Hope gives us strength
Parvin Ardalan – WNN Opinion
This commentary was written before women have once again begun to be severely harassed by men on the streets of Cairo after they experienced freedom on the streets during the protests. Less than one month following the 16 February ousting of President Mubarak, 18 women rights defenders were arrested, tortured and ‘virginity tested’ by Cairo based military forces on 9 March. In spite of these acts of violence by the few, the spirit of the words of Parvin Ardalan are important to all of us who care about human rights for everyone. It is possible. Men and women can reach a world of human rights and democracy together.
Solidarity and acting in unison with women’s and men’s determined uprising
The Internet speed is low, Skype does not work, no one is willing to talk on the phone. For a long time now, with the exception of Skype through VPN, which has now stopped working too, possibilities of talking to one another have been reduced to a minimum. But now we can hear them again, emerging from amidst the sentences they write in chats and e mails, their voices of joy can be read, heard and felt, even though they are also worried about a more violent future, and they are already experiencing what that future holds in store.
Recent events in Tunisia and Egypt have shaken not only the foundations of the dictatorial governments in North Africa and the Middle East; indeed, these events have also upset the basic premises of the New World Order, they have set the people of these countries in motion, while at the same time boosting solidarity between people around the world. They have sparked off a movement and a new growing sense of hope in the hearts of the people and released a contagious virus that is gradually turning, and will continue to turn, 2011 into the year of social revolutions, the year of the power of the youth, and the year of the powerful presence of women.
The presence of Iranians on 14th February 2011 on the streets of Tehran and other cities in solidarity with the people of Tunisia and Egypt was a new beginning for a people that is no longer alone. For the first time in many months now, cheerfulness is emerging from the words they are uttering. Mastaneh, a girl who used to distinguish herself by her witty sense of humour and who was always full of life, had been quiet for a long time, stating that “even our parties have become mourning ceremonies”.
But on the evening of the 14th of February, her perky spirit once again shone through in her e-mail as she wrote: “I want to talk. The Internet is very slow, and I can’t connect through Google Talk, right now this Internet connection is like a lantern that keeps flickering in the wind and almost gets blown out, I just want you to know that today we were very good, today we were the best, today we showed them that we are here. Even though there were many of them who tried to keep us from gathering, and they really wouldn’t let us get together, but we have become pros now, we know we don’t have to be afraid. Today it was Tahrir Square around here. Too bad Al Jazeera wasn’t here so that I could have waved my hand to you! There were quite a few policemen, Basijis, plainclothes security guards out there, I swear to God, and they certainly gave people a good thrashing too! But many of us said that today we held our heads up high and we did not lose out! Can you believe it?”
People are hearing and believing each other’s messages. The people of Iran, just like the people of Tunisia and Egypt, have raised their voices to protest against dictatorship. The people of Tunisia and Egypt have taught us that we can learn from one another, and that it is not only dictators using military force and repression who can bolster each other up.
“Hope gives us strength.” This is a sentence very familiar to many of us who have experienced constant setbacks, we have been repeating this mantra to one other again and again, we have heard it being said so many times by Egyptian writer and women’s rights activist Nawal El Saadawi. Hope is a vision of light at the end of a pitch-dark road, a shining beacon beyond the boundaries of imagination, which makes us move forward and gives us strength and power, and which now, despite all adversities, is growing brighter and brighter.
In recent months, we did talk about hope, but we read and heard and saw more of rancour and anger, detentions and executions. Now, in more and more corners of the world, we are seeing buds of hope sprouting up from the deep swamps of fear: in the heart of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, among the singing of Tunisian women, in the Egyptian people’s night-and-day resistance in Tahrir Square, in the dancing and the presence of Egyptian women celebrating their triumph in the streets, in the portrait of Che Guevara in the hands of poor Yemenis, in the midst of Muslim and Christian youths walking hand in hand, from Jordan to Algeria to the streets of Tehran, we can witness expressions of euphoria springing from Jasmine hearts.
Instead of waging ethnic wars, instead of engaging in religious conflicts or harbouring fear of one another, people have joined forces to voice their common demands. They have disrupted the traditional dualism of choosing between the bad and the worse, alternatives rooted in horror of the West or the Islamic fundamentalism of the Muslim Brotherhood. Rather, they have opted for a third way based on self-empowerment and self-organisation of social institutions.
In this context, women’s organisations have a far more difficult task to fulfil, as they need to both watch over women’s rights to make sure that achievements are safeguarded and demands are pushed forward, and fight as a female political force against violence and war and tyranny in countries with a long history of dictatorship. Still, in Iran, even though civil society institutions have been violently suppressed, social networks, institutions and groups are now gradually reorganising, albeit with some difficulty, both inside and outside the country.
This indicates a belief in the strength and the consciousness of people who are demanding their most natural social and political and human rights, it indicates the consciousness of social movements and the maturity of a society that is longing for change. Tunisia and Egypt and Iran are not re-runs of one another, they are not similar, yet they have many things in common; acting in unison and solidarity with one another means merging these common features and passing on infectious strength to pursue common interests. Forces that know both what they do not want and what they want.
On 14th February 2011, people walked towards Tehran’s Meidan-e Azadi – Freedom Square – to voice their demand for freedom. A young person climbed up a crane in protest, a woman lead the marching crowd, and countless women were reporting from the streets. They went out there to demonstrate gender equality in defiance of the policies of a regime that keeps adopting and issuing laws and decrees and manifestos directed against women. These common objectives manifest themselves in the actions of young people in these countries, both girls and boys, in the active and by no means passive presence of women in the streets and in the sphere of social movements.
Notwithstanding their differences, they have all come to agree on one point: to say no to dictatorship, and yes to freedom and equality of the sexes. While after the Iranian election numerous people took to the streets to demand their votes back, this time their slogan was “no to dictatorship”. Yet, they had no military power to protect them against the multitude of armed forces they were confronted with, Revolutionary Guards, Basiji militia, army troops and plainclothes police, they were even more defenceless than people in Tunisia and Egypt in the face of the military, there were no foreign media correspondents nor human rights reporters present on site. But nevertheless, highly aware and determined, full of hope and with no illusions as to the military, economic and political capabilities of their opponent, they managed to overcome their fear.
The 14th of February 2011 was a new beginning in the continuation of a very long road, but one that is paved with solidarity and acting in unison with other women’s and men’s determined uprising. New days of distress have also come upon us – two precious young lives were lost, prisoners’ families have been beaten up outside the prison gates, and even more prisoners are being kept in detention and held incommunicado.
Another person reported: “These days are both full of hope and full of rage. When you see people in the streets, in buses and … see them speaking without fear and cursing and protesting, you get a really peculiar feeling. The large number of people who went out on the 14th of February truly brings tears of joy to your eyes. I saw women who had come to the rally as if it were the most natural thing in the world, without any fear or reservations. Carrying no handbag, no mask and … clenching their fists and holding their shoulders up high, they were walking in the middle of the street, something that I would not have the courage to do. On the other hand, when you see the shamelessness, when you see the manoeuvres in the streets, when you see the herds riding their motorcycles on the pavements, making the engines of their bikes roar in order to frighten everyone, that’s when the ingenuousness of all these people makes you feel bad … Despite all this, the hope is real, it has once again come alive in people’s hearts …”
But the 14th of February was also an experience of mutual global solidarity. On the 14th of February, millions of eyes from Northern Africa to the most remote corners of Asia witnessed the clamour of the streets and the passion of the people of Tehran who stood up to their rulers’ hypocrisy and hegemony. On this day the people of Tunisia and Egypt found their true allies in Iran, and they stood beside them. We too need to spread this solidarity from the ground by extending our hands in friendship to reach out to the activists of all movements striving for freedom and equality around the world.
(translated by Anusche Noring)
Award winning, Iran rights defender, Parvin Ardalan, founder of Change for Equality, speaks on panel at the WLP – Women’s Learning Partnership event during the 54th UNCSW – UN Commission on the Status of Women. She explains the true mission of women rights defenders in Iran and their current needs. Parvin is a dedicated & very committed humanitarian.
Writer, editor of the Women’s Cultural Center, Parvin Ardalan, has helped set up a forum for debating, researching, and documenting women’s issues in Iran. She has also helped as editor for the center’s online magazine, ‘Zanestran.’ Ardalan is also a co-founder of the One Million Signatures Campaign, a grass roots movement aimed at repealing discriminatory laws against women. She was repeatedly arrested, interrogated, charged, and harassed for her human rights activities. In 2006, the center and the magazine were banned. In 2007, she won the Olof Palme Prize for her work on behalf of women’s rights in Iran. After the disputed presidential election in June 2009, the government mounted a major crackdown on journalists and reformist figures. In September 2009, Ardalan went to give a speech in Sweden and stayed. She is now living in Malmö.
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