by Siavash Sayid and Maria Rohaly
Image courtesy of Shaho Nemati
31 years ago on this day, but from the streets of Tehran, a group of observers wrote:
“We members for the Movement for Liberation of Women in France declared that when Iranian women come to the scene of movement, it indicates freedom and emancipation for women around the world.”
31 years of Iranian women’s struggle, today’s international response by freedom- and equality-seeking masses – especially women’s response to the Iranian revolution, a women’s revolution – and the mere fact that WE are standing here today, confirms beyond any doubt the truth in that message. Iranian women’s struggle is our struggle: it belongs to the world and it is unifying our struggle for equality. It belongs to us and to our children, and we are here today to consolidate our unity.
We are here today to stand with Iranian women in honor of International Women’s Day. We stand with those who fought for equality and justice and against two tyrannies. We stand with those beaten, tortured, raped, imprisoned and executed in the past 31 years. We stand here today, our hearts in our hands, to remember the courageous Iranian women who lost their lives fighting for equality and justice for themselves, and for their daughters, for American daughters, for the daughters of Afghanistan, Turkey, South Africa.
We stand with those who are marching ever stronger today, who have their signature under a revolution which not only will bring freedom to Iran, but has already defeated political Islam in the international arena once and for ever.
We stand with the women who are fighting for equality now; we stand with those who were marching then! We stand with those who never, not even for a day, bought the illusion, the promise of paradise then; and with those who are not intimidated by the threat of living hell in Kahrizaks, Evins and the God’s gallows now!
We stand with you who were the major force of Iran’s social and class confrontations against tyranny and inequality during the last three decades of the 20th century. We stand with you, the spearhead and the decisive force of the coming great revolutions of the 21st century for a humane world. We stand with you for non-discrimination. Freedom. Equality. Humanity. These are your demands; this is your revolution. These are our demands; this is our revolution. And we stand with you.
Women around the world! The women of Iran are at the epicenter of a global conflict between women’s freedom and theocratic oppression. In Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, women are watching their Iranian sisters, watching them fight back against the same political Islam that has taken their own human rights too. In Turkey, the theocratic government, a political response to once forward-marching “political Islam,” has been targeted. Women in Turkey are fighting back, tearing chadors to shreds, joining their sisters just across the border, fighting the same fight. Women in Turkey have repeatedly, and through their bold support for Iranian women, announced that the battle against political Islam and its gender apartheid has particular resonance throughout the Middle East. But it is not only Iranian women who have interests in this fight, nor only Middle Eastern women. The fact of the matter is that nowhere in the world are women free – our labor is exploited, we face gender discrimination in and out of the workplace, we face domestic violence, rape, assault – all violations based on our sex. Nowhere in the world are women free, but there is one place in the world where our sisters are standing up to fight a woman’s revolution: Iran.
And we know that when Iranian women come to the streets, that means equality and emancipation for women throughout the world.
The demands of today’s Women’s Revolution are the same as they were in 1979: “Thousands of women demonstrated and said, “We are awakened! Our demonstration is not just about hijab… We want equal pay, the right of employment for women, freedom of speech, association and organization. …We will continue our struggle until the complete emancipation of women. Without freedom for women, no real revolution can exist.””
The whole humbled world is witness that you paid a high price yet kept your promise.
Right now, in the midst of Iran’s troubled waters of political change, you are the captain of this ship, this revolution. You and only you can take Iran to the shores of liberty and the promised land of humanity. Your fight right now is for your own liberation, but in your battle to free yourselves from your chains, you also fundamentally challenge systems of gender apartheid and gender discrimination worldwide, in the East and in the West, in the North and the South: the outcome of your struggle has implications for women and girls everywhere.
You have an opportunity now, in the midst of revolution, to destroy the failed systems of the past and rewrite the rules of society in ways that are just, humane, and equal. Women around the world are watching you, hoping for you, and whether we consciously realize it or not, we see in you hope for ourselves too.
Take the lead; set the agenda. Do not wait for anyone to ask. Lead, and the world will follow.
“Freedom is not eastern nor western – it is universal!”
(note: quotes from Iranian and French women’s rights activists are drawn from a documentary from the March 8 protests of 1979 in Tehran; the link to the video and the transcript can be found here.)