Afsaneh Abedi: Change is in the air
On Tuesday, March 13, Tehran and many other cities were the scene of Iranian citizens, especially the young people, defying the authorities and coming out in droves to celebrate the ancient tradition of Chaharshanbehsouri, or the Festival of Fire, and chanting anti-government slogans. These followed the protests that erupted in 142 cities across the nation in the last days of December and in January, and shook the regime ruling Iran to its foundations. For many, this was important for geopolitical reasons; but for me as a young Iranian woman, there was much more at the stake, and I can state with certainty that I am not alone in this feeling.
Widespread protests in Iran may have been surprising for many people in the West, and one feature that made these protests different was the role of women, especially young women who led the protests in many parts of Iran. But for me, a graduate student in Food Science and Technology from the University of Kazerun in southern Iran, who saw the events up-close and personal, it wasn’t strange to see that a girl raising her fist in the middle of a cloud of tear gas became a symbol of the protests. Throughout the country, Iranian women stood up not only for freedom, but also for their basic humanity and the prospect of having a livable future.
Limitations and discrimination against women in Iran begin the moment we start playing with our friends and developing a sense of self. The limitations are obvious in doing sports, in choosing our clothes, in expressing opinions, in having free relationship, in choosing fields of study and jobs. And these are just a small part of the limitation imposed on us.
The mullahs are fully committed to convincing people that the ultimate goal of life as a woman is to be a good wife. The duty of women is to care for children and husband. Even if that woman is a doctor, it is her duty to be subservient. They are placed beside children or seniors in being characterized as weak and emotional, and as needing a man to defend them.
According to this thinking, women can’t travel alone and must have a man’s permission. And to marry they need their father’s permission. Four decades of fundamentalist government have turned women into slaves or the property of their husbands, and this is just one consequence of the regime’s continued survival. Its anti-human and fanatical thinking is also a source of violence that makes the world more insecure. But the logic of the regime is self-defeating.
The female activism that Western observers saw in the recent protests was just the tip of the iceberg of the hate that women have for the regime. Over the past four decades, over 10,000 women, especially those affiliated with the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), have been killed under torture. But they have never given up, and they never will.
Brig. Gen. Rasoul Sanai-Rad, Political Deputy to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) recently said that in the 1980s and then again this year, those who led the anti-government protests were women.
I remember when I was a teenager my mother used to reminisce and tell me about her memories from those years. I could feel she always pined for those days, the days when the women took a stand. I always wondered if there would come a day when it would be possible for us, the young people to shout our rights in the streets alongside men and fight for freedom for ourselves and all the people of Iran?
That moment came in December and January when my friends and I shouted, “principlists, reformers, the game is now over” and “death to dictator.” The rejuvenation was unbelievable. Those moments were the best moments of my life, as the anger and pain that was inside me for many years had been released.
Yes, Iran has changed. I, as an Iranian and specifically as an Iranian woman, grew up with fear. Now it is the ayatollahs who have to be fearful. We have come to believe that we can be a symbol of a changing people, those who never accept tyranny.
Our message is very clear: If Iranian women would be made to live under tyranny and injustice and to be subjected to torture and humiliation, they deserve to come into the streets to overthrow this hateful regime and establish democracy, human rights, and equality.
We have not taken to the street to demand anything from the clerical regime. We came to street for the overthrow of the regime. And we will continue to do so until this goal is achieved. This is the nightmare of the fundamentalists that are governing Iran, to be overthrown by the women who counted for nothing in the mullahs’ society.
As Iranians enter their New Year on March 20, there is reason to hope that this year might be the real Nowruz, or the new day for Iran.