The first day of spring marks the beginning of a new year, or Norooz, in Iran. Women have fought hard for progress and equality in the nation and, despite setbacks, have continued on in full stride and achieved much. Here is a round-up of just a few fantastic female activists who have contributed significantly to the advancement of women’s rights and stature in the world. These ladies give the nation, the region, and, indeed, the entire world hope for meaningful and lasting change:
1. Sediqeh Dowlatabadi
Sediqeh Dowlatbadi was an Iranian feminist activist and suffragist in the early 20th century in Iran. Dowlatabadi ran one of the first-ever women’s publications in the nation and the first of its kind in one of Iran’s largest and most historical cities: Isfahan. After attending the 1926 International Women’s Conference in Paris, Ms. Dowlatabadi drew backlash for returning to her homeland without a veil. As a result, just two years later, Iranian parliament passed a law giving women the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a veil.
2. Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi
Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi became Iran’s first female Ambassador in 1951. Alongside fellow women’s rights activist, Safiyeh Firouz, Dowlatshahi founded Rah-e No or New Path, the first organization in the nation dedicated to human rights. Dawlatshahi was a suffragette and petitioned Mohammad Reza Shah for the right to vote for women. In 1963, women in Iran were granted suffrage.
3. Mahnaz Afkhami
Mahnaz Afkhami is a feminist activist who served as the former Secretary General of the Women's Organization of Iran (WOI) and was later appointed to the Shah’s cabinet as Minister of State for Women's Affairs, a post created for Afkhami, prior to the Islamic Revolution. She founded the Association of Iranian University Women and was a professor at the National University of Iran. According to her website, Afkhami “works with women activists across the world, especially in Muslim majority societies, to help women become leaders in their communities.” Afkhami has published several books pertaining to women’s rights in Iran and globally, including Eliminating Violence Against Women in Muslim Societies.
4. Anousheh Ansari
Award-winning Iranian-American engineer, astronaut, businesswoman, humanitarian, and author, Anousheh Ansari, is the first Iranian to go to space. Ansari is also the first self-funded woman ever to fly to the International Space Station. Ansari has been noted for her contributions to private space travel and for her work on the boards of such organizations as the Make-a-Wish Foundation. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science from George Mason University.
From her blog:
“Now that we are here, let’s all be equal in this Quest and share the responsibility of saving our world. It is too much for one person but when it is up to all of us, I know we can do it.”
5. Zahra Kazemi
Zahra Kazemi was an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist known for documenting poverty and harsh living conditions in the Middle East through her photographs. In 2003, Kazemi shot pictures of protesters in Tehran, Iran and was arrested, raped, tortured further, and murdered by Iranian officials at Evin prison. Kazemi’s murder has brought to light the brutality of the new regime and created a huge strain between Canadian-Iranian affairs. Kazemi’s son continues to fight to bring justice for her mother’s death, which Iranian authorities maintain was an “accident.”
6. Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani
Khorasani is a prominent, award-winning Iranian journalist and feminist organizer. She is one of the founders of the One Million Signature campaign, a campaign aimed at ending discrimination against women in Iran. In 2006, during a non-violent demonstration, Khorasani and dozens of others were dispersed by authorities, arrested, and forced to appear before the judiciary for taking part in the “illegal demonstration.” Khorasani also played a major part in the “Green Revolution” after the disputed election results of Iran’s 2009 presidential election.
In an interview with New Internationalist magazine, Khorasani stated: “While my fellow countrywomen suffer from discrimination and prejudice, my fight against such inequity is among the pillars of my life.”
7. Nasrin Sotoudeh
Nasrin Sotoudeh is a prominent human rights lawyer in Iran who is currently serving seven years at Iran’s infamous Evin prison for defending those unjustly imprisoned by the regime following the “Green Revolution.” She has also been banned from practicing law for 10 years. Sotoudeh went on a successful 49-day hunger strike last year following authorities harassing her family. Sotoudeh’s career has been dedicated to bettering the lives of women and children in Iran. Her early legal career was dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence in Iran, exposing the state-sponsored execution of minors, and she later defended such high profile clients as Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi. Numerous high-profile people have called for the immediate release of Sotoudeh, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In a letter to her children, she stated, “I know you require water, food, housing, a family, parents, love, and visits with your mother. However, just as much, you need freedom, social security, the rule of law, and justice.”
8. Shirin Ebadi
Iranian human rights lawyer and judge, Shirin Ebadi, is the first-ever Iranian to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. Ebadi was recognized for her ground-breaking work on behalf of women and children and democracy. Ebadi was the first woman judge in Iran and first president of the Tehran City Court. After the Islamic Revolution, Ebadi was stripped of her title as judge and severely demoted based solely on her gender. She was an integral force behind the election of reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. Ebadi continues to advocate on behalf of marginalized people and for basic human rights for women worldwide.