نهاد ریاست جمهوری - معاونت امور زنان و خانواده

Masoumeh Ebtekar’s Interview with Etemad Online: The Fall of Ethical Values is the Biggest Security Crisis for Any Society

ایجاد شده در تاریخ: چهارشنبه 10 مهر 1398 - 15:53

As the first woman to become appointed as member of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran after the Islamic Revolution, Masoumeh Ebtekar is undoubtedly one of the most important political and social figures in Iran. In this interview, the Vice President of Women and Family Affairs talks about the journey of her life as a politically active student to becoming an active member of the regime.

Part of the journey of life depends on one's own decisions and part is really about destiny. One part is when and under what circumstances we were born. We went through the pre-revolutionary period when we were young. When I was a student, the social-intellectual developments of the revolutionary period, perhaps with the views and ideas of Dr. Ali Shariati, who himself created a revolution of thought, raised the question of religious thought, the question of the function of religion in the present age. It was a topic that responded in some way to the demands of the younger generation at the time and introduced a new and up-to-date function of religion.

This was a great development in its time, and consequently a revolution. We, as the young generation, could not be indifferent to these developments because we became part of this experiance. There was also a choice, we didn't have to be part of it either! We made a conscious choice because we thought it was in harmony with our nature and our aspirations.

For women, sometimes leaving a mark as a student involves education and sometimes it involves marriage and creating a family. Part of our job is to be in the social realm, which are not necessarily governmental. The non-governmental activities that I took part in were in the form of NGOs, charities and a part of them were official activities in the government. In 1997, with the appointment of Mr. Khatami to the seventh government, I started my career as the vice president and head of the Iranian Department of Environment.

Of course, I had a political orientation and was active, I worked with political currents, but I never became a member of a party nor did I take part in the political activity within a party, and I still haven't to this day.

-After the Islamic Revolution, you are the first woman to take charge of the government - as you have mentioned. How do you evaluate the atmosphere of that era? Especially for a woman who wants to work in a place where men are dominant, where there are definitely more restrictions. What was the environment like for yourself as a woman working in this area and at the top of the system?

You asked a good question. After the revolution, women in general had great doubts about what the revolution would look like at the end of the Islamic Republic and what the views of the Imam as the leader of the revolution and the supreme leader on the issue of women was. I had this skepticism as an 18-year-old girl, who joined the revolution at the time. It was clear to domestic and foreign reporters and everyone what was really going to happen to Iranian women.

There were many questions. I think the Imam at that time also had a mission to make them clear. They identified their position and, consequently, the position of the Islamic Republic in relation to the effective and active participation of women in various political, social and cultural spheres. Despite the obstacles, despite the views that prevented this, the Imam took very explicit positions, such as demolishing the wall between the boys and girls classes at the University of Tehran as well as in his remarks, stating that there was no obstacle to the advancement of Muslim women. If a limit is somewhat defined, it is for the growth of men and women in society.

-Do you believe that the atmosphere allowed women to take part in the activism?

Yes, the atmosphere welcomed women's activism, not that there weren’t any obstacles, there were, but since the Imam made such a theoretical and practical foundation, the opportunity for women to work was also possible, and therefore in 2007 a reform took place and part of the content was in the women's arena.

For this reason, when Mr. Khatami was elected, they decided for the first time to elect a woman to the cabinet for a non-women sector. The late Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani had taken the first step and the women's affairs advisor was the late Mrs. Shahla Habibi and there was an office for women's affairs. But first, there were no women in the cabinet before that, and secondly, on issues other than women's issues, they had to test whether women could enter the management arena.

At present, Mr. Rouhani has also taken note of this in his government policy. Given that 30% of management posts should be held by women, and given that 41% of the government is currently specified for women, it is only natural that about 30% of management can also be held by women. But this has not happened naturally, and now, after many years, there has to be planning behind it, why? Because it is just as fair for women to be present and to be able to be involved in decision making and it makes sense, because we have seen that many times in the cultural, social and political discourses of motherhood and emotional intelligence, women can be very effective.

* Since you answered this question, the question arises, especially for women activists: why is it that despite the approaches you are referring to, we find after many years that gender equity is so low in Iran compared to other countries?

We do well on education indicators even in the global rankings, including our girls' access to elementary education! We have released a report for the 40th anniversary of the revolution, which I invite everyone to see.

For example, about girls' access to elementary education in 1978, 38% of our girls had no access to school at all. Now that number has reached four percent and should become zero. But because of border crossings, and immigrants, our statistics change somewhat. In the case of higher education, our girls' access to higher education is now over 60%.

*Of course, the educational sector is generally better.

Yes. That's right. We are doing well in the health sector too; in reproductive health, the reduced maternal and child mortality rate is really a good indicator of our growth. In some areas, we believe that a statistical problem exists with the transfer of correct information, which is under investigation by the relevant departments.

In terms of political participation, however, we have lower numbers, because in the global indexes, female ministers and officials are given special privileges. Women's political participation in Iran has been good. In all elections, women were very active in determining their own fate, and in the 2017 elections, the percentage of female participants was greater than men.

But, for example, women make up only 5 or 7 percent of the cabinet in Iran, which is a low number. We do not have female ministers, but we have had a female vice president since 1997. We had a female minister at one point, but we don't have one now. But now we have about five women as deputy ministers whose area of ​​expertise and competence are exactly the same as that of men.

There is also low statistics on global participation in economic indicators, which is due to the fact that most of women's economic participation and employment is in the informal and unregistered sector, which includes home businesses and rural jobs. Of course, a worldwide review might have to include housekeeping as a formal job as well, because our women spend a significant portion of their time doing this domestic job, which is a kind of service that is economically valuable, but not in our statistics.

*You wrote some critical content on your blog in 2010 after the election that led to the closing of your blog, but you made a new blog. You raised issues about the carcinogenicity of radio jamming that had a detailed story. Even the public claimed that your statements contrasted public opinion. In 2013, you were disqualified for the City Council elections. How do you rate freedom of expression in the country?

Freedom of expression had its downside. The reality is, and we have witnessed periods where it was unfortunate to deal with reporters, those who tried to tell people the truth or were responsible. I was a member of the City Council at that time and had the responsibility to share some facts with the people. People have a right to know many things, especially in the field of the environment where there was also talk of petrochemical gasoline and benzene that was in the air in Tehran and metropolitan areas. As you mentioned, it took its toll on me and my family, and still much of that atmosphere still follows me.

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran has made it clear that independence and liberty can neither violate each other, and on the pretext of independence, freedom cannot be restricted and independence under the pretext of freedom must not be impaired. But unfortunately, this violation has happened in some periods.

Here we see that this becomes a tool to limit freedom of expression. It becomes a tool to threaten people to change their minds or to retreat and have fear - the main purpose of slander is to deceive people, but we are the products of 1978 and adhere to a set of principles and values.

* On January 16, 2014, you were supposed to go to the prayer room and give a speech. I think they hadn’t allowed your speech 48 hours before. You mentioned spending money in your speech. Even talked on the same issue of carcinogens and clean air, saying that if they allowed governmental activities to continue in line with the clean air reform, Tehran would now have clean air like that of London or Tokyo. There are many times when officials refer to "The budget spent! People who didn't allow it." Who are these people? Who stands in front of you and does not allow the demands of the people to come to merge with the doing of some officials at times?

To put it optimistically, they are political rivals who cannot legally get votes and destroy their rivals. We see this happening in the political systems of other countries as well and it's commonplace.

On the other hand, for example, we pro hunters in the Department of Environment. My policies were against illegal hunting, but they were very opposed.

In fact, there are places of economic interest and places of political interest. Of course, in today's healthiest political systems, with great political and administrative indicators, there are still no countries without problems. There are problems everywhere, but there are ways and means to tackle them: 1- strong civil society organizations, 2- strong media and 3- strong parties are tools for the people to discover the truth. Because it's so important to be able to discover the truth between all the slander, lies, and accusations. A strong courageous independent judiciary that can truly identify and extract the truth away from political pressure - not because of political will or financial inclination. It is this that gives hope, and again through the ballot box, through the surveillance and through the organized party activities, that the people can vote, monitor and protect their right.

-One of President Rouhani’s most important promises was the election of a female minister, which was not fulfilled. Or bills that are in a cycle in the parliament to get somewhere, but are repeatedly invalidated, from child marriage to citizenship of children from a marriage of an Iranian woman to a foreign man. How disappointed do you find society again?

The fact is that with the votes people made in 2013 and 2017, significant changes were made. Many of our indicators have changed, especially in economics and social participation growth that rose after the collapse of NGOs as well as the growth of artistic cultural activities.

In 2013, we had reached a point where there was almost only one-way political activities at universities, with only one specific direction and a particular flow. Three to four thousand students were expelled because of their cultural and political activities in universities. The NGOs were closed, the theater was closed. Or what became of cinema at that time. Or what happened to the environment.

We can give many examples of all the good things that happened after the people made their choice and voted. For example, in the case of the female minister you mentioned, it is true that the president may not have elected a female minister, but Mr. Rouhani had three women in the cabinet from the twelfth government to the current government with 2-3 women.

So the president has fulfilled some of his promises to regarding women's participation and even that of youth. That is, when you calculate how much the average age of management has dropped over the past five years, you see that Mr. Rouhani has really fulfilled some of his promises despite the many difficulties and obstacles.

But there were many obstacles. The president made very promising economic promises, and he did very well before problems arose regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. This was not very predictable, many could not say with certainty that someone like Donald Trump would be elected or say with certainty that he wanted to get out of the JCPOA and impose new sanctions on Iran and that changed the situation. It is not reasonable to justify all blame on the government and say that both the JCPOA problem and the economic problems that resulted from it are all the fault of the state. The government, on the other hand, cannot say that I am not at fault, and that everything is the fault of sanctions. Naturally, the government must do its best.

Again, I would like to emphasize that in 2017, they tried very hard to create problems within the government. In January 2017, many events were supposed to take place in the country and you know where it started.

-We may know, but do you want to tell the readers too?

Something happened between inbound and outbound governmental currents. Strange synergies took place, and some people came to the streets in various cities under these conditions, and very serious threats to the country were formed at that time. They foresaw that a sweltering inflation would destroy the country and every day there were strikes. At the same time, we do not forget the psychological warfare made to make people completely frustrated and to say that there is no solution. That is, there was a synchronization that was very strange, because this subversive voice had even found support within the political currents.

-As you mentioned, after January 2017, many believe that the position of reform is no longer the same in the eyes of the people and those who supported it. People felt that after those events, after the economic pressure, and after the abolition of the JCPOA, a government that many people had voted for, and the reforms that most people believed in, did not stand by the people. Do you think the reforms and the government did right by the people before and after what happened in January?

In my mind, it is right about what happened, there was a gap between aspirations, expectations, demands and realities, and the process that was going so well before suddenly broke.

It was up to political activists to analyze the facts to determine how much of the situation was really due to the inefficiency of the state and the system and how much of it was due to external pressures and even external plans that collapsed and disturbed the country. To some extent this was said and to some extent it created a sense of frustration among the people. But people are now aware of the fact that the country is in a state of economic war and psychological warfare, and that we must finally be able to make choices in difficult times. Our choices are not always the best. When you have to choose between bad and worse, wisdom dictates which one to choose. Of course, sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you think that the situation is very difficult, but then a door opens up.

You may think that these hardships and pressures are hurting people a lot now, but if there is an opening behind them and there is still dignity and pride and resistance for the Iranian people to be able to have an outspoken country, we must make an example out of ourselves and those around us, and learn from countries that have been interfered with or even supported by major powers such as the United States, but today are in very deplorable conditions, and are trying their best to get out of insecurity, absolute poverty, or acute political and social problems. They have virtually no hope and have been involved for years with issues that aren’t even in their own hands.

-In recent times, at least in president Rouhani's government, to what extent do you think the people have stayed hopeful and do you have any hope of people coming to the ballot box again?

I go to cities and villages a lot and I am among the people and I see a lot of hope in small towns and good things have happened there. The National Development Fund has provide sustainable rural facilities funding to the government for employment in the countryside.

At the end 2017, and especially in 2018, these facilities were provided to the villagers, and it is very interesting that in 2017 almost 5-10% of these facilities were provided to rural women, and more than 40% of sustainable facilities were provided to women and many workshops. There is a lot of success and hope among women.

-Do you believe there is still hope?

Yes, we see hope in different places, for example in women's participation, in management or in employment, or in the arts, cinema, theater, etc. We think there is definitely room for hope and people will see the differences and have the ability to recognize and hopefully make good choices in time.

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