Maryam Rajavi and Faiza Hashemi are two Iranian women making the male-dominated Muslim world take notice. But they differ sharply in their tactics. Maryam Rajavi is fightig the Tehran government from the outside, while Faiza Hashemi works for change from within the regime.
Rajavi is an elegant revolutionary, favoring stylish suits and complementing scarves. For her, says Michael Jansen of the Gemini News Service of London, the headscarf proclaims her adherence to tradition, a statement of empathy with the majority of women who wear the full body-concealing chador. But this deference to the modest Islamic dress code does not exemplify her thinking.
In 1993, Rajavi took over her husband, Massoud's, position as president of the National council of Resistance (NCR), a movement that is dedicated to gaining control of Iran by overthrowing the country's fundamentalist mullahs, reports Kate Muir in The Times of London.
The NCR is made up of 15 opposition groups, one of which is the powerful Mujahedin-e-Khalq, a guerrilla group that originally sided with the mullahs in the revolution against the shah in the late 1970's. The Mujahedin's military wing, the National Liberation Army, is commanded by Rajavi's husband. The Iranian regime has put Rajavi and her husband at the top of its assassination list; This has led Rajavi to move away from her husband in Iran to live in self-imposed house arrest in France, where she continues to act as president of the NCR.
"This is not an ordinary way of life," Rajavi points out, "but we choose to forgoe [personal life] because we are confronting one of the most sinister and savage regimes in modern history."
Rajavi promotes "total equality" between men and women and even positive discrimination in favor of women. She has put her ideas for reform into proacice in the Mujahedin, where the entire 12- member leadership council is female, and the NCR, where half the posts are held by women. "There can be a moderate Islam which respects women's rights and gives women, as our movement does, a prominent role," said Rajavi to John Lichfield in The Independent of London.
Faiza Hashemi takes a less confrontational stance. The daughter of President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Hashemi argues that she can win more influence for women if she becomes president. She came in second in a recent election, writes Kathy Evans in The Guardian of London, and that success could pave the way for a future presidential bid. Her decision on whether or not to run will depend largely on her father, who is barred by the Iranian constitution from standing for a third presidential term and whose political future is uncertain.
Some in Iran say Hashemi's feminist stance and her presence on the political scene are the catalysts for many of Iran's recent changes, writes Katherine Viner in the Sunday Times Magazine of London. For instance, a family-planning program has been restarted, and women now have the right to initiate divorce proceedings.
Conservatives accuse Hashemi, who has been elected to Iran's Parliament, of having "obscene Western values", and many of her presidential campaign posters were torn down because whe was the only woman candidate whose photograph showed her chin. Recently, she added "fuel to the fire" when she angered the radical clerical-backed group, Ansar Hezbollah, by urging that women be allowed to ride bicycles and motobikes, Evans reports.
Others suspect that her activism is primarily a front for her father's liberal policies in his intricate political fencing with the rreligious right. But hard evidence is lacking that she either speaks for him or succeeds without his support.
World Press Review