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Iranian women heroic in the face of brutal repression

Posted on the January 17th, 2010

Though at the cost of beatings, being thrown in jail and killed, women in Iran are taking the lead in the ongoing protest movement there. This, according to Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American scholar. Esfandiari is Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars.

In 2007, Esfandiari herself was arrested and imprisoned briefly when she traveled to Iran to visit her mother. This week she writes a post on the protest activities of Iranian women for The New York Review of Books blog:


The participation by women in the latest series of protests marks another notable development. Women have shown themselves ready to do what had generally been regarded as ‘men’s work.” Despite the risk of beatings, injury, arrest, even death, they have continued to take a leading part in protests and demonstrations. The demonstrators’ chant, “we are men of war,” has changed to “we are men and women of war.”

When I was held in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin Prison in 2007, I was questioned at length about the women’s rights movement; my two interrogators seemed alarmed and befuddled by it. They certainly feared its potential: how else to explain the harsh way in which officials have dealt with the women collecting signatures for a simple petition? But my interrogators also told me they feared a backlash if they used excessive force to disperse female demonstrators.

That was three years ago. Now, the gloves are off. The sight of tens of thousands of women marching alongside men in demonstrations last June seems to have unnerved the authorities. Under the increasingly brutal regime of Ahmadinejad’s second term, Iranians have seen young and middle-aged women clubbed, dragged across pavements, and hustled into vans by police and official thugs in plain clothes…

In this Foreign Exchange TV interview in August 2009, Esfandiari talks about her 2007 arrest:

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