Women Included! Why Women Also Must Shape And Guide Our World

f.l.t.r.: Edit Schlaffer, Sonja Wehsely, Shirin Ebadi, Jaleh Lackner-Gohari

Shirin Ebadi in the Vienna City Hall

Panel in the Vienna City Hall

f.l.t.r.: Edit Schlaffer, Sonja Wehsely, Shirin Ebadi, Jaleh Lackner-Gohari

Women without Borders present Shirin Ebadi

14. September 2008
Women Included!

Following an invitation by Women without Borders and with assistance by Sonja Wehsely, the women’s town councillor of Vienna, Shirin Ebadi gave a speech in the Wappensaal of the City Hall of Vienna on the 14th of September 2004. "Ladies and Gentlemen! A Persian proverb says that two real worlds exist for each person: our internal world and our external world. Humans perceive the external world through their internal world. And this is how our tie to the external world is made possible and created.  Women make Peace Talking about the creation of peace as a value in a society which has never experienced peace is unimaginable. Internal individual peace is the necessary fundament of external peace. Nature has provided women with the grace of being able to be initiators of internal peace. Let us not forget that every creature is shaped within a woman, is born from her and grows up with her. Science today has discovered that the emotional fluctuation of a mother, her feelings of uncertainty or fear, her uneasiness and being troubled - influences the growing life within her and affects the unborn child. In the same way, feelings of safety, inner peace and joy lead to a positive emotional development of the unborn child. We also know that the first years are critical in the development of the personality of each person. A mother plays a decisive role in the character development of her child. It is this exemplary child that will potentially become a future politician, scientist, economy expert, trader, teacher, nurse, etc. These will be people who will individually and communally be part of shaping a future society. If an individual in his first years of life – on the lap of the mother so to speak – has learned to respect the rights of others, if he has experienced that violence in any shape or form is an instrument that must be rejected, and if at the same time he is aware of his own rights and has learned to strive for their implementation, and if this individual has learned the feeling of inner peace and deep contentment, contentment about having the opportunity to realise his own future, without having to tread on the rights of others, then he will be able to act in a fair and peaceful manner later on. An individual, however, who has constantly been on the defensive and did not have such a development will not be able to act in a peaceful and fair manner – even if he wanted to – when it comes to the fulfilment of his human, social and occupational roles in his family, in his city, in his country and in his world, and he will not know how to contribute much that is positive to his surroundings. “How could peace and the rights of another person be the subject here, if one has not experienced them and had to do without them?” How can one expect a woman whose rights have constantly been violated and overlooked, who lives her life in uncertainty and overworked; a woman who has not received enough room to develop her own human potential and has time and time again been hurt and held back, to be able to pass on important, barely experienced values, such as self-confidence or respect towards the rights of others or avoiding violence, in the raising of her child – even if she is aware of her huge responsibility concerning this and also takes it seriously? In fact the path to a better world with better people that inhabit it, the improvement of living conditions in societies is the same path for all, for men as well as for women. But, what does reality look like in our world today? Equal Rights It is difficult to find a country in which women are not exposed to any discrimination and sexual exploitation and receive equal opportunities to fully develop their talents. Without a doubt women are generally and everywhere relatively disadvantaged and suppressed. At times the applied mechanisms and instruments are visible, at other times they are hidden or implicit. In some cases existing laws obviously strengthen these disparities, in other cases there may be laws that contain the principle of equality, but when it comes down to it, they are disregarded. Without a doubt, there is no country in this world, naturally with cultural variations and differences, also concerning the government, where the situation of men and women is equal and the same. Europe and the United States In the United States and most European countries women complain about disparities of the social work and development conditions. In these countries, it is not necessarily the judicial system that discriminates against women. Women are often not able to take advantage of the potential opportunities because they still deal with the doubled burdens of family and career. And therefore we often see a marginal presence of women in politics, in parliaments or in decisive social positions. The number of female members of parliament or the participation of women in other important positions is far smaller than the dominating number of men in the same professions. On the path to equal opportunities for women the European parliament has passed a resolution according to which political parties must nominate the same number of women and men as candidates. However, a glance at the parliaments of those western countries that represent the founders of western civilization, clearly shows how few women in these countries have succeeded in implementing and realising this opportunity. It does not occur often that a country has a parliament with equally many men and women as its members. In almost all western countries, including the United States, there are mainly male ministers and barely any female ministers. The most important positions in society are male monopolies – women seldom find access here. Islamic Countries In Islamic countries the situation discriminates in a different way. Of course this image is inconsistent and is more or less pronounced in each country. Up until a few years ago, women in Saudi Arabia did not have their own birth certificate, which means that they did not even count as citizens! By now they are official citizens, but they still suffer from other deprivations: no access to the parliament, not even the right to drive a car themselves. In Bahrain and Yemen and in many other Islamic countries women are regarded as citizens, but only as second class citizens. They never receive the same rights as men do. Polygamy is common practice. When it comes to marriage, the only will and decision that counts is that of the father, and it is impossible for the young woman to oppose this. The appreciation of a woman depends on the number of sons she has given birth to. Mothers are even called by the first name of their eldest son. The Situation in Iran In Iran, a country where women account for 63% of university students, in other words a country, where there are more educated women than men, unemployment among women is three times as high as it is among men. Women do not manage to reach important political positions. The small number of women in parliament is one of the reasons why essential legal changes are not possible. I also remember the forced discrimination of Iranian women, manifested for example in Islamic criminal law, which was passed by the parliament in 1370 (1991) and in which the life of a woman was basically considered to be half as valuable as the life of a man. An example: if a deadly accident occurs, the Dyeh, the blood money (comparable with compensation for pain and suffering) is double as high if the victim is a man than if it is a woman. In many situations female witness testimonies are not permitted in court – their statements in court are invalid. In the few cases when a female testimony is allowed, the testimony of two women counts as much as that of a single man. Polygamy is legal. A man can divorce his wife without even naming valid reasons. At the same time, the enforcement of a divorce is extremely difficult for a woman; on occasion it is even impossible. Because of laws that greatly contradict with their values and cultural attitudes, Iranian women live in a tragic situation. “However, the actual question here is the origin of this undeserving situation of women in Islamic countries.” Islam is a religion in which the principle of equality potentially/theoretically has its place. The decisive factor for the lack of women’s rights in Islamic countries is something else: it is that the culture (and the tradition) of patriarchy is more predominant in the mentioned countries as it is in western countries. The male dominated culture does not only discriminate against women, who are only regarded as the second sex, but it also affects the situation of men. This culture is not compatible with democratic development; it does not accept the equality of all people! Democracy and Women’s Human Rights A glance at the prevailing forms of government in these countries clearly shows that places where women have to live in unjust circumstances also do not have a great foundation for democracy. In other words: the improvement of the situation for women is absolutely correlated with the degree of democratization in a country. One of the first steps of democratization is improving the situation of women. For democracy also means that the entire population elects the government – it means that people can decide about their own fate. However, democracy also has its downsides, and these must be corrected quickly. Let us not forget that Hitler was also elected by the votes of the majority. Many dictators of the world were initially backed up by the majority. So it is not the majority alone that can present the single criteria and legitimization of leadership. Democracy must be able to manifest itself in the context of the complete implementation of valid human rights. Of course the will of the majority decides on the pragmatic direction of reality, but even the majority does not have the right to behave in any arbitrary way and to act outside or above the principles of human rights. I would like to use this opportunity to point out that establishing human rights cannot be used as pretence to attack a country. One cannot grace nations with human rights through airways, through bombs and rockets. Democracy cannot be exported with weapons. Only the indispensable will of an entire nation can lead to the realization of democracy and human rights. No government in the world, no country has the right, by simulating help for another nation, to use military force and justify the invasion of this country. The United Nations has mechanisms that can be used to bring countries that disregard the human rights of their people to respect them. This is the only way it is possible to justify and legitimate striving for the dispersion of democratization processes throughout the world. Thank you!"


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