Saturday, November 9th, 2:00pm
Campus in Camps, Al Feneiq Center, (Dheisheh Refugee Camp)

How did women’s access to public space and institutions in Iran dramatically improve in the decades following 1979? Specifically, how did government interventions in various fields manage to help women tackle obstacles that had previously impeded their access to the public sphere under the secular system of government? The Iranian government has widely supported women’s access to education, employment, and the public sphere more broadly, and interestingly, because it defines itself as an “Islamic” government, it is often difficult for conservative or religious forces to challenge these changes. This session concentrates on these topics both in an institutional sense- for example, how state ideological and material support for education helped women challenge family restrictions on their access to education- as well in the spatial sense- for example, how central urban planning institutions created libraries, cultural centers, and other “third spaces” to encourage women’s presence and engagement in the community in newly-built neighborhood pocket parks in all major cities. The major successes in promoting women’s increased access to the public sphere were due both to ideological factors (the government has made it clear that its interpretation of Islam supports women’s rights to education and work, and if you oppose these rights you oppose both the state and God!) as well as very specific economic and material interventions. Obviously, there are many differences with the Palestinian experience, but at the same time it might be of interest to explore similarities and possibilities of sharing strategies.
By Alex Shams

Biographical note

Alex Shams is an Iranian-American activist originally from Los Angeles. He received his Master’s from Harvard in Middle Eastern Studies, where he focused on Islamist politics, women’s movements, and urbanism in Iran and the Arab World. He has been involved in Palestine solidarity and anti-war student activism in the United States for a number of years. He also spent a year working on Palestinian refugee rights issues in Beirut.