MEWSo's INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S CONFERENCE: Mahsa 'Jina' Amini
Speech by MEWSo Founder & Executive Director Halaleh Taheri
Thank you for coming. It’s my honour to meet you all today. It’s also amazing to have legendary activists from the Middle East as our speakers who are known around the world. It’s a privilege to listen to your stories today and learn from you.
I am sure everyone here has heard, watched and followed the uprising news in Iran over the 12 weeks, with the Iranian Women Llibération Movement battling one of the most dangerous dictators in the world. I am one of the lucky ones who survived the brutality of the Islamic Republic when they first came to the power.
It feels like only yesterday I was a young teenager and saw so many young people arrested, killed, in hiding and fleeing the country. I lost my young partner at age 21. He had been executed. We never found his grave in among the sheer amount of mass-graves. I also lost two big brothers fighting in Kurdistan against the regime, and 6 other members of my family including uncles, nieces and cousins.
Those images and sounds are always with me: hearing my little town being bombarded, people screaming and crying, having to move from place to place to hide, searching for missing family and friends, checking the prisons, searching among those executed, searching for their graves.
Halaleh, centre, Kurdish Iranian freedom fighter
I am also a woman, who at a very young age discovered that for girls there is constant injustice. It’s not enough that I lost and buried so many members of my family and friends but that I was forced to wear a hijab. Everywhere in society women were separated from men, like we are a disease. We became slaves to the Republic’s strict misogynistic rules for women.
Being a woman in those days was the hardest time for me. I couldn’t stay. Life became too dangerous for all party politicians, for activists. So, I left the brutality of that life and became a partisan (Peshmerga) for years. I settled then an exile in Iraq - another danger zone. I saw so many innocent people killed during the Gulf war and so many political activists in prisons and so many Kurdish 'disappeared' and killed by Saddam Hussain’s troops. Again, I was rebel and I was proud to be part of the uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan.
On the run again, five countries and two continents later I was able to settle in Sweden, and later in Britain, and rebuild my life.
But for those who couldn’t escape, life became even more miserable. An entire generation attacked in the dark decade of the 1980s, which saw some of the highest loss of life. People executed, stoned, tortured, ‘vanished’, especially women. In four decades, the regime has brainwashed people through education and religion, and all under Sharia Law. Propaganda is taught to the children in school, and Friday prays for adults.
Almost all the brutal customs and barbaric habits from the middle ages were recreated by them. In such a climate the patriarchal structure in families and communities meant men were given the power to dictate to women and young people. Many young girls lost their lives by so-called ‘honour killings' and so many others by stoning. Polygamy, virginity tests, forced marriages, child marriages, FGM - misogynist behaviour was everywhere - at work, school, in the street, at home, and so many cases of femicide, you name it! All of these practices were recreated and became dominated behaviour within four decades.
Women were and still are attacked constantly by intelligence officers for any kind of ‘inappropriate behaviour ’as they see it. Women activists are always on the run. They and the worker class face prison, torture, exile, and many are arrested and killed. Four years ago, we had mass protests against poverty, which was the biggest battle between the Iranian people and the Regime. It ended with 1,500 protesters killed, and many more arrested, intelligent officers gang raped female prisoners, systematic abuse was rife everywhere. And this is the everyday life for people until today.
Being a generous person, we often forgive people when they judge us or are unkind. It damages us more to hang on to hate and it’s a good sign of our humanity. But I know I can never forgive what I EXPERIENCED in my life under this Regime! Even after 43 years, I can never forgive. When Iran is free, I will be a witness in the courts testifying about the brutality and inhumanity of this regime I can’t wait to see that day. I want to see them in chains like they did to all those women and prisoners. I have NO MERCY for them at all!
The recent situation in Iran is joyful to see. The revolutionary character of our young women burning their Hijabs, trying desperately to get rid of this apartheid between the sexes. The incredible support from the men, who are encouraging and helping the women in their bravery. The unity seen in the country battling against one enemy with the involvement of the worker classes, universities, students, even children as young as 10. All over country.
This is remarkable, a unique time. Some say this is one in million event that is happening. Some political and history writers compare it to the French Revolution, ‘Common la de Paris’. Many feminists and politicians admit that this lesson should be considered as the approach for women’s liberation in other parts of world, too. I strongly believe this is a woman's revolution in Iran, started by women and led by women. I truly believe this can affect Women’s Rights Movements as over the world.
Today, the speakers, like me, (see below) will talk about their experiences, the history of the women’s struggles, how women’s lives can be changed, the alliances we need to make to support us, and what our expectation is for a healthy society that we can fight for. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
At the end, I’d like to bring up a few lessons about the women’s liberation movement in Iran as I’ve experienced it and what I’ve learned:
1. This period of upraising in Iran started with women’s struggles against oppression, especially about compulsory veils and gender apartheid, which from the first day of this Regime women send a big ‘NO’ to and they never give up. The women’s liberation movement in Iran is the Regime's Achilles Heel. Today 20 million women in Iran are targeting that heel. What women are telling us is they do not recognise any religions right to rule over women. After four decades women are saying ‘Enough is enough!’.
2. Men’s support and unity with women is remarkable! Opposite to all academic theories and doctrines that say it has to be women who free themselves and they can only rely on their own power - this shows that our closest alliances can be men. The systematic power of capitalism is always keen on create conflict and separation between men and women, pitting social movements against each other. Oppressors gain when people fight between each other. We must guard against this and remain united.
3. Women’s liberation in Iran has many more allies such as workers, educated students, other sisterhood nations and movements around the world. Now women’s rights ‘globally’ is human rights, and it’s not just for the middle classes, or Westerns or white people. In my eyes, Hilary Clinton and the girl in Kurdistan who was married off at the age of 9, are one and the same. Same gender, same rights. The rights of women and children from minorities communities living in the West must not be neglected. We cannot have a two-tier system of rules, one for the dominant population and another for ethnic minorities.
4. Finally, women's liberation does not need to wait another hundred years until the entire community, society wake up and generally accept the rights of women. A society might keep all the attitudes and habits, cultures and customs that people have believed in for years. But this must not interfere with women’s rights. The rights of equality and freedom, the right of free speech are being demanded by more and more people throughout the world. More than half the people on earth are women, who can gain from such changes. WE WANT WOMEN’S RIGHTS NOW! WHETHER OTHERS LIKE IT OR NOT, WHETHER THEY ARE READY OR NOT!
If women in Iran can stand against the most dangerous and backward regime in the world and fight it, for years, then the rest of the world can do the same. Nothing is impossible! On the way to victory there are always hurdles to climb, fears to suppress. But our resilience is
what drives us forward. And on the way to victory, we will find your perfect alliances and learn from every single step we take. The struggle to our goal is the best school of learning.