- Bidarzani Collective
An independent group of women’s rights activists founded the Bidarzani Collective in Iran in 2012. The collective initially consisted of thirteen members who saw the urgent need to respond to a new anti-women’s rights bill that the Iranian parliament was reviewing.1 The bill was framed as “family protection,” though if passed it would have significantly restricted Iranian women’s access to family planning programs, women’s health programs, higher education, and job opportunities. The collective carried out a diverse set of on-the-ground and digital activities (see bidarzani.com) to publicize and discuss the bill and its adverse effects on women’s lives. Consequently, the collective was initially named Toward Equal Family Laws. It was later renamed Bidarzani, the Persian equivalent of “feminism,” because group activities include but are not limited to the domain of law and legal feminism. Bidarzani currently has twenty active members.
Since its inception Bidarzani has been active in five main fields: changing laws that are discriminatory against women, eliminating violence against women, fostering job creation and entrepreneurship, improving health education, and furnishing reproductive rights education to women. These concerns structure a variety of projects. For example, Bidarzani created and published free pamphlets intended to raise awareness about such topics as street harassment and equal job opportunities for women. The collective continues to distribute the pamphlets across the Tehran metropolitan area and other cities in Iran. These pamphlets popularized the slogan “Safe streets for all.”
In another project Bidarzani filed a legal complaint against the National Organization of Educational Testing, a branch of the Ministry of Science, and thirty-six universities because of their restrictive measures against women university applicants who completed the highly competitive university entrance exam. The [End Page 362] seventh Iranian parliament passed the Gender-Based Quota for Universities Act, which limited the number of women allowed into universities irrespective of their exam rankings. The stated goal of the bill was to “protect the holiness of family” and “create proportion between numbers of girls and boys in universities” (rc.majlis.ir/fa/report/show/733423).
The collective also conducted a series of workshops on collaborative approaches to gender issues to brainstorm about and design a curriculum for social facilitators in women’s and gender issues. The workshops were conceived and executed in collaboration with the Women’s Studies Group of the Association of Sociology at Tehran University.
Because Bidarzani frequently updates its website with original and editorial content, the website has become an important hub for Iranian women activists. The website is one of very few digital outlets currently active and focused on women’s movement news and projects in Iran. The website publishes gender-focused reports, interviews, analyses, and essays by Bidarzani members and guest writers. It also publishes special issues, posters, and educational materials for occasions such as International Women’s Day on March 8 and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25.
The Iranian government has placed limits on any type of public activity, civil assembly, or educational work that raises awareness about social issues. Such activities are monitored, and activists face the oppressive actions of security forces. The Bidarzani Collective is no exception. It constantly struggles to open new spaces and find creative methods to further its vision of gender equality. The collective faces a range of external and internal challenges.
The external challenges include systematic government oppression of civil society, especially women’s rights activists. This creates a repressive and forbidding atmosphere for mobilizing members or recruiting new members. More generally, the government bans any type of community activity by independent local activists or grassroots groups. In addition, legally allowed activities confront many bureaucratic hurdles and a long process of group registration and gaining permission that delay and at times halt the plans of groups seeking a legal route to their goals. These chronic challenges require ongoing negotiation and compromise.
Internally, the group is divided over democratic consensus versus pragmatic approaches to decision making. Some Bidarzani members advocate agreement of all members, which can prolong decision making. Others support a voting process in which a majority suffices to approve a decision. In Bidarzani...