I Stand with the Women of Iran: ‘Women, Life, Freedom’
Commentary by Cassy Benefield
How do I write something that has any meaning in response to the brave actions of thousands of bold and fearless women fighting for their freedom in Iran? Many of whom are imprisoned or killed for it?
How do I begin to empathize with a situation that I cannot even imagine going through?
I don’t know, but I want to try.
The Women’s Rights Movement in Iran
I attended the “Women, Life, Freedom” panel March 22 on Eastern Washington University’s campus. Arezoo Davari, an EWU associate professor of marketing, organized the event. She felt she had to do something in solidarity with the latest phase of the women’s rights movement in Iran, going on now.
The movement reignited in September 2022 because of the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini. She died in the custody of Iran’s morality police who detained her for not wearing her hijab properly.
Davari wanted to coordinate this panel discussion of Iranian women to educate the greater community about what it is like to be a woman under the Islamic Republic of Iran.
What No Freedom Looks Like
She opened the event with the history of women’s rights in the country, which dates back to 1910. That year, a group of women produced the first all-women magazine.
She began her talk asking if women in the U.S. could choose what to wear, where to live, to continue higher education, to get proper healthcare without a husband’s or father’s permission, to get a divorce or to be a singer or a dancer?
Can we? Yes, we can.
Can Iranian women in their homeland? Most of them cannot, and those few who can have family who don’t agree with these rules. These rules are enforced harshly and capriciously by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s morality police, known as the Guidance Patrol.
Then, the four other panelists, all of whom immigrated to the U.S. from Iran, concentrated on one main facet of oppression that women face in their homeland.
For example, the first panelist spoke specifically about Iranian journalist Niloofar Hamedi who broke the story about Mahsa Amini in a coma. She worked for the pro-reform Sharq daily and posted a picture on Twitter of Amini’s parents hugging in the hallway outside of their daughter’s hospital room before she died. Arrested just days after she posted the picture, Hamedi remains in prison today.
Two of the panelists highlighted their own personal experiences with Iran’s morality police.
Another talked about the death of her brother because he was Baha’i, which is a non-official religious minority in the country. She also spoke of her work in the poorer communities in Iran where young girls married at the age of nine, something legal in this regime.
The stories were raw and sobering. The pictures more so.
Davari showed images of women who died during these protests and of women shot in their eyes with shotgun pellets by the morality police while protesting.
She also showed a few pictures of some of the 7,000 young girls poisoned by nitrogen gas from November 2022 to March 2023. Activists believe “religious groups that oppose girls’ education” perpetuated these acts, according to TIME.
Probably the most impactful moment of the event for me came at the beginning. They played Shervin Hajipour’s song “Baraye,” which means “because of” or “for the sake of” in Farsi.
It quickly became the anthem to Iran’s women’s rights protests. The song combines haunting music and soulful vocals. For the lyrics, he used the Tweets of several women about why they are protesting on behalf of Mahsa Amini and their own freedom.
Soon after he released the song on his Instagram account, the morality police arrested him.
In one of America’s gestures of solidarity with the Iranian women, Jill Biden presented the first ever Best Song for Social Change Award to Hajipour at the 65th Grammy Awards ceremony in February.
Nearly 100,000 people voted for him to win.
Biden concluded her speech with this:
May this song and the stories of Iranian women resonate with you and me and inspire us to stand with them as they continue to fight for their lives.
Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a ‘y’) Benefield is a wife and mother, a writer and photographer and a huge fan of non-fiction. She has traveled all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (2004-2006) to Romania where she mainly taught Conversational English. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, California. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a religion nerd who is prone to buy more books, on nearly any topic, than she is ever able to read. She is the managing editor of SpokaneFāVS.com.