Women of the western world, take heart. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cares about us. Us! How do we know that? Well, because he says so.
He spoke Sunday at the third meeting of something called the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Tehran. There, he proclaimed feminism “a cry of protest of crushed women in a capitalist system.” This was part of a larger message decrying a lack of equal opportunity for women in education. We are, he declared, the “main victims of the ruling bullying policies.”
Given his own country’s less-than-sterling record on women’s rights, it is somewhat puzzling what Ahmadinejad imagines gives him credibility on the issue. Some helpful soul named Maryam Mojtahedzadeh, the Iranian president’s adviser on women’s affairs, told the media that the conference is concerned with challenges faced by Muslim women around the world. One big worry, she reports, is how to make women more independent, both financially and socially. There are 30 Muslim nations in attendance, including Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Mali, Malaysia, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Bangladesh.
All these countries share a deep concern about women’s financial and social independence. Who knew?
However charming the Iranian leader’s speech may have been, at least one red light went off, for me, when he blamed that old, anti-American bogeyman, “capitalism,” for women’s woes. If he were to give that speech in the western world, calling for a show of hands of women who felt that capitalism was the force most oppressing them, he wouldn’t see many go up. That is, unless he happened to be speaking at any major U.S. university.