iranwire.com – The struggle for gender equality in countries like Iran and Afghanistan is largely left to women to pursue – and men rarely join women’s rights movements. But a new campaign, the Men’s Network Against Honor Violence, urges men to play an active role in the fight for women to be treated equally and not punished just for being women.
The tragic murder of Romina Ashrafi this past May, a 13-year-old girl from the village of Lemir in the Talesh district of Gilan province, who was killed while in her sleep after being struck on the neck with a sickle, provoked a wave of reactions on Persian-language social networks.
Ashrafi was allegedly killed by her father after “eloping” with a boyfriend.
Social media users recounted their own experiences of domestic violence, and other cases of honor killings, saying that they were only slightly more fortunate than Romina to survive the violence.
Achievements of a hashtag
The massive wave that erupted on social media in response to the news of Romina’s death gradually grew into an online campaign.
By challenging the terms “honor” and “not having honor” i.e. alleged promiscuity, Iranian and Afghan users specifically called on men to express their disgust with the culture of “honor-worship” and to take action against honor violence.
The hashtag used in this campaign was #IDoNotHaveHonor and numerous tweets were published and republished with this hashtag.
But this virtual campaign led to a larger action that is not limited to cyberspace: the launch on November 23 of a campaign called the Men’s Network Against Honor Violence was launched.
Zahra Bagheri Shad, a women’s rights activist and a founding member of the network, told IranWire: “The #IDoNotHaveHonor campaign simply called on men to be more active in the fight against honor violence. This campaign was in fact symbolic; to show the importance of the presence of men in the fight against violence against women, and especially one of most extreme examples, honor violence.”
According to Bagheri Shad, this radical campaign, which challenged patriarchal beliefs in the supremacy of men in family relationships, had a good result.
“This campaign succeeded,” Bagheri Shad said, “despite the fact that it targeted zeal and honor, which even in a part of the Iranian intellectual community gives credibility and privilege to men, and it has attracted influential people from different intellectual and political groups. This has led us to realize that not only is there potential for combating honor violence in Iran, but there is also potential for combating patriarchal concepts such as honor.”
A network to confront the culture of honor
The Men Against Violence Network, in a statement issued on November 23, defined its core objectives as: “Cooperating to raise awareness, promote self-organization, establish independent networks of men and action groups to combat and prevent honor violence, and to prevent the perpetuation of the culture of honor in society.”
The statement emphasized that meeting these goals and achieving gender equality is not a responsibility that falls solely on women. Decades of struggle in the United States and European countries shows the role of pro-feminist men and their support for anti-violence and discrimination against women.
Mehrdad Darvishpour, a sociologist and professor at Malardalen University in Sweden, commented on the need for men to join the fight against honor violence.
Darvishpour said to IranWire: “In the sociology on gender and in the research on violence against women, the focus was first on ways to improve the status of women. Activists sought to improve the status of women and to lessen harm to women through violence, by increasing the economic resources for women, changing norms, values, and coercive factors of power such as changing laws and promoting laws that protected women, and finally by expanding social support such as building safe houses and women’s networks. This is normal because, as you know, most domestic violence is perpetrated by men against women, and most of the victims are women. But it cannot be stopped until the root of this violence, which is patriarchy and the authoritarian patterns of masculinity, are changed; violence in which, in addition to women, includes children, and LGBT groups who are also victims of male violence. But in street and social violence, men are both the perpetrators and the victims of violence because of wars and street conflicts. Thus, at one point or another, activists in the field realized that violence against women alone could not be stopped by changing and improving their situation. The focus should be on changing masculinity.”
Violence and passivity against violence
Darvishpour believes that the Men’s Network Against Honor Violence and campaigns such as #IDoNotHaveHonor will change the patterns of authoritarian and violent masculinity, in the long run, by challenging patriarchal concepts.
“In this way, a kind of alternative masculinity is created,” Darvishpour said. “Such networks, in all societies, and especially in Iranian society, where patriarchal patterns are ingrained, cause men to acknowledge their contribution to domestic and social violence against women and children and other vulnerable people. And they send a message to the younger generation: that men carry much responsibility for such violence, but that some are not indifferent to this, they do not remain silent, and they actively play their role in the fight against male patterns of behavior.”
“In the sociology of violence,” Darvishpour added, “we speak of two types of violence, ‘active violence’ and ‘passive violence.’ A person who commits violence is committing an active form of violence. But silence, indifference, and inaction are passive violence. In a way, these people are also involved in reproducing violence.”
Darvishpour said that the new campaign can gradually build capacity among Iranian men to not to be passive when confronted with violence. According to him, these campaigns should seek practical solutions to change male patterns.
Darvishpour said that in many developed countries, including Sweden, citizens are obliged to deal with violence if they see it or to report it immediately to the relevant authorities. In addition, social services are trained to ask abused women who prefer to be silent to describe the violence, and if they are not encouraged to talk about it, they themselves are partners in the violence.
Darvishpour hopes that campaigns such as the Men’s Network Against Honor Violence will eventually encourage men to take active part in protesting against the violation of women’s rights: “For example, when women are not allowed to go to the stadium, if men, even just five hundred men, staged a protest outside the stadium in solidarity with women who are barred from entering, such accompaniment and joint action will have a powerful effect. Men haven’t done this so far.”
A network with men and women
Men have played an active role in gender equality in developed countries for decades. The founders of the the Men’s Network Against Honor Violence also hope to counter violence against women and the perpetuation of patriarchal norms by relying on the active work of men in the campaign.
Zahra Bagheri Shad, meanwhile, said: “The name of the Men’s Network Against Honor Violence does not imply that only men can be members of this network. … But this time, instead of placing the burden of fighting honor violence on women as in previous years, the network calls on men to act as supporters of feminism and feminist movements.”
The group is a voluntary organization founded by three women and four men.
The network emphasized its independence from any particular government, political group or organization, and defined its purpose as raising awareness and educating others in the fight against honor violence.
Bagheri Shad, noting that the educational programs of this network have been announced on its Instagram page, said: “After this, we will try to raise awareness by holding workshops, presenting lectures, and taking steps to change male patterns. We already have several special programs prepared for the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.”
Bagheri Shad said: “We believe that the fight against murder and honor killings should begin with the fight against honor killings, a step we took at the beginning of setting up the network, because as long as there are concepts such as honor and zeal, there will be honor killings and violence.”