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Politics

Fighting silence, denial and repression in Iran

by BRIANA WALKER

As a topic that lacks open, inclusive discussion even in the most ‘liberal’ societies, non-profit organisation United for Iran are revolutionising the approach to sexual abuse of children, employing technological advancements to empower vulnerable families.

Based in California, United for Iran have recently turned their efforts towards engaging the citizens of Iran through their electronic devices, and in doing so advocating human rights. As a part of their new app development project IranCubator, the group are exclusively seeking to match civil society activists with app programmers to improve the lives of the countrys disadvantaged.

Today, technology seems the most effective medium to communicate any message and sell both ideas and products to the modern public (Australians spend an average of almost seven hours on their internet connected devices everyday). However for countries trailing in free expression, access to balanced information and general civil liberties, technological innovations have the potential to create a far greater impact.

The groups latest act of empowerment is Michka, a Persian-language app serving as an e-book that aims to help adults teach their children how to identify, talk about and report sexual abuse. With about half of the population using smartphones, this is just one example of IranCubator using technology to tackle oppressive social issues often considered taboo. According to Executive Director of United for Iran Firuzeh Mahnoudi, this was previously an untapped resource.

“Today, there are more than 40 million smartphones in Iran and a million more are added every month. But the number of human rights apps remains close to zero,” Mr Mahnoudi said.

“We’ve seen technological advances transform the global human rights movement and mobile-phone apps have the capacity to enable Iranian citizens to more easily and securely organize, assemble, and express themselves.”

Michka is essentially the story of a gender-neutral insect whose wings are a private part. When one day Mr. Koopoom, an adult insect, touches Michka’s wings, Michka becomes confused about what it should do.

Project leader and women’s right activist Sahar Shams is herself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and, with the approval of child psychologists, created Michka as a resource for Iranian parents to talk about the “difficult topic” in a language that is understandable and comforting for vulnerable children.

There’s currently no data on the prevalence of sexual abuse of children in Iran, and only recently has it become part of the national conversation, following several complainants coming forward to the Persian media to accuse a prominent religious figure of sexual misconduct, including the rape of children (one could easily draw parallels between this and the similar exposure of abuse within the Catholic church in recent years).

“Michka is a story I wish I was told when I was a child. Unfortunately, the issue of childhood sexual abuse is not an openly and intelligently discussed issue in Iran— nor in many places worldwide,” Ms Shams said.

“People believe it’s an issue bigger than what they are capable of dealing with, so they prefer to pretend it doesn’t happen. I hope this book encourages an open, productive discussion about childhood sexual abuse so we can address the issue, preventing future incidents and providing support to the silent victims.”

Since its launch in August, Michka has been downloaded over 10,000 times, and will soon be available in English.

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