WATCH: Documenting the Feminist Movement’s Struggle in Iran

We are proud to present this short documentary about the women’s movement in Iran, directed by Jeff Kaufman and produced by Marcia Ross.

Kaufman had this to say about the film:

On International Women’s Day 2013, Iranian attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh addressed a meeting in Tehran and spoke about the “common female experience” that links women’s rights activists in her country over many decades of struggle. That experience has been shared by women all over the world.

This documentary starts with a woman being executed for demanding equality in Iran in 1852, which was just a few years after the Seneca Falls Convention in the United States.

The parallels and lessons between our countries continues today.

Producer Marcia Ross and I have had the privilege of getting to know a number of the women in this film. We feel it is important to bring attention to them and their cause, especially as many languish in prison or exile.

Through gains and losses and remarkable resilience, these women have refused to give up or be silenced. As Nasrin’s friend, colleague, and now fellow political prisoner Narges Mohammadi said, “To achieve human rights, it is necessary to achieve women’s rights.”

For some context, Pardis Mahdavi, PhD—director of Arizona State University’s School of Social Transformation—breaks down the history of Iranian feminism in a January 2020 post on

Women have long been at the forefront of pushing for social change in Iran.

From women’s frontline participation in the Constitutional (Mashrouteh) Revolution in 1905-1911, to women’s support of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in the early 1950s, to women’s emphatic castigation of Iran’s Shah which led to the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

But in the years following the revolution of 1979, a new generation has come of age. Since the late 1990s, young women and men have been actively organizing through overtly feminist frameworks.

Many feminist leaders have paid a huge price for their bravery, as the Iranian government has cracked down on feminist leaders with violence and imprisonment.

One of the women featured in the video, Sotoudeh is now serving a decades-long sentence in Evin Prison. Released alongside Kaufman’s documentary was a statement from Sotoudeh, written from prison. Here’s an excerpt:

Currently, I am in the women’s ward which consists of three rooms and forty inmates. Most have been arrested for political reasons. The occupants of Evin Prison’s women’s ward are human right activists, women’s rights activists, civil and environmental activists, religious minorities and mystics, members of labor movements, and individuals with dual citizenship who are accused of spying.

In prison, I sometimes offer limited classes about human rights issues to those who are interested, but mainly, I preoccupy myself with learning and teaching others about truth and reconciliation commissions in other countries.

Iran is a country where violations of women’s rights are systemic. This makes it even more important to honor and commemorate International Women’s Day.

I specifically extend my hand to American citizens. Our governments have been rivals for years, with little regards for us. On this day of March 8, I also ask every Iranian around the world to help us in our pursuit of peace, this fundamental aspect of survival. Happy International Women’s Day.


Roxy Szal is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.