Women’s movement and social change
According to Mansoureh Shojaee, “Especially in the last ten years, women have used every opportunity to make their demands clear: even in prison. Under President Ahmedinejad, arrested women did not need to wear a chador — the full-body veil in Iran — in prison anymore. (Previously they were required to wear it even in court). This was brought about by the human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who went on a hunger strike in prison.”
Sotoudeh, who received the European Union’s Sakharov Prize, was arrested again in 2018 on charges of espionage and for supporting anti-veil protests, and is now in prison. She and several other women’s activists have always emphasized that they believe in change through peaceful means, Shojaee said. But it’s much more than freedom from clothing diktats. “The women’s movement in Iran is trying to renew itself. It is trying to address civil rights and make a connection with the general demands of society in order to motivate the larger public for change,” she told DW.
Rohani’s era: to what end?
The election of the ostensibly reform-oriented President Hassan Rouhani in 2013 has so far not brought any changes in the eyes of women and liberals in Iran; and for the daily problems of the people who suffer under economic deprivation, there is no change. “If a political system does not find a way to reform itself and agree to the demands of its citizens, it will sooner or later lead to a serious crisis, to a revolution or a breakdown,” Abbas Abdi, who stormed the US Embassy in 1979 and later became a critic of the regime, told DW.
The current situation in Iran can be compared to the situation before the revolution in many ways. But many, who witnessed the revolution 40 years ago, are disappointed and afraid of the price they may have to pay if anything similar happens. Abdi himself witnessed the revolution in 1979. But today, he says, “If we had known then that our wishes wouldn’t be fulfilled for the next 40 years, we would not have supported a revolution.”