This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals.
As scholar-activists deeply familiar and participant in the Iranian women’s movement, we are acutely aware of the challenges facing fellow “Third-World” feminists. We must strategically coordinate our scholarship and activities to fit into prevalent discourses about Islam in both the United States and the Middle East. For secular activist-scholars like ourselves, who have worked in Iran to critique and improve gender discriminatory laws and positions, we have been accused of supporting Western hegemonic practices and neoliberal projects. These accusations have arisen from both American and Iranian institutions and thus have fostered an academic space in which conversations about women’s rights are limited to who controls the dialogue. In the case of Iran, Islamists, American-Iranian academics and American pundits determine the range, scope, and analysis of the Iranian women’s movement and its central characters and objectives.
Our paper hopes to highlight the following points: The Iranian women’s movement is unique in that it is caught in between two ideological projects advanced by a hardline government in Iran and also by a tenuous and rising Islamophobia discourse. Women’s activists, Muslim and secular alike, who had joined forces to promote gender equality within the parliamentary and legal systems, are now accused by both government officials and NGO activists of aiding Western imperialism. This has led to a severe government clampdown of the diverse group of Iranian women’s activists. In the United States, the situation appears just as grim. Islamophobia is on the rise and contributing to the discourse against veiling in Europe. Thus international human rights and women’s rights organizations--which, in the past, have encouraged the activities of the Iranian women’s movement-- are now hesitant to support and critique domestic issues--one of which is compulsory hejab-- for fear of contributing to the Islamophobia discourse, as well as taking the attention away from the democratic uprisings in the Middle East. In this paper presentation, we hope to construct both a strategic discourse and action that promote Iranian women’s causes in their struggle against compulsory hejab, and, at the same time, a discourse and action that do not fall into the trap of the Islamophobia propaganda machine.