The long-term political impact of the highly visible murder of Neda Agha Soltan is not yet known. I have seen several comparisons of the horrifying video of her death with the 1970 shootings at Kent State and indeed there are some legitimate points of comparison, not the least of which is the eerie similarity between her teacher leaning over her body and John Filo’s Pulitizer Prize winning photo of Mary Vecchio leaning over the body of a student who had just been shot.But politically it may well be that the symbolism of Neda’s death will in the long run be more akin to the brutal killing of Meena, one of the founders of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).
Without a doubt, the Iranian government takes her death quite seriously, with The Guardian (UK) reporting that,
The Iranian authorities have ordered the family of Neda Agha Soltan out of their Tehran home after shocking images of her death were circulated around the world.
Neighbours said that her family no longer lives in the four-floor apartment building on Meshkini Street, in eastern Tehran, having been forced to move since she was killed. The police did not hand the body back to her family, her funeral was cancelled, she was buried without letting her family know and the government banned mourning ceremonies at mosques, the neighbours said.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has offered legal assistance to the family, saying that her killing was “illegal” and that,
“According to the constitution of the Islamic republic, peaceful rallying and demonstrations are allowed and do not need permission from any authorities.”
Ebadi, who was out of the country at the time of the election, will no doubt continue be an important part of the dialog. Indeed, it is becoming quite clear that women are playing a far greater role here than simply being the victims of brutality, they are very visibly at the forefront of the political dissent.
As the Toronto Star points out when it quotes Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, a professor at the University of Toronto,
“Today we are seeing what is historically the first national movement with a leadership that is predominantly female. Women are running this resistance.”
(T)here is a connection between the violence in Iran over the last week and the women’s rights movement that has slowly gained strength over the last several years in Iran.
Citing women’s activism going back many years in Iran, she says,
Not Obama, not Bush, and not Twitter, in other words, but years of work and effort lie behind the public display of defiance—and in particular the numbers of women on the streets.
The Iranian clerics know that women pose a profound threat to their authority: As activist Ladan Boroumand has written, the regime would not bother to use brutal forms of repression against dissidents unless it feared them deeply. Nobody would have murdered a young woman in blue jeans—a peaceful, unarmed demonstrator—unless her mere presence on the street presented a dire threat.
As Dana Goldstein frames it,
(B)y almost every measure, the Ahmadinejad era has represented a leap backward for Iranian women, leading to a resurgence of feminist organizing. “I wouldn’t say the election was a turning point for women,” says Sanam Anderlini, a Washington-based consultant on international women’s issues. “But I would say women were the turning point for the election.”
Dr. Judith Rich goes so far as to wonder,
Are we witnessing the first female led revolution in modern history? The genie is out of the bottle in Iran and those close to the scene doubt it can ever return to the status quo, even if the current regime manages to crush the rebellion.
Given The historic nature of the role that women are playing in the events in Iran, it is truly disheartening to hear Martha Radditz of ABC say that, “Many are calling this a Lipstick Revolution.” Radditz does not say who the many are and the only use of the term relevant to the current situation that I could find was Playboy’s unfortunate piece, “Making Sexy Political” which informs us that the unrest is “about (women) displaying their centuries-old legacy as voluptuaries.” Even stranger, Radditz uses the term even though in a related piece on the ABC website she writes,
“Others say the presence of so many woman is only the tip of the iceberg. “This movement is not about wearing lipstick and throwing their veil off,” Kelly Nikinejad, editor of Tehranbureau.com, told ABC News. “It’s so much deeper than that.”
Please contact Raditz and ABC and let them know that trivializing this story by reducing the human rights and political might of Iranian women to a matter of merely cosmetics is absolutely unacceptable and displays a shocking lack of understanding of the current events in Iran.
The Feminist Peace Network will continue to provide analysis of the role that women are playing in Iran as events unfold. Also please see the following earlier posts: