Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest today, Nina Ansary author of Jewels of Allah: The Untold Story of Women in Iran.
Born in Tehran, Iran, Nina Ansary left her country of birth at the onset of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and has not returned since.
Growing up in New York City, she received her B.A. in Sociology from Barnard College and her M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University. In 2013, Nina received her PhD in History from Columbia University.
Norm: Good day Nina and thanks for participating in our interview
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
Nina: I was born in Iran and left at the cusp of the 1979 Islamic revolution and have not returned since. My professional background has been predominantly focused on humanitarian causes and philanthropic endeavors.
Norm: What motivated you to write Jewels of Allah: The Untold Story of Women in Iran? What purpose do you believe your book serves and what matters to you about the book?
Nina: Jewels of Allah is based on my doctoral thesis written in 2013 for Columbia University. I have re-written the manuscript as a mainstream narrative in order to highlight women’s ongoing activism in Iran to a broader audience. The book is also a tribute to the myriad of courageous women in Iran’s past and present, who despite the repercussions continue to push back against patriarchal boundaries. The reality is that the plight of women in Iran has by and large received insufficient coverage. Their ongoing struggle is one that needs to be brought to the attention of the international community at large.
Norm: What kind of research did you do to write this book and how has the feedback been so far?
Nina: The main body of my research stems from my years in academia. The narrative has additionally been shaped by comments from followers on social media, as well as a plethora of primary sources directly obtained from Iran. I am most grateful to so many individuals who have generously offered their support and positive feedback throughout this process.
Norm: In your book you state that it is a misconception to believe that during the Khomeini era, women were totally oppressed. Would you care to elaborate as to why is this a misconception?
Nina: What you inquire is complex and in many ways reflective of the convoluted social, political and historical landscape of Iran. Therefore, it cannot be accurately conveyed in a few simple sentences. That being said, it centers on the general misconception among westerners that women in Iran became symbolically and literally restrained behind the veil in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Norm: How much of a women's movement is there in modern day Iran today and if there is, why have we not heard more about it?
Nina: There is full blown and vibrant women’s movement in Iran, which is counter intuitive given the patriarchal post-revolutionary climate. The fact that this movement remains largely under the radar is because mainstream media tends to paint a very one dimensional portrait of Iran, choosing instead to focus more on the leaders of the current regime, and less on people living lives within the walls of a restrictive atmosphere.
In recent years, however, social media has proven to be an essential and powerful tool in amplifying the lives and voices of the general population at large, specifically the trials and tribulations of a nation who continues to pay a high price through no fault of their own.
Norm: How effective has been the one million signatures for the repeal of discriminatory laws against women launched in 2006?
Nina: The campaign made small yet significant strides as it gathered support across the country, as women from all walks of life became involved in raising awareness of the need for more equitable policies. In 2008, the campaign successfully pressured parliament to amend the inheritance laws, giving women the right to inherit their husband’s property.
Parliament also prevented the passage of Articles 23 and 25 of the Family Protection bill proposed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005 – 2013) in 2007, which would have enabled a man to take additional wives without their first wives consent. Women were also granted equal blood money in accidents covered by insurance companies. These were small yet significant steps in demonstrating that their continued activism is an essential ingredient in the quest for equality.
Norm: Does the definition of “human rights” differ in Iran (per the government and/or per the people), and if so, do you believe that this has changed throughout the years?
Nina: The current regime in Iran has a long way to go in order to rectify their human rights record. The everyday freedoms that we often times take for granted living in more progressive nations is a luxury that is unfortunately not afforded to the citizens of Iran––citizens who are not reflective of the current ruling body. What is even more troubling, is the recent high number of executions, in addition to imprisonment of activists and journalists for the slightest deviation.
Norm: What would you suggest to Iranians who want to become active for human rights?
Nina: There are many courageous activists in Iran today who pay a high price for their activism. What is most important is the art of resistance and an ongoing activism demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity. On another note, Iranians living abroad have been and can continue to be helpful in bringing much needed awareness to the ongoing human rights trespasses undertaken by the current regime.
Norm: Which reforms would you like to see implemented in Iran concerning women's rights if the motivation of the government existed?
Nina: I would like for all the gender discriminatory policies to be reversed and for women to be able to decide their fate as well as secure their innate right to freedom and equality.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your book?
Norm: What is next for Nina Ansary?
Nina: The U.S. and UK Book tour, hopefully followed by the second instalment to Jewels of Allah.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Nina: Do you still feel a deep-seated connection to Iran despite not having been back in 35 years?
Answer? I definitely have a strong and in many ways an emotional connection to Iran as do many Iranians currently living in exile. I feel that this sentiment is poignantly captured by Azar Nafisi, critically acclaimed author of Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books who has been living in exile in the U.S. since 1997. She said “I left Iran but Iran did not leave me.”
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
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