An evening with Roya Kashefi: Celebrating UN Women’s Day

Commemorating International Women’s Day, Roya Kashefi, an Iranian human rights lawyer, shared her opinions on the role of women before and after the Iranian Revolution (1978-1979). This meeting was hosted by Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP Youth UK) and United Nations Youth Association (UNYA) at Queen Mary University (University of London) on Tuesday 6th March 2012.

Keldon capturing the evening

The role and liberation of women in society has continuously been a recurrent theme throughout history Roya touched upon her own experiences of what life was like before the Iranian Revolution, a society where opportunity and independence was readily available to women. However since the revolution Roya noticed a push back to a time where women were at the forefront of oppression. The state pressed for a religious, Islamic governance structure which drove women to hide under the veil. ‘The new laws were drafted in line with this Islamic identity’. Roya explained how it was society that pushed women forward, the idea of creating change from a grassroots level. It was this inequality, limitation and lack of support given to women, that motivated and inspired Roya to create change and support women’s empowerment through promoting awareness and understanding.

Roya continued from this idea of change through a grassroots level, by describing the positive and visceral effect of the One Million Campaign (2006) insurgence, instigated to support the changing discriminatory laws against women. She described how it was important to gain a strong base of international support in order to get more attentiveness and responsive backing stating, ‘if enough questions are asked, the government answer…it is through enough economic distress that change is sparked,’ later commenting on the Arab Spring as an example of how strong insurgence can lead to an awareness and therefore a domino effect on other countries.

Roya Kashefi with students from the audience

Lastly Roya conveyed her thoughts on the idea of equality stating it is through equality that one is offered choices, ‘it is not a concept that is against men or women…society is not complete without both working together in harmony.’ Rather those countries where religion dictates, the idea that power is derived from the religion and therefore claiming divinity, however jointly trying to remain democratic, is where the issue lies. State and religion need to be separate to prevent contradictions. She comments by having a clear dialogue with religion, where religion is not intertwined with politics, and where there is more flexibility with the amount of choice citizens have. Therefore it is up to the society to create change, ‘to rally for the country, not the regime, to create a larger community of support.’

By Meera Tailor

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