The images are very powerful. Iranian women, young and old, stand up to the fundamentalist, misogynist dictators of Tehran. No wonder that Neda Agha Soltan, the brave young woman who was brutally murdered by the Basij militia forces, has become the face and the symbol of this uprising. Iranian women identify with Neda, now a mystified figure, a martyr and an icon. They now have a face and a symbol for their struggle against misogyny. Today, Neda is a daughter and a sister to all Iranians from every walk of life inside and outside Iran.
Though the world is just hearing and seeing bits and pieces of it, the story of the struggle of Iranian women against dictatorship is not new. In the 1979 revolution against monarchy, women were present in masses at all demonstrations that eventually brought down the dictatorship of the Shah. They took part in the revolution with the hope of establishing democracy and freedom in their country. Their revolution was hijacked by Khomeini and his cronies whose viciousness and brutality has been unmatched in Iran´s history. A few months after the revolution, by Khomeini´s order, women were required to wear hejab (the "Islamic" dress code). Scores of them were forced out of work. The laws of the land morphed into Sharia law that basically considered women as second class citizens with minimal legal rights. Iranian women felt betrayed and found themselves under enormous suppression but they did not give up.
On June 20th, 1981 tens of thousands of women poured into the streets of Tehran alongside their brothers and male comrades to peacefully protest the clerical regime´s conduct in limiting their freedom, closing the media outlets, attacking the opposition and crushing the slightest whispers of dissent. Their peaceful demonstration was attacked the exact same way as we see on the streets toda, by bullets and batons. Thousands were arrested, among them teenage boys and girls. In the next two weeks, scores of them were executed without even revealing their names to the authorities. Their pictures were published in the state owned media the next day asking parents with missing children to go to the morgue and identify the bodies, and pay the cost of the bullets that killed their loved ones. On June 20th, 2009 the world witnessed in horror the violence and brutality of the ruling mullahs as a result of the internet, cell phones and social networking sites. 28 years prior to this day, the outside world hardly realized the cruelty and viciousness against the generation of Neda´s parents.
Following that infamous day in 1981, the clerics and their cronies (Rafsanjani, Khatami and Mousavi among them) began a horrific campaign of terror against Iranian dissidents. Tens of thousand were imprisoned and executed. The mere distribution of an opposition pamphlet or newspaper could potentially result to one´s execution. Young virgin girls were routinely raped in the prisons before their execution so they would not end up in the heaven (according to the Sharia law, if one dies virgin she will go to heaven!) Pregnant women were shot in the abdomen and grandmothers were hanged in the prisons. The Iranian women´s heroic resistance was hardly heard or seen then. Those who stood up to the violence of the mullahs then were labeled terrorists by the Iranian regime and their western supporters. Their political activities limited and their hands tied as a show of goodwill to the mullahs.
Throughout the years, the brave women of Iranian resistance have stood up to the most brutal and vicious religious dictatorship of the 20th century. They have led the most organized opposition to the mullahs. Their resolve and resilience has shocked their enemies and heartened their friends. These women never gave up their quest for freedom. There was never a vacuum in the continuity of the struggle. While the western media chose to look for the woods behind a tree, organized resistance led by a woman, Maryam Rajavi empowered thousands of Iranian women to take leading roles in their strive for democracy and justice.
28 years after the mass peaceful demonstration of 1981, history repeats itself. Neda and her friends are an extension of those brave women who have throughout the years stood up to the mullahs and who have never given up. Neda´s struggle is the extension of the struggle of all those women who have defied the rule of tyranny and misogyny.
Let´s bow to Neda´s soul and to all who gave up their lives for freedom of their people. May they all rest in peace.
Jila Kazerounian is the Executive Director of Women´s Forum against Fundamentalism in Iran (WFAFI): http://www.wfafi.org/