KYOTO — Born into an educated, politically active family in Iran, Fatemeh Hashemi defies the image of Muslim women often held in Japan.
“Ninety-nine percent of Iranians are religious. This says nothing against modernity,” Hashemi, the eldest daughter of Hashemi Rafsanjani, president of Iran from 1989 to 1997, said in an interview Sunday.
“The Shiite sect has an element of dynamism and you can adapt yourself and the laws to new conditions. Religion is not a limitation or restriction for progress. Seventy percent of university students are female. The rate of literacy among women when the revolution took place (in 1979) was 32 percent. This has now changed to 84 percent,” she said.
Hashemi, in Japan to attend the 8th World Assembly of Religions for Peace being held in Kyoto, holds degrees in biology and political science, and from early in her adult life began working to better the lot of women in her country.
Fifteen years ago, she founded the Women’s Solidarity Association, one of three NGOs she currently heads. The association’s objectives are to review women’s problems in Iran and to make recommendations to the government. Her efforts, and those of her cohorts, brought about changes to Iranian laws, particularly those that pertain to marriage and a woman’s right to work and be educated.
A further goal of the group is to interface with women’s organizations around the globe to dispel what she perceives as propaganda that Iranian women remain isolated from the outside world.
This is Hashemi’s fourth visit to Japan and despite the obvious cultural differences she continues to find inspiration in what she finds here.
“Not everyone in Iran knows about Japan,” she said. “But the general perception is that Japan is an industrialized, progressing country and that the Japanese work hard to achieve higher levels of development while keeping their traditions and customs alive. I have found this to be the case.”
Hashemi, a mother of two, says her admiration for Japan further increased during a recent visit to a medical facility in Hiroshima and an educational center in Tokyo where she had the opportunity to speak with some of the staff.
“In the center, I noticed that from the early years of childhood they teach both the science that children need and the social relationships they need for social use. This imparts a sense of responsibility and self-confidence, one of the most important things.”
The inevitable consequence of her father’s prominence in Iranian politics is that she holds strong political views, including opinions on the Middle East that sometimes run counter to those of the government.
“Personally, I believe that the land currently occupied by the state of Israel belongs to the Palestinian people,” she said. “But this issue and these disputes must be solved between the Palestinians and the Israelis, so any agreement made between them will be respected by us.”
Regarding the controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear energy program, she believes her country has an unassailable right to pursue its own objectives. To exemplify that Iran’s intentions are peaceful, she cites the fact that during the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam Hussein ordered the use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops, but Iran did not reciprocate in kind.
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