As International Women’s Day approaches on March 8th, it’s time to recognize the struggles and achievements of women’s rights activists around the world. One of the most vibrant women’s rights movements is in Iran, where every day courageous women risk their freedom and safety to fight for their rights. While most use peaceful means to end discriminatory treatment of women in Iranian family law, they face increasing persecution from the Iranian government: Women are routinely arrested, imprisoned, threatened and banned from traveling abroad.
Even the most prominent women’s rights activist in Iran, lawyer and 2003 Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, is not immune to this mistreatment. She has been repeatedly threatened in government-controlled media in recent months and the Defenders of Human Rights Center, that she operates to provide legal assistance to victims of human rights violations, was forcibly shut down by the government last December and her papers and computers seized.
Why is the Iranian government so afraid of its own women citizens calling for equal rights? The government trots out preposterous charges against them such as “acting against national security through propaganda against the state.” How can women walking around a mountainous area north of Tehran to collect petition signatures possibly undermine the state? How could Alieh Eghdamdoust, recently taken into custody and forced to start serving a three-year prison sentence for participating in a peaceful demonstration in June 2006, possibly be a threat to the security of Iran?
As the Iran country specialist for Amnesty International USA I am constantly challenged on how to craft actions and mobilize activist to combat this disproportionate and seemingly irrational repression of non-violent human rights defenders. And like many human rights activists, I am often frustrated and confounded. But I am also always inspired by the unrelenting courage and pluckiness of women activists in Iran. When asked by the judge at her trial why she participated in the demonstration, Alieh Eghdamdoust replied to the judge, “You should participate as well. Why didn’t you defend your daughters and wife’s rights by attending the legal peaceful gathering?”
I think of Ms. Eghdamdoust’s spirited response as International Women’s Day approaches and I ask you to take action to support our sister activists in Iran. Please write to the Iranian government and call for an end to the harassment of peaceful women’s rights activists in Iran. Thank you all and please let us know what actions you have taken and any suggestions you have.