Another one of our global blogs from Saideh that talks about women, their links to their distant roots and the common burdens they shoulder, Steve
By Saideh Jamshidi
One For All; All For One
Roksana Bahramitash gave up wealth, status and privilege in Iran to come to Canada. She had to start “below the scratch,” she said.
But she was willing to suffer. “I wanted to continue my education.”
Bahramitash entered Quebec City in Canada with two of her two children. Then her other two joined them. She started her PhD studies majoring in Sociology at McGill University shortly after. “At one point, I had four teenagers while going through my PhD, on the other side, McGill was no holiday,” she said.
After she finished her PhD and completed two post-doctoral fellowships, Bahramitash held different positions such as director of research for the Canada Research Chair in Islam, Pluralism and Globalization at the University of Montreal.
She previously worked as Faculty Lecturer on Gender and Environment with the Simone de Beauvoir Institute and research associate of Iranian studies at Concordia University, Montreal. Now, she is a visiting research scholar and Director of Canada Research Chair on Islam, Pluralism and Globalization. Her focus is on women entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA).
I met Bahramitash at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) annual conferment in Denver in November 2012. We were able to connect quickly since we both spoke Farsi, and were interested in Women issues in the MENA. After I learned she is an author and independent researcher, I asked her to sit down with me for an interview.
Q: How do you communicate with your audiences?
Whenever I have a book launch, I say right up front that I am not just an academic, writing about women poverty. I tell them that I have been there. I use this as a plus in two ways. One, it gives me a firsthand experience on what it means to have to struggle economically to feed your family. And two, it teaches me to be humble.
When I say, at one point in my life, I had to rely on government assistance a lot of women come to me after a talk and say ‘you know this has happened to us, but we won’t ever be able to say it publicly.’
They are ashamed. And to me that shame belongs to the society. If you are a mother and you are taking care of your children, you have to be looked after. This is not just immigrant women, but women who are born Anglo-Saxon. They are in their native land, but they fall in this period that they need assistance.
Q: Why is it important to you to tell your personal stories in such events? What are you hoping to gain or achieve?
I want to empower women. Listen, this is not a war between men and women. But [women empowerment] is about community empowerment, [about] introducing Persian and Middle Eastern culture, art production, as a way to move away from Iranophobia, and islamophobia.
Q: Tell me about your recent book?
I just finished a World Bank funded project on Iranian women entrepreneurs. It was a project that had taken place all over the world except Iran because of sanctions. There were lots of difficulties collaborating between the World Bank and statistical bureau in Iran. I took the project and I was able to complete it. I gathered the data, and a survey that I am going to be representing it in this conference. The title of my talk is “Gender and Entrepreneurship in the MENA region.”
The money had to go through a second organization and then channeled out to me, because I was an Iranian. Besides, sanctions have made it just impossible to work on issues as important as Iranian women entrepreneurship. I inserted a particular question about the impact of the sanctions. The result shows that Iranian women entrepreneurs are disproportionately affected by sanctions. Women go into trade and high-tech jobs, things are new for them. And they are all affected by the sanctions.
Q: Was this the reason you started Un Pour Tous?
Yes. I was in Zahedan when a woman described to me her work and how she helped her community to become more independent. Then I was in taxi later when a taxi driver cracked a joke and said ‘back in old days, one worked to feed many, now many work to feed one.’ He was referring to the economic situation. But this French phrase popped in my head “one for all, all for one.” In this non-profit organization, I promote economic empowerment and entrepreneurship for women of Muslim background including the Persian speaking women. I give women tools to communicate and sell their products. We may become an e-commerce later. I don’t know it yet.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add?
The role of international organizations needs to be revisited. And there is a lot of work to be done. I think that we do not have to necessarily to get rid of Islam and Muslims in order to deliver development aid. We can be more flexible.