If you are reading this newsletter on the day of its release, it is International Women’s Day, 2023. You may also probably keenly aware that now, in 2023, we are depressingly far from achieving our ambition of a safe, equitable, free and fair world for people of all genders around the world.
Many issues have made the news lately that bring to light the brazen injustices and deeply-entrenched systems that serve to oppress and abuse women. For this week’s newsletter, I have had the honour of interviewing a passionate human rights activist whose current focus is on the protests and abuses happening presently in Iran.
Sherry Hakimnejad, an Iranian-born Norwegian activist, social worker, entrepreneur and speaker, has leveraged whatever power she has been able, to provide aid to those in Iran in need, as well as bring as much attention as possible to the ongoing fight for Iranians striving for freedom today.
Protests in Iran
Iran, 1978, International Women’s Day. A scheduled Women’s Day march became a powerful protest after the enforcement of mandatory veiling of all Iranian women – an event that brought thousands of women to the streets in outcry.
It is devastating that, over forty years later, the cries of the protesters continue, echoed now by younger, even more desperate and frightened people who face ongoing violence, detainment and death at the hands of an authoritative government.
Many are aware of the explosive protests in Iran that occurred in September last year, following the horrific killing of twenty-two year old Jina Masha Amini by a branch of Iranian law enforcement known as the morality police. The news coverage at the time was plentiful, and the world paid attention to what had been longstanding issues of oppressive rule, corruption and violence in the country.
Today, the battle rages on. Many months since the tragic catalyst that sparked these massive reactions among Iranian people, particularly Iranian youth, regular protests continue, as do punishments, abuses and executions of those who dare to stand up against the authorities.
What should be said, before delving into Sherry’s informed view on the subject, is that this should not be seen as a case of injustice happening in ‘other’ places, or injustices that are distant from where we are, presently.
Based in Norway, Sherry is cognisant of the inequalities and struggles of people at a local level, hence her early drive to empower youth through a social entrepreneurship programme. And, as a queer woman who is also an immigrant, she has had to see the many ways in which the fight for equal rights across gender, sexuality, ethnicity and cultural lines has played out and needed voice and action.
This time, however, her action has taken her to a place where she feels the urgency is paramount. People are dying. People are in need of medical assistance, food, shelter, empathy and support. Sherry has had the courage to take it upon herself to campaign, despite the potential safety risk, to raise funds and awareness.
Support in Ways that are Possible for You
Many Iranians, back in Iran or based abroad, are at risk of harm should they make their dissent known. Sherry has been fortunate, she says, to have the level of threat to her and her family be relatively low, and for this reason she took it upon herself to fill the role of spokesperson and fundraiser for the support of Iranian protestors and their families.
As with her early work with youth empowerment, she felt unable to stand by and do nothing.
A Fight for Women is a Fight for All
The fight in Iran started with a reaction against a violence and oppression of women in the country. Women, en masse, showed up bravely and gave their lives to the cause, with the world watching in awe and grief.
Today, it has become clear that this cause has meaning for all – the oppression of women feeds into the empowerment of an oppressive regime that discriminates and harms along multiple social lines. Young men have been brutally executed as they dare to reject the regime’s policies, and people of all genders are being detained and brutalised.
Much like the 1956 Women’s March in South Africa against apartheid pass laws, protests by women for social equality have had the power to reveal the gross abuses by those with power in many forms, and point a lens at the impressive power held by women should they join forces in resistance.
In Iran, the brave retaliation of women against their oppression, and men’s participation in the movement, was powerful and enlightening.
Men across the world can and should support causes that may, at the surface, appear to be ‘women’s issues’. Even if getting involved at a grassroots level may seem intimidating, and one might feel as though one is in the minority when joining in – the support of people across gender and all other identity lines is essential to helping these projects gain momentum, support, and enhancing of equality worldwide.
Digital Tools as a Source of Empowerment
The thematic issue that the United Nations has chosen for International Women’s Day this year is that of enhancing equity in the digital world – improving, understanding, using, making safe, providing increased access to, and harnessing the power of digital tools as an important step toward a more equitable future.
This includes enhancing job opportunities, safe and flexible working environments, access to educational resources, unlimited communication tools, and so much more.
Evidence of the power of digital tools is also present in those that Sherry used to leverage real-world resources for her fight for equality in Iran. Apart from online video and text interviews, she, along with three others, launched an online crowdfunding campaign that raised over 150 000 NOK in a relatively short time span.
With the money going to medical resources for those harmed by protest activity, and to families suffering financially as a result of the protests, Sherry has made use of her network of trusted associates in Iran to source resources and provide services in a way that is safe and effective.
All remotely and safely. The work is in its early stages, and people are doing what they can as quickly as they can, so this project is likely to have further actions as time goes on.
Thanks to relatively unhindered access to the Internet by most of us reading this, we can keep up with what is happening in real-time, and participate as we are able.
And in other ways, the value of digital resources has been incredibly visible in Iran, with reactions to Amini’s death sparking global outrage through social media networks and symbolic protests online. Iran resorted to Internet blackouts to stem the spread of dissent and to minimise support for protesters.
There is power in collaborative action, even digital action, and so it makes sense that the UN would choose to focus upon equity in the digital realm for International Women’s Day this year.
It seems to be a bit of a trend with the people I interview but, despite the high stakes, Sherry is optimistic about the potential for achieving the kind of freedoms those protesting in Iran dream of. It is an admirable trait, and an infectious one.
It is a reminder that causes are far from lost, and that there are reserves of power within us, particularly if we stand in solidarity together, that can resist forces of oppression.
This Women’s Day, I feel dangerously emboldened by the brave people of Iran, those who marched powerfully in 1956 South Africa, and those around the world who continue to risk their wellbeing for justice and equity for all.
Thank you, Sherry, for this important and illuminating interview.
For those interested, please look at some of the links below for resources:
Sherry’s Instagram account for updates
English Blackfish Voice – Instagram