Sha Abbas Great Mosque, Isfahan ANDREA MORONO, FLICKR

Maryam Mombeini, the wife of a Canadian-Iranian professor who died in a Tehran prison under suspicious circumstances last month, was detained by Iranian authorities while trying to board a flight to Canada on March 8 – International Women’s Day.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted: “I am outraged to learn that Maryam Mombeini, widow of Kavous Seyed-Emami, was barred from leaving Iran. We demand that, as a Canadian, she be given the freedom to return home.”

This is not the first indignity that Tehran has imposed on Canada, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s strong commitment to re-engage with the Iranian regime. Will this latest malfeasance finally put to rest the Trudeau government’s determination to restore relations with Iran, without first demanding improved conduct?

Iran’s theocracy represents the antithesis of Canada’s liberal democracy, as it violently constrains its citizens’ speech, movement and religious observance, and deliberately enforces barriers to gender equality. While Canada does not, and should not, limit its interactions only to states that share its ideals, neither should we actively seek to court and reward governments that sponsor terrorism, repress their own people and arbitrarily arrest, torture and kill our citizens. Any dealings with such countries need to be part of a larger framework that reflects our values and protects our interests.

Trudeau is an avowed feminist and human rights defender, but where are his words of support for the courageous Iranian women who are being arrested in Tehran for removing their hijabs? While these women have focused on the Muslim headscarf that all females over 13 years of age must wear as part of the dress code instituted following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, they are ultimately protesting their government’s interference with their basic autonomy.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian writer and activist who lives in New York, explained that, “In the Islamic Republic of Iran, if you take off your headscarf and you appear in public unveiled, you get fined, you get arrested, you get lashes. You will be kicked out from your school if you are unveiled. You won’t be able to get a job.… When we fight against a compulsory hijab, we don’t fight against a piece of cloth. We fight for our dignity. We fight for our identity. And we fight for our personal lives. We’re not against those women who want to wear hijabs, but we don’t want them to be pushing us in a situation to wear their dress code, which we do not believe in.”

READ: WOMEN SHOULD TRUST THEIR GUT INSTINCTS 

The Canadian government provoked enormous controversy earlier this year when it amended the criteria for the Canada Summer Jobs grant, to reflect the government’s position “that women’s rights are human rights,” including “sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions.” Meanwhile, Ottawa seems undeterred in its plans to reconcile with Iran, while that government proposes a Bill to Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline, which outlaws surgical contraception, restricts access to contraceptives, censors information on contraceptive methods and reduces state funding for family planning programs.

In a report presented last year to the UN Human Rights Council, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran found it “particularly disturbing that blatantly discriminatory provisions … which stipulate that the value of a woman’s life is equal to half that of a man’s remain in force in the country.”

It’s 2018 and Ottawa is pushing for more women to be represented in cabinet and to be paid equal wages for equal work – goals we should all support enthusiastically and without reservation. But it’s also time for our prime minister to impose some conditions re-engaging with Iran and stand up for the Iranian women who are literally risking their lives to gain basic rights.