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Culture

Tehran women's museum supported by German counterparts

Iran's Women's Museum has had a rocky ride since its conception last year. Its story of persecution and financial hardship proves that there is still a long way to go until men and women can enjoy equal status there.

Woman in green holding up her hands with Persian writing saying women should have the same rights as men

This woman displays her equal rights message

The Women's Museum in Iran is one of the latest institutions of its kind to spring up. The mother of them all is in Germany's former capital Bonn.

Since its opening in 1981, the Woman's Museum in Bonn has inspired the setting up of many similar organizations across the world. In Germany alone, there are now four, while there are 14 women's museums across the Atlantic in the United States.

This month, Bonn Women's Museum has been celebrating the concept's global success with an exhibition detailing the work and history of women's museums across the globe.

Even in countries where women's rights have not come so far, such as Iran, there is now a museum dedicated to women and their achievements.

Restrictions on Iranian women

Exterior of Frauenmuseum in Bonn with female sculptures outside

The Women's Museum in Bonn has paved the way for similar museums worldwide

The difficulties facing female activists in Iran is underlined by the fact that the woman who helped found the project there was not allowed to leave the country to visit the event in Germany.

Mansoureh Shojaee was given a travel ban after launching the “1 million signatures” equal rights' campaign.

Even her photograph in the Bonn exhibition has had a makeshift headscarf made of paper stuck to it - a step taken in order to avoid causing problems.

"My sister sent a lot of photos before the presidential elections in June, before the situation got as bad. In Bonn, they selected a photo of her without a headscarf. In the past, that wouldn't have been a problem, but now if a photo of a women's activist appears in public without a headscarf that could cause a lot of problems for my sister and her counterparts," said her sister Mitra, who represented Mansoureh at the exhibition opening.

From goat farmers to musicians

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi provided the initial impulse to open a Women's Museum in Iran. Its first project involved the creation of a traveling exhibition about female goat farmers and their campaign to end the practice of polygamy.

Mansoureh Shojaee and her sister and other museum staff carried out interviews with the women and published them with accompanying photographs.

Shirin Ebadi and Mansoureh Shojaee

Being photographed without a headscarf in Iran can cause many problems

Their next exhibition is to document the music created by women in southern Iran - interesting, as women are forbidden from singing in Iran.

An important part of the museum is the library containing books written by women. Each year, the museum awards two prizes for the best novel and the best scientific publication penned by a woman.

Opposed by the government

Since the presidential elections in Iran, the women's museum has faced a tougher time, according to Mitra Shojaee, a journalist who has lived in Cologne for the past five years and who has been barred herself from working in the Iranian capital Tehran for political reasons.

Mitra Shojaee told Deutsche Welle that women are forever under scrutiny by the country's security forces and live in constant danger.

Another hurdle facing the museum is financing its upkeep. Donations from home and abroad are not allowed but the women's museum is able to overcome its financial problems by the use of little tricks.

There are, for example, artists who support the museum by selling their work. A woman from Cologne, Germany, has already demonstrated her support twice by making a donation to the museum and library.

Mitra Shojaee

Mitra Shojaee is representing her sister in Germany

“We require the solidarity, help, and support of women throughout the world,” said Mitra.

An idea was born

To promote the global solidarity of women is the reason that historian Bettina Bab decided to organise an exhibition in Bonn celebrating women's museums after groups met at the first-ever international meeting last year.

“All museums were founded due to the lack of representation of women in museums and because they are scarcely mentioned in history books," said Bettina Bab. The goal is to take a step towards equality, which still does not exist. To that extent, all of these museums are political," she added.

But none are more political than the fledgling institute in Iran.

Author: Dorothea Marcus (as)

Editor: Julie Gregson / Kate Bowen

DW.DE

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