The Iranian Vice president, Masoumeh Ebtekar, in this interview with Nigerian journalists who visited Tehran, speaks on the roles of women in Iran and the effects of the sanctions placed on the country. TAOFEEK LAWAL was there for LEADERSHIP.
Your Excellency, you have been in the vanguard of championing the cause of women in Iran. How have women fared so far in your country?
I can say we have a rapidly developed economy but we have had our challenges too. We have a lot of economic, social and also political challenges like any other country but we have also advanced in many areas. And one of the areas we have advanced is the improvement of the status of women. Iranian women have taken great strides in education particularly high education in the last two decades. We have more women gaining admission into the universities than men. Most of those entering into universities are women. So we have educated elites of Iranian women. And also in different areas like sports in adherence to Islamic values and callings, Iranian women have been active in sports and in the recent Asian Games last year; they performed excellently well hauling gold and silver medals. In arts, in the cinemas, we have famous women directors, producers in Iran and also in the field of different economic activities, we have women who are doing very well and excelling in their chosen careers and in every field you can think of our women are doing fine. They have a lot of influence now in the social and political areas. We have about 18 elected women legislators in the parliament. In the western paradigm however, women have been abused and lost their dignity and this is degrading in what Islam has asked from all of us which is to protect human dignity.
You came in 2013 as vice president at a time when the sanction was already in place. What are those environmental impacts that the sanctions have on Iran?
We have had the sanction and we believe it is unjust. Of course, it had a very negative impact on us because it impeded our access to build technology to control the air pollution and greenhouse gases and to increase our efficiency as an oil and gas producing country. We need access to new technology that could help both in terms of energy efficiency and also to control pollution not only in the oil fields but in the cities and industrial areas as well. The sanctions prevented us from access to that and also in the areas of fertilizers and pesticides because during this period low grade pesticides were imported to Iran. The pesticides imported into Iran during that sanction were of low grade and it has a very negative impact on our environment. In addition to that, the irrigation management was affected too in the area of new agricultural method which would have enhanced the post-harvest period of agricultural sector and also to take care of water resources. Water is a very challenge for Iran now and we are facing drought and the effect of climate change as we have it now has increased the temperature in the past 30 years or thereabout. We have less rainfall and more droughts, less snow because we used to have a lot of snow before. We need to take serious action which during the sanction was so difficult in terms of technological exchange with the outside world. Ultimately, the sanction has had it effect on us in terms of our environment like air pollution control but now that the sanction has been lifted, although we still have some obstacles but now we have a lot of exchanges at international level, we have many technical workshops in the past two or three years on different issues pertaining to environmental standard, protection both in the industries and oil and gas and also a lot of business opportunities have been coming to Iran.
As a woman, a wife, a political scientist, a journalist, a mother, a political leader and a vice president, how have you been able to cope with the pressure that comes with all these?
I started in my mind that whatever you set out to do, make a decision and if you have the necessary will, the resources and the capability and with God if you have good intentions you will go a long way. Being a mother is just as important as being a vice president. Sometimes you are actually confronted with taking decisions but the important thing is that I try to strike that balance at all times. I have the help and cooperation of my family and my mother played a very important role in my life when my children were younger and also my husband. So it is a family issue and when you have a family that can protect you and this is very important unlike in the western societies where family values are fast eroding away. It has being difficult in terms of attendant pressure but I think perseverance and standing firm on principles has helped me a lot.
What is your take on the relationship between Iran and Nigeria?
Nigeria is a good country in Africa and we have been moving ahead and there are areas of joint interest between Nigeria and Iran in terms of trade, business, cultural exchanges, scientific exchanges. I think we can also work towards other areas like environment. I also think that the economic ties between the two countries should be strengthened. We also need to work on other areas but we must increase economic delegation on both sides.