Women speak out: The Veil and Islamic and Religious Laws

GHQ-Multimedia Presents: The speeches from the seminar “Women’s Right, the Veil and Islamic and Religious Laws” held at the University of London Union in London on 8 March 2007 to mark International Women’s Day.

Listen online or download the speeches in MP3 format by Sohaila Sharifi, Taslima Nasreen, Maryam Namazie, Mina Ahadi, Sonja Eggerickx and Ann Harrison.

“This was a superb and exhilarating evening. I cannot say how much admiration I have for these courageous women. They sense that they are at the head of a growing movement and that the women of Iran are aching to be freed from the confines of the ‘medieval rag’ and all it represents,” said Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society and the media spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association (which publishes GHQ).

The seminar was co-sponsored by the International Campaign in Defence of Women’s Right in Iran – UK, the National Secular Society and the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association.

About the speakers:

Sohaila Sharifi is a member of the Campaign in Defence of Women’s Right in Iran – UK, and chaired the meeting. She also translated for Mina Ahadi.

Taslima Nasreen is a physician, writer, radical feminist, human rights activist and a secular humanist. Her first book of poetry was published in 1986. Her second became a huge success in 1989. Next she started writing about women’s oppression. In 1992 she received the prestigious literary award Ananda from West Bengal in India for her Selected Columns, the first writer from Bangladesh to earn that award. Islamic fundamentalists launched a campaign against her in 1990, staging street demonstrations and processions. In 1993, Soldiers of Islam issued a fatwa against her, a price was set on her head because of her criticism of Islam, and she was confined to her house. Taslima has been living in exile. She has written twenty eight books of poetry, essays, novels, and short stories in her native language of Bengali. Many have been translated into twenty different languages.

Maryam Namazie is a rights activist, commentator and broadcaster on Iran, the Middle East, women’s rights, cultural relativism, secularism, Humanism, religion, Islam and political Islam. She is the National Secular Society’s 2005 Secularist of the Year award winner and an NSS Honorary Associate; producer of TV International English; Director of the Worker-communist Party of Iran’s International Relations Committee; co-editor of WPI Briefing and Vice President of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association. She is also involved in the Third Camp against US militarism and Islamic terrorism. She has been threatened by Islamists as a result of her defence of rights and freedoms.

Mina Ahadi was born in Iran in 1956. She started her political activities by setting up discussion clubs and performances when she was only 14. She was actively involved as a university student in the 1979 Iranian revolution. When the Islamic government gained power and Khomeini issued a fatwa for compulsory Islamic veiling, she organised meetings and demonstrations against the government. Mina is the founder and coordinator of the International Committees against Execution and Stoning. Mina Ahadi has lived in Europe since 1990. Recently she has founded the Central Council of Ex-Muslims to expose Islamic laws and its affects on people. She is currently under police protection for her activities.

Sonja Eggerickx was born in 1947 in Brussels. She studied Moral Sciences at the State University in Ghent (Belgium) and was active with the humanist youth, the feminist group and later the humanist union. She has been a teacher of what is called “non-confessional ethics” for 23 years, as well as a school inspector for the same subject. She is President of the Flemish Union of freethinkers/Humanists, co-president of the Belgian umbrella organisation Central Laïque committee and is currently the president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

Ann Harrison, currently a Researcher on Iran, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, has worked for Amnesty International in the Middle East and North Africa Programme for a total of about 10 years, first in the 1990s and most recently since June 2005. She has worked on a number of countries in the region, beginning with Israel and the Occupied Territories and Jordan, and later Lebanon and Syria. She has worked on human rights issues in Iran for almost four years.

Listen to the speeches.