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A Report on the International Women’s Day Conference in Gothenburg/Sweden on March 6 to comemmorate 8th March...

A very successful conference was held on 6th March 2010 in Gothenburg, Sweden organised by “European Feminist Initiative, IFE-EFI" and “Organisation for Women’s Liberation”. The speakers were amongst well known activists of women’s rights movement from different countries, namely Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Algeria and Europe. The honorary guest speakers were Nawal El Sadawi, the famous author, veteran women’s activist from Egypt; and Malalai Joya the brave young ex-parliamentarian woman defending women’s rights and secularism in Afghanistan. Other speakers were Hugo Estrella, Maria Rashidi, Nina Sankari, Parvin Kaboli, Maria Guzman, Azar Majedi, Lilian Halls-French and Marieme Helie- Lucas.

International Women's day conferenceThe conference started with a new version of the Pink Floyd video “Another brick in the Wall” depicting the recent protest movement in Iran against the Islamic regime. The opening session heard few words from Maryam Kousha (the moderator), Shahla Noori (on behalf of the organising committee), Lilian Halls-French (President of European Feminist Initiative; EFI) and Azar Majedi (Chair of Organisation for Women’s Liberation; OWL; and member of the executive committee of EFI).

Maryam Kousha briefly mentioned the history of 8th March and presented a few questions about the roots of women’s suppression to the conference and the speakers. Then Shahla Noori had a power point presentation discussing the magnitude of violence agaisnt women all over the world and the necessity of fighting agaisnt it. She also thanked the sponsors of the conference. Lilian made a brief introduction to the EFI and its activities. She also presented the conference within the context of EFI’s activities about security and secularism during the last 5 years; Brussels 2005, Roma 2008, Gothenburg 2009, Skopje 2009 and different conferences on 8th March 2010. She also announced that a global conference will be held in Cairo in December 2010.

In her opening speach, Azar mentioned the necessity of organising and mobilizing an international movement for women’s liberation, equality, secularism and a better world. She explained how OWL works towards this aim and the past 3 international conferences on the occasion of 8 March have been steps towards this goal. She emphasized that it was during such activities that OWL got to know EFI which led to their united activities. She continued by saying that reactionary forces try to devide us and rule over us. They divide people into different sects, races, religions, nations and gender in order to rule. We have to overcome this division and dispersion. The endevour to unite and organise an international movement for liberation, equality and secularism is an effort towards this aim.

Azar introduced the first speaker, Nawal El sadaawi as  an international icon who  has broken many taboos in order to make fundamental and deep changes in society. Nawal was one of the first people who opened our eyes to the phenomenon of female genital mutilation and deprivation of women from sexual pleasure. Azar mentioned that she herself became familiar with this criminal phenomenon after reading Nawal’s book entitled “The Hidden Face of Eve”.

Nawal came to the stage admist cheers and applauds of the whole floor. Her presence created a special excitment in the hall. With her special very lively style which captures the audience, she talked about the importance of struggle against religious influence and rule  and the necessity of the struggle for secularism. She also emphasized that one needs to re-evaluate and challenge some concepts such as “the Third World”, “Middle East” or “Democracy”. One needs to re-define these terms. She also challenged the  term of post-colonialism explaining that it is far to be “post”.

The first pannel speakers delivered their talks: Lilian Hals-French and Nina Sankari. Lilian’s talk was on “"Full citizenship for all women  in secular states as a global precondition for peace and democracy”. She talked about violence against women and the insecurity they endure. According to statistics, one in every 3 women in their life time is subjected to violence or sexual abuse on a world scale. The number of abortions of female foetuses  and other violent actions agaisnt women in the last 15 years is more than the victims of the wars in the 20th century. These facts have been discussed in our previous conferences as well as the strong link between Patriarchy, Ultra-Liberalism, religious fundamentalism and militarism. Lilian also focused on the necessity of expansion of a resistance front and creation of secular states with universal laws.

Nina Sankari spoke about the huge regrssion of women’s position and rights in Poland. She said 9 million members of the “Solidarity” struggled for democracy. However with the downfall of the so- called communist system in 1989 the relation between the Church and the state changed drastically. Secularism which was identified with the defeated system was turned into evil. The right wing current in alliance with the Church propagated two stereotypes: Communism is equivalent with atheism and that in turn is a betrayal to the nation. The other notion became: a good Polish citizen is a good Catholic. A change in the law during the years ruined the ruling secularist system and introduced the Church in the state. Abortion was banned. We also see the destruction of democracy and the welfare state. Redefining democracy and efforts to establish secularism were some of the  main points of Nina’s speech.

The pannel then answered questions from the floor. The influence of different ideologies on women’s position was one of the questions  which became the centre of the discussions. Banning of the Burqa was another question which was answered by the panel as the symbol of women’s submission and suppression.

The first speaker of the second pannel was Malalai Joya, the ex member of Afghan parliament. Azar introduced Malalai: It is a great honour to have been able to invite speakers from all over the world and from different generations. Malalai is a representative of the young generation of women’s rights activists. Malalai works under the hardest and most mysogynous conditions. Afghanistan is a country that is torn between the war between two poles of terrorism; state terrorism led by US on one side and Islamic terrorism on the other side. A country that the worth of human lives and humanity is constantly challenged. Malalai is an icon in her own rights.

A short documentry film showing Malalai’s clash with other MPs in the so-called parliament was shown. While watching the film the audience showed their appreciation of Malalai’s courage by applauding. In her speech, Malalai, while thanking OWL for inviting her to the conference talked about the devastating and heartbreaking situation of Afghanistan. She said people’s lives have been destroyed and condemned the killing of people by the US army and NATO. She talked about the bombardments, the compromises between US government and Taliban and the fact that the US government is presently negotiating with Taliban for power sharing. Malalai also mentioned that the Afghan rulers are opies of Taliban, who are Mullahs wearing ties! She explained the tragedy  people, specially women in Afghanistan are living. Finally she addressed people of Iran saying that Mousavi, Karrobi or the so-called reformists have all been allies of fascist Khomeini. She also disclosed the betrayal of some Iranian journalists and National-Islamic figures such as Mohsen Makhbalbaft and Behnood who defend the reactionay Islamic leaders in Afghanistan.

The next part of the conference was dedicated to solidarity with women’s liberation movement in Iran. First a film from 8 March 1979 demonstration in Tehran was shown. Then Lilian Halls-French read the last message of solidarity from EFI to women’s movement in Iran. A very moving  slide show about the struggle of women in Iran through years of suppression under Islamic regime and the struggle of women was shown. It was made by Maryam Kousha which was received warmly by the audience.

The next panel consisted of Azar Majedi, Maria Rashidi and Marieme Helie- Lucas. Referring to the slide show, Azar said that the images clearly illustrate the position and situation of women’s liberation movement and their hatred of the Islamic regime. It shows that people want to overthrow the regime and are not interested in reforming it. The position of the women’s liberation movement and the recent protest movement in Iran lead us to declare that “the next revolution in Iran will be a female revolution”. The progressive movement in Iran which has already started will topple this system. This movement will hopefully play the same role regarding Islam as the Great French revolution had in regards to the Church and Christianity in 1789.

Maria Rashidi talked about the unbelievable expansion of violence against women in the world. She said the situation of women in part of the world known as the Third World is devastating. She presented moving statistics showing the degree of violence against women and focused on the necessity of the struggle in opposition to violence agaisnt women.

Marieme talked about the rise of fundamentalism in Europe. She mentioned that over the past 20 years our rights have been the first to go under attack. Women’s rights are blatantly attacked under the name of minorities, religious rights or cultures. Then the totality of a secular system is attacked and turn people into different communities. In France we witness the struggle of immigrant women from the Maghreb who are soffocating under  discrimination and racism which in turn is deepened in relation with openess of the left towards the Islamists on the one hand, and the human rights organisations that only focus on the governments on the other hand.

At the end of the second panel session, Malalai Joya joined the speakers for the questions and answers. A very heated discussion took place. The relation between the Left forces and those who call themselves Left but defend the Islamists was discussed. A question was put forward to Malalai: Why does she only mention political Islam and not Islam? Or why she excludes Islam from critical consideration? A discussion about the necessity of religion as a private matter and of secular societies was discussed.

The third panel included Hugo Estrella, Parvin Kaboli and Maria Guzman. Hugo delivered a  fascinating and interesting speech disclosing the relation between the Catholic Church, Islamic institution, Hinduism and Budism with Fascism. The agreements that Mussolini or Hitler had made with these religions were mentioned. Hugo in his power point presentation disclosed one fact that had not been talked so much about, i.e, the close relations of Mahatma Ghandi with Hitler and the agreements between the two. Ghandi was a political leader, who was famous for opposing violence during the anti-colonialist and social struggles. In today’s Iran, the state reformist and nationalist-Islamic leaders refer to him as a source of inspiration in order to prevent people to topple the regime. They urge people to follow his example!

Parvin Kaboli talked about children’s rights and religion. Based on Mansoor Hekmat’s discussions and articles on the subject, Parvin talked about children’s rights and the necessity of secularism and banning of religious interference in their lives. She focused on the banning of Islamic veil for under aged girls.

Maria Guzman’s speech was  about equal rights for women to education. She also talked about the danger of the growing trend in Uppsala University which tries to justify the introduction of Sharia law parallel with the civil law in Sweden.

In the questions and answers session the subject of legal action against Islamic terrorists who have committed crimes and are now refugees in Sweden was discussed. For example should a number of Islamic terrorists from Algeria who are now in Sweden be prosecuted? Other issues like the need to disclose the Western governments that try to hide the role of Catholic Church and religion were also discussed. It was mentioned how the Western governments declared Tudjman, the nationalist Croatian leader a hero when it was known that he had collaborated with Hitler and the Nazis. 

The conference ended by the final words from Lilian Halls-French and Azar Majedi. The need for expansion and consolidation of an international movement for liberation, equality and secularism was once again emphasized. The EFI’s message of solidarity to women in Iran was adopted by the conference. All participants were invited to the Cairo conference.

Paulina played John Lenon’s “Imagine” on the Piano which was enjoyed by all. On behalf of the the conference, Maryam Kousha delivered a sincere message of gratitude to all who helped tirelessly to make such a great event possible. Then, the speakers were called to the stage and presented with flowers, as a token of appreciation and thanks.

The conference succeeded in presenting serious and deep discussions in a very warm and encouraging atmosphere. About 200 people took part to the event and it was an excellent opportunity to get to know many people from different parts of the world and share enriching and passionate  discussions.

Moreover the conference  managed to raise a sense of solidarity, closeness and cooperation. This year we reached different parts of the world. last year we reached Georgia, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel. This year we had the presence of Egyptian and Afghan  activists as well. It has been years since we started the struggle for organising an international movement for liberation, equality, secularism and a better world; and a struggle agaisnt both poles of terrorism. This year’s conferences took us to another level. European Feminist Initiative and Organisation for Women’s Liberation thank all the participants for this success.

All the speeches and discussion were interpreted simultaneously. About 3000 Skr donation was collected. There were book stalls in the lobby where OWL, Worker-communism Unity Party literature was displayed. Nawal El Sadaawi’s publisher in Sweden used this conference to launch her latest book translated into Swedish.

On 5th march a press conference was held in the office of OWL in Gothenburg where the media, students whose University projects were on the subject and interested  individuals attended. The press conference, which was attended by 30 people itself soon turned into a mini conference discussed the role of religion, Islam, political Islam, Hijab, two poles of terrorism, the position of Iran and the women’s liberation movement.

The news of the conference was published in the Swedish paper “Gothenburg Post” and the journal “FA” and many International and Iranian websites. Interviews by Swedish, Danish and Persian media were conducted with organizers and speakers of the conference.

More on this conference can be found on the OWL website: