Besieged Iranian Feminists Find Global Support

Iranian feminists

Iranian authorities confiscated poet Simin Behbehani’s passport today–International Women’s Day–as Behbehani, 82, was on her way to Paris to read her poems at a conference on women’s issues.

Such treatment is sad but not surprising: Iran’s state prisons are filled with feminists, journalists, student activists and labor organizers who allegedly “threatened national security” by peacefully marching on the streets to demand their rights. The arrests, imprisonments, torture and intimidations of their families and friends by the Iranian state authorities are mounting. And members of the One Million Signature Campaign–the four-year-old movement to end discriminatory gender laws in Iran–face arrest warrants on a  daily basis.

So it’s heartening that Iranian feminists’ call for solidarity on this March 8 has been greeted warmly around the world. More than forty women’s rights and human rights organizations from around the world, including the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, have signed on to the call for solidarity put out several months ago. They’re joined by more than 1,350 individuals–prominent human rights and women’s rights activists as well as feminist scholars and everyday citizens. Anyone anywhere can join.

Thanks to such support, the arrests and harassment of activists do not have their intended effect: They only embolden the growing Iranian women’s rights movement, which has demonstrated tremendous flexibility and strong transnational ties. Since the controversial June 12th presidential election, Iranian women have been on the forefront of the peaceful demonstrations that gave birth to the versatile and vibrant revolutionary movement known as the “Green Movement.”

The Mourning Mothers of Iran formed one week after the brutal death of Neda Agha Soltan in the aftermath of the June 2009 presidential election. Although their website has been filtered by the ministry of information and more than 80 members have been detained, questioned or harassed by security forces, their call for the prosecution of all those responsible for killings, arrests, disappearances and imprisonment of their children has gained much resonance at home and abroad. They’ve recently gained the support of the Argentinean group Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in Argentine, formed in 1980 in response to the disappearance of children there. More and more mothers in Iran are joining the cause.

Despite state pressure, the Iranian women’s movement is strengthening. The plight of Iranian women is being heard about around the world.

UPDATE 3/12: Received these beautiful photos (courtesy of photographer Maryam A.) of solidarity marches in Paris on March 8, 2010:

Read more Ms. coverage on global women’s rights here



Elham Gheytanchi is a sociology instructor at Santa Monica College. She writes on the Iranian Women's Rights Activist Movement in the Huffington Post and other major publications.