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December 10, 2022

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Say Her Name

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Vida Movahed and the brave act that sparked a movement.

If you want to know true courage, try being a women’s rights activist in Iran. Try being one of the women who have fought mandatory veiling since Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979 – the women who have risked their lives for freedom. 

When I think of heroes I don’t think of white men with cricket bats or footballs, or those who have climbed great mountains. I think of these women who cannot be frightened into submission. These champions of human rights; these fierce voices; these little girls. These children.

I am in awe of these women who have participated in White Wednesday – an act of solidarity by women taking their action from cyberspace to the street. This involves the wearing of a white headscarf and then taking it off – with many of the women filming themselves while doing it. It is a simple act of defiance. It is nonviolent. It tells government that the State does not own their bodies. That women should not be excluded from public spaces. That they can initiate divorce and obtain child custody. That child marriage should be banned. In Iran right now, the legal age for marriage for girls is 13. It used to be 9. 

In 2017 the video of Vida Movahed – who stood on a box in Enghelab Street in Tehran, took off her white veil and tied it to a stick, waving to the crowd – went viral. She became known as ‘the girl of Enghelab Street’ and soon others followed her, doing the same, and were called ‘The girls of Revolution Street’. This is true feminism. 

So these incredible women speak out, and they’ve been arrested and fined for it. They have been beaten. They have been fired from their jobs. They have been humiliated. They have served prison time. And they have died.

As a Western woman it is hard to imagine this kind of courage. Vida was a 31-year-old mother of a toddler. She is also an Iranian journalist. She was a woman with a lot to lose by speaking out. But, by not speaking out, she stood to lose more. For women like Vida there is no choice. For her courage she was sentenced to a year in prison. 

Young women in Iran have been called the ‘children of the revolution’. They challenge the regime that polices their bodies, while turning away from real issues like pollution and poverty, and criminalises them. Young women in Iran are speaking out. Their bodies have become acts of resistance: red lipstick, red nail polish, a headscarf that falls back. These seemingly meaningless acts are imbued with meaning. They are about freedom. They are about courage. 

Fast forward to September 13 this year when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini from Iranian Kurdistan was arrested for improper veiling. They say she wore it ‘too loosely’. On 16 September Amini died in police custody. Eyewitnesses say she was severely beaten. She suffered a heart attack at the police station, collapsed and fell into a coma. It was believed that she had a cerebral haemorrhage. This girl, who is the same age as my daughters, died because she protested the compulsory hijab. She showed her face; now she is dead. It’s hard to get my head around this. 

Women in Iran have so much to lose. Perhaps the most. So, politically, they are the most dangerous. They are all of us – we must not look away. At a protest on Bondi Beach, in solidarity with Iranian women, I heard the most powerful chant: ‘Say her name!’. Let these women be recognised. Let women Like Mahsa Amini not be forgotten. Talk about her. Tell your children about her. Say her name. Say all their names. 

(Please hold 18 February 2023 free for an event in Byron Bay that raises awareness and solidarity for the women of Iran.)

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    • The permanent imposition of a veil by predominantly one gender on another because of a belief that there is something shameful or offensive about a woman’s hair, head or face is one thing. Requiring the wearing of masks – as a temporary measure in a pandemic – with the rationale of a community showing mutual care and consideration (and especially protecting the vulnerable) is quite another.

      Its such a pity if you can’t discern the difference.

  1. White Men with cricket bats ? What your are being racist.. black men play as well ! Christians cancelled for have a opinion sacked from
    Jobs / sports .. yet you hear very little of what this
    Article is about ..or the lack of it .. Why ?

  2. Mandy would you include the Iranian World Cup footballers, who refused to sing the national anthem to support the protest, heroes?

    Perhaps a bit of dog whistling here?


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