Last month, an anti-government riot erupted in Tehran following a soccer match between Iran and Japan. Eye-witnesses reported that the regime used special anti-riot units to crackdown on the 100,000-strong crowd. Young people set tires alight in nearby squares after the match. Women actively took part in this riot which followed a much larger anti-regime unrest in Tehran the week before.
Iranian authorities ban women spectators from attending soccer matches, yet thousands of women and teenage girls gathered outside the stadium calling for the overthrow of the mullahs. But this brave act of defiance by no means was an isolated case. Indeed, Iranian women have been playing a major role in Irans national resistance against the ruling clerical tyranny for more than two decades now. From the 1906 Constitutional movement to the 1979 anti-monarchic revolution, women have always been a key component of anti-dictatorial movements in Iran.
For the past 26 years, Iranian women have suffered and struggled against misogynistic abuse of the theocratic regime. Institutionalized violence is carried out in the name of religion and supported by a full-blown theocracy. Any flavor of political dissent in Iran is met with barbaric reprisal; however female political activists bear the heaviest brunt of the abuse in prisons.
My observations during years of incarceration as a female political prisoner in Iran proved beyond any doubt that nothing frightens the mullahs more than a woman who has risen against them; more so if she was a Muslim woman whose defiance exposed her oppressors hiding behind religious pretexts to justify their misogyny. The mullahs number one enemies are independent, articulate, political, Iranian women who not only challenge the regime politically and socially but also ideologically.
The politics of Misogyny
Misogyny is a primary characteristic of the fundamentalist ideology ruling Iran. These tyrants rely on physiological traits to measure, separate and categorize people. Utilizing Hitlerian logic, women are physically and intellectually weaker than men. The establishment and maintenance of supremacy of the sort defined by the fundamentalist regime requires an inferior class. In the mullahs view, Iranian women, despite their articulate and vocal objections, should be forced into this role. The women, of course, have not budged.
Gender-based differences are used to justify sexual discrimination, violence and animosity towards women. Irans former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has said:
"The difference in stature, vitality, voice, development, muscular quality and physical strength of men and women shows that men are stronger and more capable in all fields Mens brains are larger These differences affect the delegation of responsibilities, duties and rights."
This is the bedrock of the fundamentalists' rationale used to mobilize their ideological forces in society, which results in women's flogging for mal-veiling, stoning, raping female political prisoners before execution, polygamy, and temporary marriages.
The misogynistic and suppressive behavior of Tehran rulers carried out under the cloak of religion has nothing to do with Islam. The resistance of the female political prisoners, majority of them Muslims, demonstrated to the mullahs that Iranian women were indeed defying their fundamentalists definition of women.
Current Status of women
No other government in the world has executed as many women as Iranian regime since the 1979 anti-Shah revolution. A common method of punishing women in public is by stoning them to death. At least 14 women have been sentenced to stoning or were stoned to death since 1997 when Irans President Mohammad Khatami came to office. Iran has had the highest number of female prisoners in the world.
Women do not fare any better in the social affairs. The World Health Organization considers Iran as the third country in the rank of women death by suicide. Women make up about 75% of the victims of suicide in Iran, 81% of who are between the ages of 15 to 31 yeas old. According to the official police report, the State Security Forces arrest 50 runaway girls every day in Tehran. Currently there are more than several thousands runaway girls missing in Tehran, according to the report.
Confronting the Challenge
Iranian women resist the regime daily by pushing the mullah draconian dress code to its limit, by raising their voice in the divorce courts, by writing articles and books inside and outside of Iran, by holding conferences and events to expose the misogyny of the Iranian regime and by joining organized resistance groups participating in the growing movement against the Iranian regime. Iranian women are fed up with the status quo in Iran and are taking matters to their own hands.
Late February, a leading Iranian opposition figure, Maryam Rajavi, addressing the International Women Conference in Paris, called for a united front against Islamic fundamentalism. She stated that Womens vanguard force provides the bedrock for the decisive defeat of Islamic fundamentalists... because it was confirmed in Iran in both theory and practice that women were antifundamentalist in all respects. The reason simply had to do with the nature of fundamentalism, where gender distinction and misogyny formed its pillars. The decisive role of women is intrinsic to this struggle. What makes the above statement more significant is the fact Rajavi is a Muslim woman herself who has repeatedly called for a secular democratic Iran.
Despite much talks and debate, the international community has not yet adequately absorbed the plight of Iranian women. Iranian women are determined to play an active and leading role in the democracy movement aiming to unseat the ruling theocratic tyranny. Nothing can prevent womens growing participation, not even the mullahs misogynistic barbarism.
Roya Johnson is the Vice President, US Alliance for Democratic Iran