Parvin Paidar enriched our feminist scholarship and struggles for equal rights, democracy, freedom and justice
October 23, 2005
Dear friends and colleagues,
Sorry for being a bearer of sad news. Parvin Paidar, a dear friend and colleague to many of us in the fields of Iranian Studies and Women and Gender Studies passed away on Oct. 20th, 2005 after fighting with a relapse of melanoma for two years.
Born on September 29th, 1949, Parvin's premature death has left us with a deep sense of loss and sadness. Her short, but productive life has enriched our feminist scholarship and struggles for equal rights, democracy, freedom and justice. The Middle Eastern women's studies in general and the contemporary women's movement in Iran, in particular, have lost one of the best feminist scholars who wrote "the best general book on the history of Middle Eastern women in any one country," as stated by Professor Nikki Keddie. Paidar's book, Women and the Political Process in Twentieth Century Iran (Cambridge University Press, 1995) has remained unsurpassed.
Parvin's numerous writings on gender and social development issues drew from her academic training in sociology, including a Ph.D. in Political Sociology from the University of London and her practical and hands on experiences in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan. Through the British Refugee Council, World University Service, Save the Children, Voluntary Services Overseas, UNIFEM, and as Inter-Agency Coordinator for the Bosnia Program, she offered women and children long years of service.
With a group of Iranian feminists in London and elsewhere, Parvin was a key founding editor of Nimeye Digar, the first feminist and scholarly journal published outside Iran after the 1979 Revolution. In the words of her long-time colleague and close friend, Afsaneh Najmabadi, "more than anyone else in that group, she knew how invaluable it was to bring feminists of differing politics into a working alliance and keep that coalition working... Her most important contribution was her vision. She passionately, and at a time when we (the seculars) all had every reason to hate everything Islamic, with remarkable insight, saw the necessity of working across the secular/religious divide, of reaching out to women's rights activists who spoke and lived Islamic."
Parvin was a coalition builder rather than a divisive ideologue. As a person she came from love, understanding and empathy rather than hatred and vengeance toward those who differed with her ideologically or even had wronged her and other seculars. She was free from rigid dogmas and blinding prejudices and sectarianism, the attributes that were rare during the early years of post-revolutionary Iran when the theocratic dogmas and repressive policies of the Islamist government had left very little room for dialogue, tolerance, and pluralism.
For many of us, Parvin was an inspiring role model from whom we could learn the art of good living, fine scholarship, effective fighting for justice and freedom, and even the art of peaceful dying. During the last month of her struggle with cancer, she wrote a moving short piece as part of her will. Addressed "To My Precious Husband, Family and Friends," she wrote:
"I am grateful to life for my family, friends, work and strength in facing death. I wish the same for all of you. I discovered only towards the end of my life that the fear, anxiety, anger and control that we hang on to throughout life day in and day out are false and can evaporate for good in a matter of minutes. They have no more significance than a smoke screen under which our real life takes place... Since I've known that I don't have anymore treatments available to me anymore, I've been feeling enormously peaceful. It is as if I'm invited to make a transition to another world... I have had a shorter life but a very valuable one and I have no complaints about the length of my life and feel grateful for the life I've had. Everyone has to face death at some point sooner or later. It's the quality of life that counts rather than the length... "
To learn more about Parvin's personal as well as intellectual and political sides, you may want to read an interview carried out sensitively and written skillfully by Roza Eftekhari during Parvin's illness which is published in Zanan (in Persian) No. 115.
While mourning Parvin's death, let's celebrate her rich and productive life with the fond memories of her positive energy, cheerful face, and immense intellectual contributions to our scholarship and our movement for generations to come. Allow me, on behalf of all of you who knew Parvin, extend our sincere condolences to her family members, her life-partner and loving husband Dr. Soroush Javadi-Motlagh, her mother and father Mrs. Homa Paidar and Mr. Asghar Paidar and her loving sisters Nasrin, Zarrin, Shirin, and Nooshin Paidar, all who surrounded Parvin with love and care till the last moments of her life.
I also want to express special condolences to Afsaneh Najmabadi, Parvin's most devoted friend who made frequent long flies from Boston to Los Angeles to visit Parvin and to cheer each other up during the past two years. I mention Afsaneh especially since she is in mourning now for two great losses in her life, her beloved mother passed away just a few days before Parvin did... [See obituary by Afsaneh Najmabadi]
With sympathy and best wishes for you all,
Nayereh Tohidi is an Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at California State University, Northridge [homepage]. She is also a Research Associate at the Center for Near Eastern Studies of UCLA. She earned her Ph.D. and MA degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and holds a BS degree (with Honor) in Sociology and Psychology from Tehran University.