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In Remote Iranian Province Sistan-Baluchistan, Women Make Gains at Ballot Box

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Iranian women cast their ballots for the presidential election at a polling station in Tehran on May 19. VOA
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IRAN, May 26, 2017: Iran’s sprawling southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province is notorious for insecurity, poverty, drug trafficking, and deadly clashes between security forces and militants.

More recently, however, it made headlines this month for sweeping a record number of women onto city and village councils.

Officials say the number of women elected to local councils in the Sunni-majority province, which shares borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, more than doubled.

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“Four hundred and fifteen women have been elected to the city councils in the province,” Governor Ali Osat Hashemi was quoted by Iranian media as saying on May 23, up from just 185.

In one village, Afzalabad, in the district of Khash, all 10 candidates on the council ballot on May 19 were women.

The numbers remain low nationally. Of the more than 287,000 candidates registered for last week’s elections, just 6 percent were women, according to official figures.

But moderates and reformists, bolstered by the rise to power of President Hassan Rohani and their success in the 2016 parliamentary elections, have aimed at ending the tight grip of conservatives on local politics.

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Rohani, a veteran politician who has risked crossing Iran’s powerful unelected establishment with calls for modest reform inside the country and on the international scene, was reelected on May 19 with 57 percent of the vote. The victory was widely seen as a blow to political and cultural hard-liners and an expression of Iranians’ desire for interaction with the world.

“Despite having university educations, [women] don’t have freedom of speech. I want to defend them,” Esmat Irandagani told the Iranian daily Shahrvand. She said she did very little campaigning and owed her victory to the women in her village who encouraged her to run “to help them” get their handicrafts more recognition.

“I was a volunteer for the Red Crescent. I also worked one year as a reporter. Now I want to do work for the women in my village,” Irandagani said, adding that men had not successfully developed the village.

Women Taking Charge

Gains on city councils follow the appointment in recent years of more women to senior posts in the region, including as governors, mayors, and prefects.

Khash Governor Mohammad Chakerzehi credited Rohani’s administration with advancing the political role of women, saying the government in Tehran’s effort to increase the number of women in decision-making positions across the province contributed to women’s success in the city-council elections.

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“One-third of women who had registered to run were elected to city councils,” Chakerzehi said. “Many of these educated women registered to run in order to strengthen the position of women in society.”

Abdol Sattar Doshoki, a Baluchi political analyst who heads the U.K.-based Center for Baluchistan Studies, says the high-level appointments have inspired women to seek a greater role in the society. “The [city-council election] has provided Baluch women, many of whom have obtained university degrees in past years, with an opportunity to show themselves and play a role in political and social life,” Doshoki explains.

Baluch make up a majority in the province, which is said to be one of Iran’s poorest.

Doshoki says he believes that the high participation of women also helps combat discrimination in the province, which is among Iran’s poorest. “Baluchi people suffer from different types of discrimination, including ethnic discrimination, religious discrimination, and also gender discrimination, which is common for [other regions] in the country,” he says.

“In places where women stood, men and women had the power to say no to gender discrimination,” Doshoki says.

Setting An Example

Afzalabad Mayor Maryam Ahmadzehi, a woman, has been held up in local media coverage as a successful example of a woman in a senior post and, presumably, a key factor encouraging men to vote for women when they step into the voting booth. Roads have been paved, new parks have been created, and the village has been connected to the electricity grid.

“The day Ahmadzehi became mayor, the village was in ruins, but things have changed significantly since then,” a local school principal told the daily Etemad in April. “We’re satisfied with our mayor, so we reached the conclusion that women can also do good work in the council.”

The principal added that since many local men are out in the field farming or on duty guarding Iran’s border, they are happy to cede “care of the village issues” to women.

One of the female candidates for the village council in Afzalabad told Etemad that Ahmadzehi was indeed a role model. “Her efforts motivated all of us to study and work,” she said.

Across the country, initial election results suggest that reformists and moderates ousted conservatives and took control of councils in at least six major cities.

In the capital, Tehran, where all 21 seats went to reformists in this month’s vote, women doubled their presence on the city council from three to six.

The hard-line election supervisor, the Guardians Council, imposes an effective ban on women running for the Iranian presidency, but parliament vets those running for city-council seats.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently accused Iran of systemic discrimination and other obstacles in the workplace, saying Iran lags in gender equality.

Local media report that there are around 150 women in managerial positions in Sistan-Baluchistan, a province of around 2.5 million people. (RFE/RL)

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  • Orpheus Alexander

    Now they are going to go down the same toilet as other countries being ruined by feminism.

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India Can Really Take An Ostrich Approach To The Condition Of Women?

A total of 548 global experts on women’s issues , 43 of them from India

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BJP Leader Asks Parents Of A Rape Victim To Express Gratitude To Them
Can India Really Take An Ostrich Approach To The Condition Of Women?. Flickr

-By Deepa Gahlot

You read with a mixture of alarm and scepticism, the poll report by the London-based Thomson Reuters Foundation that India is the most dangerous country in the world for women, beating Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

According to reports, a total of 548 global experts on women’s issues — 43 of them from India — were asked about risks faced by women in six areas: healthcare, access to economic resources and discrimination, customary practices, sexual violence, nonsexual violence, and human trafficking. And shockingly, India comes out as the worst!

We see women progressing in every field in India, but, there is also the increasing violence against women and young girls reported every day; not long ago, female tourists felt safe in India; but now, women travelling solo are constantly targeted. Everyday there are reports of the rapes and murders of minor girls, often accompanied by unimaginable torture and mutilation.

There has been outrage in India, and also holes punctured in the survey that has such a small number of respondents, but can we really take an ostrich approach to the condition of women? Even as education and healthcare improve for women — at least in metro cities — the contempt for women is socially and culturally ingrained in the Indian psyche. In a city like Mumbai considered progressive and relatively safe for women, the girl child is unwanted even by many educated and wealthy families. In spite of laws being in place, female foeticide and infanticide is rampant, to the extent that there are large territories where there are no girl children and brides for the men have to be ‘imported’ from other states.  As dowry murders and rapes rise, the more unwanted the girl child becomes.  The fact is that India’s gender ratio is deplorable.

And if the male child is valued over the girl child, he grows up believing that he is special and if he is thwarted in any way, he can resort to violence. In spite of education and exposure to progressive ideas, in the case of rape or sexual violence, the tendency to blame and shame the victim persists.

To give just one small example, in the West, accusations of sexual harassment resulted in united shunning of a man as powerful as Harvey Weinstein and many others in the wake of the #MeToo movement, that helped many women speak out about their experiences.

In India, Malayalam actor Dileep, who has been accused in the abduction and rape of an actress, and was boycotted by the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA), was recently reinstated. This caused shock and dismay among women in the film industry.

A statement by a group of over 150 women film practitioners says it like it is, “A body that is meant to represent artistes of the Malayalam movie industry showed complete disregard for its own member who is the victim of this gross crime. Even before the case has reached its conclusion, AMMA has chosen to validate a person accused of a very serious crime against a colleague. We condemn this cavalier attitude by artistes against women artistes who are working alongside them. There is misogyny and gender discrimination embedded in this action.

“We admired and supported the Women in Cinema Collective that was formed by women film artistes in Kerala in the aftermath of the abduction and molestation of a colleague, a top star in the industry. We applaud the WCC members who have walked out of AMMA to protest the chairman’s invitation to reinstate the accused. We pledge our continued support to the Women in Cinema Collective who are blazing a trail to battle sexism in the film industry.

“Cinema is an art form that can challenge deeply entrenched violence and discrimination in society. It is distressing to see an industry that stands amongst the best in the country and has even made a mark in world cinema choose to shy away from using their position and their medium responsibly at this important moment. Today, women form a significant part of the film and media industries, we reject any attempt at silencing us and making us invisible.”

The Gujarat elections have brought the BJP and the Congress in close contest with each other.
Indian women. VOA

The preference for male children has had some unexpected ramifications. In a working paper published by the American non-profit, National Bureau of Economic Research, by Northwestern University’s Seema Jayachandran and Harvard University’s Rohini Pande (quoted in Quartz Media), finds that stunting in Indian children could also be blamed on the cultural preference for sons.

“In India, on average, the first child — if he is a son — doesn’t suffer from stunting. But, if the first — and so the eldest — child of the family is a girl, she suffers from a height deficit. And, then, if the second child is a boy, and hence the eldest son of the family, he will not be stunted. This happens because of an unequal allocation of resources to the first child”.

According to the report, “When Jayachandran and Pande compared India and Africa results through this lens, they found that the Indian first and eldest son tends to be taller than an African firstborn. If the eldest child of the family is a girl, and a son is born next, the son will still be taller in India than Africa. For girls, however, the India-Africa height deficit is large. It is the largest for daughters with no older brothers, probably because repeated attempts to have a son takes a beating on the growth of the girls.”

Also read: Has Legal Framework Turned a Blind Eye towards Under-representation of Women in Indian Politics?

In spite of all the Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao rhetoric, the required shift in the male-centric attitude towards a more egalitarian one is simply not happening; or, it is a case of one step forward, two steps backward. The Thomson Reuters Foundation report may be unfair and skewed, but being known as the rape capital of the world does nothing to improve the image of India in the world or even in its own eyes. (IANS)