Focus on the Campaigner: Elnaz Ansari
Interview by: Sussan Tahmasebi
Tuesday 26 August 2008
Change for Equality: Elnaz please tell us a little about yourself.
I am 26 years old. I am a journalist and write mostly on social issues. I began my journalistic activities in the year 2000 in a local publication in Zanjan, and from the start I focused on social issues, but especially issues related to women and children. In the same year I was arrested for participating in a student protest and spent 3 months in prison. After that, my activities have been focused primarily on women’s issues and within the women’s movement.
How was it that you became interested in working on women’s issues and involved in the women’s movement?
I was about 15 or 16 years old and was attending an Arts high school in the City of Zanjan, where I am originally from. During that time the full Hejab or Chador (the full length black veil) was compulsory for female students. As students attending Arts high school we had to carry a lot of art supplies to and from school on a daily basis, and the Chador made this a difficult task. I decided on my own that I was no longer going to wear the Chador to school—of course I was not allowed to attend my classes without a Chador. Within a few months, I got a few of my friends on board and we started writing letters to officials in Tehran. I should mention that compulsory Chador was illegal. Of course, we had to observe the hejab, but the Chador was not a requirement. So its compulsory nature in Zanjan made it an illegal act. Within a year the policy of compulsory Chador in Zanjan was abandoned by the school system, and female students and teachers were no longer forced to wear the Chador and they could choose a more suitable form of hejab for themselves. Needless to say, I was expelled from school and was never allowed to continue my education.
So what did you do then?
Well what happened as a result of my "act of rebellion" was a sort of impetus in connecting me with feminists in Tehran, and specifically feminist activists working at the Women’s Cultural Center. Gradually I became more active in the women’s movement through this connection. I participated in programs on women’s issues, and in protests and started selling feminist publications produced by the Women’s Cultural Center in my own city of Zanjan. Gradually I started to understand the broader issues facing women. I read more on women’s issues and became committed to addressing the discriminations faced by women.
How did you get involved in the Campaign?
I found out about the Campaign from my friends in Tehran and attended the inaugural seminar of the Campaign, at Ra’ad Conference Hall on August 27, 2006. With the intervention of the security police the seminar was not allowed to take place, and women’s rights activists inaugurated the Campaign on the streets outside the Seminar hall. After that, I became more involved with the Campaign in Tehran and I joined the Media Committee and started writing articles and doing interviews for the site of Change for Equality. Because I was working with reformist dailies and some news sites, I had managed to develop strong relations with well-known community leaders, officials, religious scholars and political party leaders. As such, I started doing short interviews with these figures about their position on women’s rights and the Campaign.
During some critical impasses faced by the Campaign and its members, including instances where activists had been arrested or meetings broken up, I was able to obtain interviews with key political and religious leaders in support of our work. For example, I did an interview with Dr. Mohammad Sharif, a Lawyer and human rights defender, who emphasized the legal nature of the Campaign and its activities. This was an important interview because it responded to allegations made by the Minister of Intelligence who had accused the women’s movement of being subversive. I did another interview with Ayatollah Fazel Maybodi, who is a high ranking and well-respected cleric and religious scholar. In this interview Maybodi claimed that all the demands of the Campaign for legal equality of men and women could be met through dynamic jurisprudence—meaning that our demands were not contradictory to Islam, which is an important declaration. Another example of such interviews was one conducted with Mr. Saharkhiz, who is a member of the Association for the Freedom of the Press. In this interview, Mr. Saharkhiz condemned the arrests of women’s rights activists and the prison sentences issued against them, calling these pressures illegal in the context of national and international law.
I feel that in this way, I have been able to legitimize the demands of the Campaign in the eyes of the public and among officials, as well as critically question the pressures placed on Campaign activists.
Thanks Elnaz for your time.
Read a few of the interviews conducted by Elnaz Ansari: