These days there is much discussion of two women who, in a departure from the usual treatment of the wives of jailed political activists, are kept prisoner along with their spouses in an unknown place. Two women who played particular roles in the various levels of the protest that developed following allegations of fraud in the presidential elections.
At times, Zahra Rahnavard would play her role in a more progressive and avant-garde manner than her husband, MirHosein Mousavi, transforming the image of the woman who lives in the shadow of a political male figure into that of a woman with her own points of views and independent demands.
Fatemeh Karroubi also stood out from the other wives of clergy members with her sharp letters to the government, criticizing the treatment of her family and making headlines with every letter.
The aim here is not merely to highlight the names of these two women among the dozens of female prisoners and hundreds of women who have been tortured or executed.
While naming these two women is our basic duty as human beings, it also presents an opportunity to discuss women’s contributions to the events and political developments of the past decade right up to today; to talk about the women who are in the arena and insisting their demands be met, putting their own mark on Iran’s political and civil movements.
Women who are willing to walk this path and pay the price have no fear of imprisonment, interrogations and threats, and at every step their political demands are at one with the changes they wish to see in the workplace and in civilian life. Women who are leaving behind life in the political margins for a presence in the public arena, questioning the ongoing discrimination with a critical eye. Women who take full part in demonstrations and street protests, no longer standing inside the protective chains of male protesters but rather making themselves part of a human chain that puts the government under civil siege.
Those women who have stood up to batons, beatings, bullets and tear gas bombs, not to mention house arrest and secret imprisonment, are rejecting the role of victim to become political and social activists fighting for freedom.
Today, Zahra Rahanvard and Fatemeh Karroubi, alongside other prisoners, are facing head-on what the women of this land have endured throughout the 32-year rule of the Islamic Republic. This experience could become a cornerstone of their political and social life, deepening their understanding of the many years of oppression.
The image presented by Iranian woman, especially since the alleged election coup, is nothing new; it is the result of a long process of shaping and honing. However, the image shows women who possess a fresh understanding of themselves and their ability to take a hand in their own fate and that of all other Iranians.
Such a woman is consistently evaluating and reconsidering the progress of the movement. She is a vital part of the social network that constantly demands her rights within the movement, even as she pushes for justice in the greater arenas of work and politics. Her particular and well-defined messages will occupy sociologists and analysts for years as they try to understand the true depth of those messages.
What makes this struggle unique is that it does not fit into a particular time frame. It is like a stream that has burst forth in order to unite with all the droplets in a sea of humanity where all are equal. Nor is this vital struggle defined by any spatial boundaries; it reaches beyond Iran and beyond the confines of patriarchal domination. It does not merely confront conservatives and traditionalists but also questions the patriarchal discourse among reformists and secular men and role models emerge of powerful women who can bring change to an outdated power structure, upsetting the old and tired teachings that effectively see politics as the domain of men.
Without a doubt there will be resistance from the traditional patriarchal political community, which at times even dons an intellectual guise. But in the end they will accept that the role of women in politics is not confined to voting for men and creating a framework for male politicians who have a progressive mentality. The old guard will realize that women must have the right to seize those same opportunities in the political arena, unhindered by devious political ploys.
It is clear that while the Iranian woman is immersed in the process of recreating a new self-image, she also seeks to create a new system that can support her vital space in society. In this struggle, she sees no difference between home and the street, between the university and cyberspace, between prison and free open spaces.
She may be Zahra Rahanvard or Fatemh Karroubi; a Muslim woman or a Christian girl; the child of a Revolutionary Guard or the wife of an executed prisoner. The arena where she fights for her human rights is omnipresent. And so it is that women from every background and belief stand up to pressure, incarceration and torture to demand a better life for themselves, their children and every member of society.