Of all the players in what has become Iran’s bloodiest uprising in 30 years, few have captured the world’s attention like the Iranian women have. It began with Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi. An professor at Tehran University, she was the first candidate’s spouse to campaign publicly on behalf of her husband, and as a result, her rallies drew thousands decked out in green. Rahnavard was even nicknamed the Michelle Obama of the Middle East. Post-election, she is still campaigning fiercely against the current Iranian regime, only this time for the release of detainees and to allow legal protests to continue.
Since then, women of all ages have been turning up at the protests against the contested election results. One 19 year old girl told CNN that she was beaten by paramilitary forces and forced to give them her camera’s memory card—something she stealthily got around by giving them an empty card instead. “They were hitting everyone, and everywhere was fire because of the tear gas they throw at us,” she said. “There were a lot of other women there. We gave the boys the stones because we can’t throw them so far. We gave them the stones, and we said the slogans.”
In his press conference yesterday, President Obama acknowledged the role of women in the Iranian protests. “We have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets,” Obama said.
Perhaps the most iconic woman of this struggle is now Neda Agha-Soltan, the non-political, 26 year old music student who was shot to death as she stepped out of her car to get some air. The graphic video of her death has already been viewed on YouTube over 200,000 times, in which onlookers tell her “do not be afraid”. She is now referred to as the new voice and symbol of the revolution.
Melody Moezzi, an Iranian American author, went on CNN and emotionally declared that Neda’s death has made an enemy out of all the Iranian people for the Supreme Leader and his leadership. “Natersid, natersid—do not be afraid—is one word in Farsi. That word has become so powerful. She’s a martyr; she’s going straight to heaven. God is on her side, we are on her side.”
Samah Choudhury contributed to this post