For years within myself, I mourned, but today,
I ignite like a flame, to burn down your hay.
Either you craft silence to mask my restless roar,
Or I will teach you a different way, forevermore.
Forough Farrokhzad

From Tahereh Ghorratolein to Forough Farrokhzad, Persian culture is full of outspoken independent women, adept at defending their rights despite their silken dresses.

Therein lies the duality that many Iranian women face: a culture that celebrates their independence and a history rich with women on the frontline of revolutionary movements, confronting a reactionary government that begrudgingly allows them a second-rate citizenship and an existence only as mothers of soldiers.

Ghorratolein was an educated woman, the brains behind the Babi (Babiyya) religious movement, and an advocate for women’s right to education around 200 years ago. She paid with her life for her revolutionary spirit, becoming Iran’s first “women’s suffrage martyr”. Despite being the first woman in the modern history of Iran to spearhead a movement for social change, there is no academic research into her life. All that we have are anecdotes from Babiyya and Bahai minorities.

Farrokhzad is a different story: too unique to be forgotten and too involved with the 1979 revolution to be denied her place in Iran’s history. Her poems – poignant, insightful, and anti-establishment – decry the misogyny which remains at the heart of the Islamic regime’s philosophy. She remains a formidable role model for every activist woman in Iran.

The war against Iranian women has not been an easy one for the regime. How do you celebrate the revolution of 1979, where women stood on the frontline, while simultaneously ignoring those very women protesting against the reactionary regime only a few months later? How do you remember the sorrows of political prisoners without celebrating Farrokhzad’s struggle for freedom? How do you deal with a problem like the Iranian women?

Understanding this duality in Iran’s history and culture; the incomplete industrialisation of the country; and the consistent despotic nature of ruling groups, under whatever names and banners, is essential in understanding the women’s movement in Iran.

Unlike Western feminism, which divided very early on into two separate branches – bourgeois and proletarian – Iran’s incomplete class structure created the conditions for a different kind of feminist movement.

The Iranian woman knows that the struggle for her rights will inevitably be the struggle for the rights of all. The workers, ethnic minorities (Kurds, Turks, Lors, and Baloch), and religious and gender minorities. She knows, unlike a bourgeois feminist in the West, that women in high office can be a tool of repression. Her goal is not to elevate women to positions of power in a repressive government. She fights the root cause of the repression. In this sense, the feminist movement of Iran has evolved faithful to its socialist origins.

Iranian culture considers women mothers, wives, and daughters. So as mothers and wives they fight to free their children and husbands from the regime. As daughters, they fight for the rights of their imprisoned parents. They and their families are met with violence and persecution, as the wives of Pejman Fatehi, Mohsen Mazloom, Vafa Azarbar, and Mohammad Faramarzi (the latest Kurdish activists to be executed by the regime) experienced.

History also sees Iranian women as brave masters of war, leaders of armies, teachers, philosophers and organisers. So they fight at the front line. As trade unionists, lawyers and journalists they agitate, organise and fight for the rights of their class, for safe working conditions, a living wage, and freedom of thought and belief. As teachers, they struggle for the rights of their students to schools as safe places for learning and thriving, free from the presence of secret service employees.

The struggle long ago moved away from the streets and into the workers associations and trade unions. Today, together with their male counterparts, women are working to unite teachers and health workers. This is no small feat.

The Iranian unions have always been local and industry-specific. This is not to underestimate their power. The oil refinery workers of Khousestan hold the record for the biggest strike in the history of the Middle East. But a movement that fights for the rights of all needs a bigger reach, and a deeper connection to all Iranians.

Teachers and healthcare workers are at the heart of the community in every city, town and village. If you unite them, you have an agitator in every corner of Iran.

What does all this mean for feminists in the UK? Firstly we need to learn from Iranian feminists and take our feminist movement back to its socialist origins.
We fight with our class against all oppressors and work to unite the trade union movement. We need to be vigilant and ensure that the voices of the Iranian women are not lost in this struggle.

Secondly, we must be the voice of Iranian dissidents. Today there are thousands of children, teachers, and activists missing in Iran. They have been taken by the regime to secret locations, their fate unknown to their loved ones. Let us be their voice. Let us demand their immediate release, and an end to all executions and torture, so that women can build a better future for the people of Iran. Our demands are simple: equality, justice, and a country run by cooperatives and workers, not by corrupt and cruel politicians.
Woman, Life, Freedom.
Azadeh Neman per Workers Liberty