EXPERT GUESTS HELP WOMEN ADDRESS ISSUES IN PERSIAN WORLD

Violence against women is an all-too-common problem in the Persian world. SAT-7 program Insiders is keeping this “secret” abuse in the spotlight as the latest series highlights how a lack of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) often underpins a range of social and emotional issues.

SAT-7 PARS’ live program Insiders, now in its eighth season, provides a platform for Persian-speaking expert guests to share their insights into the challenges facing women in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, and to continue raising awareness about their rights. These have included Mana Neyestani, a famous Iranian cartoonist, illustrator, and comic book creator based in France who spoke about the recent women-led protests in Iran and the role of artists in activism. Mahdiyeh Golrou, an Iranian journalist and women’s rights campaigner, was also featured, sharing her insights on the lack of meritocracy in Iran. An episode on gender-based violence hosted Shadi Javaher, an Iranian psychologist, who explained why there is still a lack of awareness in the Persian world around these issues.

THE SCALE OF THE PROBLEM

Gender-based violence is a widespread problem in the Persian-speaking world. Almost 90% of women in Afghanistan have experienced at least one form of domestic violence in their lifetime,[1] and there is a fear that conditions are only worsening with the Taliban in control. In Iran, around two-thirds of family homes witness domestic violence of some kind,[2] and government forces have been using various forms of aggression – including sexual violence – against women protestors in the country.[3] In Tajikistan, a reported 20% of married women have experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence by their husbands, but a culture of silence means the true numbers could be far higher.[4]

Insiders opened up the question of what is meant by violence with presenter Hengameh highlighting how there is no global consensus as to the definition of violence against women. Expert guest Shadi Javaher explained, “We still lack sufficient understanding, and the question is: why this is so? I believe the answer is partly because violence is often committed in secret.”

The UN, along with many other agencies, have widened the definition of violence in this context to include psychological and even economic harm.[5] Despite this change, many women who suffer from gender-based maltreatment may not label it as violence or report it as a crime. “Even though [something] places us under mental torment, we take it and do not recognise it for what it is,” said Mrs Javaher. “The way a person looks at you, or the tone of voice they employ, can be counted as violence in today’s world. Abusive language and swearing can also count as violence.”

Mrs Javaher explained how issues can vary in different contexts. “Another issue that we are grappling with is violence that is established in culture or subcultures,” she said. “Based on my experience, cases in one town can be very different from another town, due to different local history with regard to women, and differing attitudes towards them. One town could be especially violent… [for example] we have seen tragedies such as women self-immolating, and honour killings; these are the peak of violence towards women.”

Cultural practices and religious beliefs are used by men and women across the Middle East and North Africa to justify the harmful treatment of women, such as honour killings and Female Genital Mutilation. The repression and denial of women’s rights, including their right to FoRB and their right to choose and have control over their lives, is also witnessed in the Persian-speaking world through the enforcement of the hijab in Iran and the oppression of women in Afghanistan. A lack of FoRB for women in particular can also keep them trapped in dangerous situations at home or within the community, with men having cultural and religious authority over women’s life choices and circumstances.

TOWARDS CHANGE

For many female viewers who live in fearful silence, simply seeing the topic addressed in a robust yet compassionate manner can be immensely helpful, not to mention the encouragement and advice they can gain from the discussions.

Profiling such issues is helping to change perceptions, and many women in the Persian world – and from its diaspora – are working towards and praying for change. In September 2023, SAT-7 conducted research among its viewers which provided a snapshot of SAT-7 PARS’ audience perceptions of women’s empowerment. Out of 30 respondents:

– 37% had learned more about women’s rights, empowerment, and violence against them.
– 23% were involved in creating change in society, especially towards women’s rights issues, such as participating in initiatives to support women’s rights.
– 23% began supporting a stronger role for women in family and society.
– 17% began challenging harmful beliefs, norms, and practices against women.

SAT-7 PARS regularly receives messages from its viewers describing their difficulties, imagining a different future, and praying for change.

Dina, a woman from Iran, contacted the channel to pray for victims of sexual violence. Using Dina’s prayer, please pray for victims of all kinds of gender-based violence:

“O Lord, I lift up before You the girls and women who have been subjected to sexual assault. Heal their wounded hearts and spirits, restore them, and mend their psychological brokenness. May they give You their bitter memories and know joy and the infilling of Your Spirit, and live joyful, restored lives. I ask with faith in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

 

[1] WHO_RHR_15.26_eng.pdf

[2] Domestic Violence Among Iranian Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – PubMed (nih.gov)

[3] uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2023-04/2023 Factsheet SGBV Iran.pdf

[4] Tajikistan | UN Women – Europe and Central Asia

[5] Gender-based violence | UNHCR

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