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German Minister Urges Global Support For Iranian, Afghan Women

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The German education minister says education is essential for the foundations of women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan, calling for international support.

Speaking to Iran International about ways to empower women in Iran and other authoritarian states, Bettina Stark-Watzinger, the Federal Minister of Education and Research and the Deputy Leader of the Free Democratic Party, praised the efforts by Afghan and Iranian women, pointing out that the fight for freedom is fostered by education, which is “the best way to make people independent.” 

Speaking on the sidelines of an event organized by the Axel Springer Freedom Foundation, an NGO that supports human rights activists through financial support, Stark-Watzinger told Iran International’s Ali Samadi that the first steps for supporting Iranian women would be supporting dissident figures and make the world see “how human rights and women’s rights are violated.”

“We always have to speak up against” such violations, she added, alongside Iranian opposition figure Masih Alinejad and several other activists and officials. 

Addressing Stark-Watzinger, Alinejad voiced appreciation for the German government, which she said has promised to back Iranian and Afghan women in their fight for freedom. 

A group photo of some of the participants of the Axel Springer Freedom Foundation’s Award for Courage, Berlin (November 2023)

On the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini, whose death in morality police custody triggered a nationwide uprising, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock pledged Berlin’s solidarity with the people of Iran.

“Even if the protests have disappeared from the headlines, we will not leave the people of Iran on their own,” she said. “We will place the fate of the people in Iran on the agenda in Brussels, New York and Geneva.”

“As much as it breaks our hearts, we will be unable to change conditions in Iran from outside, but we will not hold back from giving the people in Iran a voice,” Baerbock said at the time. Germany has also backed ongoing EU sanctions on Iran relating not only to its nuclear program but for its brutal suppression of protesters during the Women, Life, Freedom uprising. Baerbock has repeatedly condemned Iranian authorities for human rights violations and is among the most vocal European leaders who speak out against Tehran’s treatment of women and protesters. 

Alinejad recognised the support, and said, “We believe that Iranian and Afghan women are fighting against a common enemy: gender apartheid”.

During the event, the Axel Springer Freedom Foundation gave its courage award to Afghan women for their fight against the rule of Taliban, which has been intensifying restrictions on women’s education and social presence since it seized power in August 2021 as US-led forces withdrew after 20 years of war.

Referring to the award, Alinejad said that giving awards alone is not enough. “If you do not take practical steps to remove the Islamic Republic and the Taliban, they will eliminate you on German soil,” referring to assassination attempts she has so far evaded from regime security forces on foreign soil.  

A UN assessment of the women’s rights situation submitted to the 15-member Security Council in November read, “The basic rights of women and girls, including the right to education and to work, and representation in public and political life – are not only fundamental obligations of a state, but also critical to build state capacity for long-term development and economic growth and peace and security.

“Any formal re-integration of Afghanistan into global institutions and systems will require the participation and leadership of Afghan women.” 

Since the Taliban returned to power, most girls have been barred from high school and women from universities. The Taliban have also stopped most Afghan female staff from working at aid agencies, closed beauty salons, barred women from parks and curtailed travel for women in the absence of a male guardian. 

In Iran, since last September’s uprising, women have been under increasing oppression as they rebel against mandatory hijab. They have been banned from public spaces, education and faced fines and jail terms for shunning the state laws which has seen a nation rise up.

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