To honour International Women's Day, Fereshteh Mozzafari introduces us to just some of the brave Iranian women fighting for freedom of speech, reproductive rights and the limits of women's freedom under the current regime.
Another 8th of March has arrived and the international woman's day is cherished in many counties around the world. However while we , in the west, celebrate this day, there are millions of women in developing or dictatorship countries who can't commemorate simply because their government sees it as a political act and a threat against itself.
I want to take this opportunity to introduce you a few brave Iranian women who fight for women rights in Iran and have been in jail for that matter. Some still in jail as Prisoners of Conscience. Because 8th of march is their day as well and it's true that without such brave women and their fight for equal rights we would not have had what we got now.
Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rights lawyer and activist in Iran, the winner of many human rights awards.
She has represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists and politicians following the disputed June 2009 Iranian presidential elections as well as prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors.
Nasrin's first work in the field of women's rights was a diverse collection of interviews, reports, and articles for the journal Daricheh. The editor-in-chief of the publication rejected the collection which "made Sotoudeh even more determined in her work for women's rights". She is one of the key leaders of one million signature.
One Million Signatures for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws, also known as Change for Equality, is a campaign by women in Iran to collect one million signatures in support of hanging discriminatory laws against women in their country.
Nasrin has been arrested a few times. Last time she was arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and was imprisoned in solitary confinement in Evin Prison.
In January 2011, Iranian authorities sentenced her to 11 years in prison, in addition to barring her from practicing law and from leaving the country for 20 years. An appeals court later reduced Sotoudeh's prison sentence to six years, and her ban from working as a lawyer to ten years.
In jail, she went on hunger strike two times. First strike was to protest being denied visits and phone calls from her family which last four weeks. Again on 17 October 2012, she began an indefinite hunger strike in protest of new restrictions placed on her family visits. She her hunger strike after 49 days following a short visit of some parliament members at Evin prison where they acknowledged and implemented her requests on lifting her daughter's travel ban.
Nasrin was released on 18 September 2013 along with ten other political prisoners days before an address by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
to the United Nations. She has been active since her release and is being threatened by hardliners.
Narges is a human rights activist and the vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.
She is one of the key leaders in "One Million Signatures for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws", also known as Change for Equality, which is a campaign by women in Iran to collect one million signatures in support of changing discriminatory laws against women in their country.
Narges has been in and out of prison for more than a decade for her support of human rights in Iran. She was first arrested in 1998 for her criticisms of the Iranian government and spent a year in prison.
In April 2010, she was summoned to the Islamic Revolutionary Court for her membership in the Human rights Centre. She was briefly released on US$50,000 bail but re-arrested several days later and detained at notorious Evin prison.
Narges's health declined while in custody, and she developed an epilepsy-like disease causing her to periodically lose muscle control.
Narges has a twin and they have moved to France to live with their father who is an activist in exile. She wrote a letter last year to explain what it means to be apart from her children. "
One night I was sleeping in my cell. Twas near sunrise. My dear daughter, who would always give the loudest kisses, gave me a kiss on the cheek. I felt her warm body and her small lips on my cheeks. It was Kiana. I opened my arms to hold her close to me. I opened my eyes, it wasn’t Kiana. I cried for so many hours. I cried to a point where I thought my tears would soon run out.''
You can read this beautiful and sad letter in the amnesty website.
Atena Farghadani, 29, is an Iranian artist and political activist, who is currently
imprisoned. Amnesty International considers her a prisoner of conscience.
In her cartoon, in which she criticized a draft law which would outlaw voluntary sterilisation and restrict access to measures of birth control, she portrayed Iranian government officials as monkeys and goats.
After publishing her artworks on Facebook, she was arrested and jailed for three months in Evin Prison on charges of spreading propaganda, insulting
members of parliament, and insulting the Supreme Leader!
She was released in November.
Atena sent letters of protest over her treatment to the authorities, but did not receive a reply. She then posted a video online in which she explained to the public about her experience in Evin prison and that she was being strip-searched, beaten and verbally abused by guards.
In January 2015, she was arrested again. Three weeks later, she went on a hunger strike to protest against conditions at the prison and following that she got a heart attack.
On 1 June 2015, judge of the Tehran court found her guilty on these charges and sentenced her to 12 years and nine months in prison. In September 2015, Atena was charged with an 'illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery' and 'indecent conduct' after shaking the hand of her lawyer, who visited her in prison after her trial; her lawyer was also charged.
Atena Daemi, 27, is a young activist sentenced to 14 years in prison for facebook postings and peaceful protests.
Atena was held for several months under “temporary detention” despite her lawyer’s repeated requests for her release on bail, was prosecuted under four charges: “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” “insulting the Supreme Leader and the sacred,” and “concealing crime evidence” by a Tehran Revolutionary Court. Atena did not accept any of her charges and has since appealed the court’s ruling.
She was released last month in the midst of her 14year sentence on $232,000 bail while the sentence is still in effect.
If I want to add to include all female activists , free or in jail, it w ill soar to hundreds.
Despite the fact that hardliners do not enjoy women's participation in society and force laws to suppress them and keep them out of sight, women made up 60% of university students.
They are good athletes (Iranian Women Futsal team won Asian championship in 2015), merchants, engineers, scientists and so on.
Although that is not an easy battle, but there will be no stop until their rights is recognised in law. The latest campaign of women was initiated against compulsory Hijab started on facebook by Masih Alinejad a journalist in exile.
The page called my stealthy freedom, has nearly one million followers and women posting their pictures to protest against compulsory hijab.
The fact that many men also supporting this campaign show that Iranians are willing to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the women of their country.
Podcast: Sarah Ayub talks #TraditionallySubmissive and Dianne Ngoza talks about her life as a migrant rights campaigner
We invited blogger, writer and MPACUK member, Sarah Ayub, to discuss the recent response to David Cameron's alleged comments regarding Muslim women which caused a strong reaction on social media.
After the Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party announced that there would be funding for English Language programmes- specifically aimed at Muslim women to combat 'extremism', suggesting that Muslim women are 'traditionally submissive' and therefore more at risk of being 'radicalised', the Muslim women of twitter were not going to take his comments lying down.
#TraditionallySubmissive saw Muslim women of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds boasting of their achievements. Many held up signs listing degrees and hobbies that subvert the stereotype of the 'submissive' Muslim female.
Sarah Ayub discussed her concerns how such a mainstream political figure could make such harmful statements; "The link to extremism is what's worrying. He said himself- and he's contradicting himself- that learning English or language barriers lead to extremism."
"It was a very irresponsible comment for a Prime Minister to make."
Ayub also discussed the origins of these stereotypes and how the media perpetrates these images of Muslims that fuels racism and Islamophobia.
"A large responsibility also lies with some fragments of the media, where they show Islam and Muslims to be of a certain type, where they like to have a certain type of Muslim to show that this is what Muslims are like and that type of Muslim is always the really extreme, really conservative sort of Muslim and when that type of Muslim is depicted in the media, that is all that people see."
Meanwhile, Dianne Ngoza, a migrant rights campaigner originally from the Congo discussed her work with an impressive myriad of organisation in Greater Manchester including MiSol, United For Change, Women Asylum Seekers Together and City of Sanctuary as well as discussing her own experience as a migrant 'in limbo' in the UK.
You can hear the full podcast episode on Soundcloud.