By Faezeh Sami
This is a time to celebrate the acts of courage. This is a time to reflect on progress we've made. This is a time to call for change. This is a time to salute the women around the world who have strived for freedom and equality.
Iranian women have faced the darkest period of their history in the last three decades and wish to prevent the same thing happening to the women of Iraq.
A quarter century ago, Islamic vigilantes empowered by Ayatollah Khomeini's misogynistic decrees targeted Iranian women. Those who did not adhere to Islamic "veiling" were subject to the harshest treatments, including burning their faces with acid.
In Iraq, a pamphlet recently found on a campus declared: "Any girl student who does not wear a veil and who wears Western clothing will have her face burned with chemicals." Last October, Rana Faud, a student from Mustansiriya University, was abducted as she was leaving the campus. Within an hour, the young woman, still dressed in blue jeans, was found unconscious but unharmed. Even non-Muslim students feel obligated to wear the veil.
In Iran, Khomeini instigated what he called a cultural revolution that took women out of universities and the professional environment and put them back in the home. Now, we are seeing Iraqi women fleeing universities. According to reports by the ministry of higher education, 3,000 female students have indicated they want to postpone their education because of the threats.
Iranian women have paid a heavy price for their struggle against fundamentalism. Tens of thousands of women have been executed in Iran since 1979. Women played a very active role in voicing their rights. Women who have been involved in demonstrations have been arrested and imprisoned merely for participating. At least 14 women have been stoned to death since President Mohammad Khatami took office in 1997. The suicide rate in Iran is one of the highest in the world. According to the Research Committee of the Women's Forum Against Fundamentalism in Iran ( www.wfafi.org) , 75 percent of suicides are women. Of those, 81 percent are between 15 and 31 years old.
Last summer, a 16-year-old girl was hanged in public for for "acts incompatible with chastity," according to Amnesty International. Atefeh Rajabi was executed on Aug. 15 in her hometown of Neka. Despite her family's efforts to obtain a lawyer, Atefeh was denied one by the clerical judge. After her execution, the judge, Haji Rezai, said he had carried out the sentence because of Atefeh's sharp tongue. Without a lawyer, she had dared to defend herself, and talk back to the fundamentalists in Iran's court system. For that, she was given the most severe punishment.
It is time for a change. A global fight is needed against the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. The answer to end all oppression is democracy. The continuous violations of human rights in Iran, particularly against women, must be opposed.
Courageous efforts must be made in order to side with Iranian people. The U.S. and Europe must speak in one voice when it comes to defending women's rights and human rights in general. The Western world must respect Iranians for their struggle for democracy. We have one simple request: Freedom and equality.