Women in Iran: You can kill me as soon as you like…

The battle for emancipation by women in Iran is part of a proud tradition that will shape the future of the regime and Islam itself.

In the past 30 years, officials of the Iranian regime and its apologists label criticism, especially with regard to women’s rights, as anti-Islamic and pro-Western.

From its very inception, the Islamic regime uses Islam as a political and ideological tool. Human rights and freedoms, especially those of women and minorities, become signs of Western “cultural invasion.”

On March 8, 1979, about 100,000 pour into the streets of Tehran to protest against Ayatollah Khomeini’s edict on mandatory wearing of the veil, chanting: “Human rights are neither Western nor Eastern, human rights are global.” They are attacked by vigilantes with acid, scissors, knives and stones.

30 years later, in the 2009 protests against the rigged elections, Iranian women recapture their spirit. It is the images of women at the forefront of these protests that attracts attention. They are young and old, traditional and modern, secular and religious, yet they present a united front.

To justify its policies, the regime confiscates Iranian history, cutting and pasting in its own version. Understanding women’s resistance starts with resurrecting ghosts that have haunted the Islamic regime from its very inception.

The first woman to question the basic tenets of absolutist monarchy and orthodox religion in Iran is known by her title, Tahereh – the Pure.  She is born into a prominent religious family in Ghazvin in 1814 and becomes a poet. Married at 14, she leaves her husband and children to follow the Babi movement, the precursor of the Baha’i religion.

She becomes one of its most outspoken leaders, demanding radical change. In 1848 Tahereh appears unveiled, announcing the advent of a new religion. Many flee in horror and one man slashes his throat at such an act of sacrilege. Tahereh is put under house arrest and strangled in 1852. Her body is thrown down a well to prevent it becoming a shrine.

As they come to kill her, she says: “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”

In the decades after her death, many more Iranians question political and religious absolutism. In 1906, women march in the streets of Tehran, taking off their veils and demanding their rights.

By the time of the revolution in 1979, women are involved in all walks of life, and laws have been revised to eliminate sex discrimination and implement equal pay. Women work at universities, in the police and judiciary, and in government. Iranian women gain the vote in 1963, 11 years before women in Switzerland.

The stories from Iran’s present and past are reminders that freedom, democracy and human rights, or fundamentalism, fascism and terrorism are not geographically and culturally determined, but universal. Every culture has something to be ashamed of, but every culture also has the right to change, to challenge negative traditions, and create to new ones.

Many thanks to Azar Nafisi, author of  ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’. Article published by Huffington Post, December 9, 20010. Here much revised.



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