Iranian women both within the country and in the diaspora are working together to bring about real social and political change in Iran. While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his supporters defend the state’s official ideology of political Islam, women-led grassroots organizations are leading an opposing effort to promote democracy and human rights through a collaborative, non-ideological approach. Through their acceptance of diversity, their greater national and international cooperation, and their focus on achieving specific, practical goals, these women’s and human rights groups are leading the charge for change aimed at bringing about a new revolution in Iran.
More than four decades after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Tehran government continues to push for the further Islamization of society, and women are one of the main targets of this effort. In reality, however, the Islamic Republic has lost its ideological and political legitimacy and with it the trust of the majority of the people. Even reformists and other political groups that have worked with the state in the past have begun to criticize the system, as problems such as inflation, corruption, poverty, mismanagement of natural resources, environmental degradation, and state crackdowns on dissenters cause millions of people have ordinary Iranians too look for an alternative – one that could bring peace, prosperity and stability.
Opportunities and challenges for NGOs
The work of an NGO called House of the Sun ( خانه خورشید ) highlights both the opportunities and challenges faced by grassroots women’s organizations in Iran. established in 2006 To help addicted women in Tehran, the House of the Sun provided hot food, clothing and medicine, along with training, counseling and psychological sessions to help thousands of affected women. Women’s organizations on the grassroots in Iran are increasingly focusing their efforts on concrete, practical goals like these, conducting activities that not only build solidarity among women, but also support and empower those who suffer most.
In recent years, however, these groups have also come under increasing pressure from the Iranian security authorities. On February 28, 2022, the House of the Sun was forced to close and Sharmin Meymandinejad, its director, was arrested and charged with “an act against national security”. Fahimeh Tabatabai, a journalist in Tehran, criticized the “destruction” of NGOs like the House of the Sun, noting that the group had 2,500 women under its care. As the Iranian security apparatus tightens its grip on society, any civilian organization not under the Islamic Republic’s control is accused of acting against national security.
Cooperation between women’s rights activists in Iran
In an interview, Dr. Rezvan Moghaddam, a diaspora women’s rights activist and founder of the organization Stop the honor killing, said that the culture of cooperation and acceptance of diversity has existed in Iran and among grassroots women’s organizations for about two decades. For example, in 2003, despite restricted freedom of political activity, 56 different grassroots women’s organizations formed a coalition called Ham Andishi (‘synergy’) because they saw the need for greater cooperation. dr Moghadam said, “We lived in an authoritarian regime and we have to find out how we can improve life for women.” When she was arrested in Iran in 2005, several other Iranian activists – women from completely different organizations – protested outside the courthouse and demanded the officials to release her from prison or to arrest all those who are in solidarity with her. While the Islamic Republic has arrested and imprisoned members of many of these groups over the past two decades, Iranian women continue to resist and fight for their rights. Efforts to improve cooperation between them continue to this day: for example, Dr. Moghaddam launched her campaign to end honor killings in Iran as a unique experiment in global collaboration between Iranian human rights activists from around the world and various organizations to bring about change in Iran.
Bringing activists together in the diaspora
The cooperation of women’s and human rights activists in the diaspora is also increasing; One such effort is a group of 26 women’s organizations known as the Collective action of independent Iranian women ( اقدام مشترک تشکل های مستقل زنان ) was founded in June 2020 by Dr. Elahe Amani founded. The affiliates of this group, based in the US, Canada, Germany, UK, Australia and Italy, emphasize that each organization has its own identity, but they “stand together” with the aim of stopping violence against women in Iran. In your Joint Statement, published in November 2021, states: “The Islamic Republic and those in power in Iran have shown during the aggressor of four decades that they had no political will to end various forms of sexual violence in the public and private sphere, but it is one the causes of violence against women and a culture of violence. “According to Dr. Amani, they want to take small but significant steps forward to create more trust, friendship and understanding among Iranian women’s organizations in the diaspora.
In the first two decades after the Islamic Revolution, women’s and human rights organizations and defenders of democracy in Iran had difficulties in working together. The general tendency among the opposition groups was more ideological and theoretical, and they competed with each other. From socialists to liberals and monarchists to republicans, these groups have all developed their own strategies to achieve democracy and freedom in Iran. However, in the past two decades things have changed and Iranian opposition groups, both within the country and in the diaspora, have begun to embrace the democratic culture of acceptance of diversity, teamwork and cooperation. These groups are now working together to create a serious alternative to the Islamic Republic, and women play a central role in this.
dr Fariba Parsa specializes in the political ideologies of democracy and civil movements in Iran. She is a nonresident researcher with the MEI Iran program, works as a Farsi teacher at Yorktown System Groups, and is the founder and president of the nonprofit organization Women’s E-Learning in Leadership (WELL). The views expressed in this piece are her own.
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