On June 12, the third anniversary of National Day of Solidarity of Iranian Women, nine women’s rights activists were arrested outside the Rahe Abrisham (Silk Road) Gallery just before the start of a small, peaceful assembly planned to commemorate the day.
Aida Saadat, Nahid Mirhaj, Nafiseh Azad, Nasrin Sotoodeh, Jelve Javaheri, Jila Baniyagoub, Sarah Loghmani and Farideh Ghaeb were arrested by Tehran security police, along with photographer and reporter Aliyeh Mohtalebzadeh. Of these nine women, five were journalists. All nine were released the following day in the early morning hours.
On the same day, a small group of women decided to go for hiking on a local trail to commemorate the day. They were threatened, harassed and stopped by police forces.
On the following day, Mahbobeh Karami, a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign demanding changes to Tehran’s discriminatory laws, was arrested. Her family has not heard from her since and can’t even find out to which detention center she was taken.
June 12 is an important day in the history of Iranian women and the struggle for equality and human rights. It was on this day in 2005 that thousands of women gathered in front of Tehran University and demanded changes to the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Not since March 8, 1979, when 20,000 women gathered to object to a compulsory hijab, had women organized a large demonstration. In 2005, the failure of reformist policies, along with a historical opportunity, laid the groundwork for various women’s groups, networks and organizations within the movement to come together and protest violation of their rights.
June 12 has been chosen by Iranian women’s rights activists as the National Day of Solidarity in the struggle to change discriminatory laws against women and girls, and to change the societal structures that have denied full and equal citizenship to women. Many consider this day to be the day the women’s movement declared her independent existence and identity as a social movement, one which often has been marginalized by political parties.
In 2006, during a peaceful gathering on the first anniversary of the June 12 Day of Solidarity, 70 women activists were arrested, and many others were sentenced to up to six years in prison, all for demanding changes to discriminatory laws for divorce, polygamy, child custody, inheritance etc.
The government of Iran claims that these activists are a threat to the country’s national security!
It has been reported that since June 12, 2006, women’s rights activist have been arrested 156 times, and collectively been sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, with a collective bail set at approximately $1.6 million. This is the price that Iranian women have to pay for demanding their rights.
Just in the last two months, during the crackdown on enforcing “Islamic Social Norms,” 1,098 women were arrested, accused of not fully observing the Islamic dress code. Women deemed inappropriately dressed are usually hauled to a moral detention center, where they must sign a written pledge not to repeat the offence, and are forced to await family members to bring them more modest clothing.
The Iranian people face many challenges in their daily life. Basic freedoms such as the right of assembly and freedom of speech and the press are shattered; there are more than 10 million people living under the poverty line; and the safety and security of women fighting for human rights is more fragile than ever: Women are being harassed and undignified in public for not observing the Islamic dress code; women’s rights activists are continually denied the right to freedom of association and assembly; and even meetings in private homes are often broken up by security forces.
Of course, this treatment is not limited to women’s activists only — other activists, be they labor, student, teachers, journalists or ordinary citizens who dare to demand their rights — are harassed, arrested and jailed regularly.
Iran is one of the world’s most repressive countries toward bloggers, and is on the Reporters Without Borders’ list of “Internet Enemies.” It was ranked 166th out of 169 countries in the latest World Press Freedom Index. Many of the bloggers and cyber social justice activists are women.
Shirin Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, said in a recent interview with The Guardian newspaper: “Since the world started focusing on the nuclear program, the human rights situation in Iran has worsened every day. The morality police interfere more in people’s everyday lives. They recently announced they would carry out inspections in private homes and companies. In Tehran, there was also a plan to target hooligans on the streets, but it led to a lot of innocent young people and women being arrested.”
But the struggle goes on.
Despite the continuous prosecution of Iranian women activist and human rights defenders, the Iranian women’s movement is one of the most inspiring women’s movement in the world today. Iran’s women continue to challenge fanatic interpretations of Islam, demanding secularism and reforms to strict patriarchal social norms and discriminatory laws in the constitution and leading the way for women in other Muslim majority societies.
As U.S.-Iran relations remain a hot political issue, and the threat of a military strike continues to receive media attention, we must not allow the recent history of Afghan women to repeat itself here. We must remember that in the mainstream U.S. media, there is a short time span between reconstructing the image of brave Iranian women and collateral damage. Learning from their Afghan sisters, Iranian women will never allow the West to make them the poster child for women’s oppression and the justification for a military strike that would “rescue” them from the atrocities of religious extremists in Iran.
Iranian women are bold and brave, confident and hopeful. Their desire for democracy, dignity, justice and respect for human rights will be achieved through the building of a movement inclusive of all men and women who believe in eradicating discriminatory laws, together and with the support of international forces that are taking a stand against militarization, globalization and religious fundamentalism.