Monday, June 22, 2020

COVID-19 in Iran: Fighting pandemic while facing US sanctions

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Spraying chemicals to help keep the coronavirus under control, Iran | Source: Mina Noei via Wikimedia

After backing out of the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018, the United States had toughened the sanctions on petrochemical trade and other vital sectors of Iranian economy. The Iranian government is claiming that those sanctions are heavily affecting their ability to act against COVID-19.

These sanctions forced the Iranian government to significantly change infocus from curbing the spread of infections to stabilizing the economy.  There have been some restrictions but no lockdown imposed on the movement of people as the lockdown would further weaken the economy. Also, a lot of pharmaceutical companies aren’t willing to trade with Iran because of the fear of getting caught up in secondary sanctions, even though the US governments deny any restriction of the same. 

All of this has led to a global outcry against the sanctions. The United Kingdom is pushing the US to ease the sanctions because they believe that the hospitals in Iran are badly overstretched. The UK tried to provide direct support to the country via WHO, but Iran refused any help that didn't come with the lifting of the sanctions. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights, Michelle Bachelet, has urged the global community to rethink the existing sanctions on countries like Iran in the light of the current pandemic. The United States also offered humanitarian assistance to the state but was rejected by the Supreme Leader Khamanei, who declared the US as being charlatans and liars, and said that a wise man should not accept medicines from a country alleged of creating the virus. Russia, China and some other medical and rights groups have been urging the Trump administration to lift the sanctions. Over 21,000 lawyers and legal experts in Iran have signed a statement declaring that the US sanctions on Iran are anti-human. On the 26th of March, the US imposed even more sanctions, on more than 17 entities. The sanctions were announced a day after the family of a retired FBI agent claimed that the agent had died while in custody in Iran; two days after Ms. Bachelet made her statement on rethinking sanctions.

The crisis has touched most corners of the country, but it is most severely impacting the poor and working class. While it is older men who are dying in the highest numbers, the economic impact especially hurts women, who are most liable to lose work, and shoulder increased duties, looking after sick relatives and children staying home from school. Iranians’ purchasing power has plummeted in the past two years, as the mismanaged economy shuddered through Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the re-imposition of US sanctions. As Nahid, a women’s rights activist put it: “When people met this virus, their nutrition was already poorer, their immune systems were weakened, and many were already unable to afford health care.” Charities and private sector groups are joining together to raise funds for importing equipment and other medical supplies from China to set up facilities of COVID-19. However due to the sanctions it is becoming difficult to move money from Iran to any other country.

Arshi Tirkey, a Junior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation has put quite aptly: “It is true that political instability, corruption and economic mismanagement in Tehran have aggravated the issue; and likewise, this calls for governance reforms and financial transparency initiatives in Iran. But this is not the sole reason for the scarcity of medical equipment and the condition of health infrastructure in the country today. Sanctions remain a central impediment to improving Iran’s capacity to respond to the pandemic.”

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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