March 8 was International Women’s Day, and lawmakers would be well-advised to recognize the occasion as an opportunity to give women’s rights the prominence they are due in discussions regarding those nations that consistently fail to fulfill their international obligations. Unfortunately, that topic continues to be overshadowed in many cases, and the more egregiously a nation behaves in other areas, the more its female population tends to be neglected by Western governments and multinational bodies.
There is perhaps no better example of this phenomenon than the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is the subject of countless international policy debates but has paradoxically benefited from the world’s almost single-minded focus on concerns over its nuclear program. Meanwhile, an already hideous record of human rights abuses has grown steadily worse in recent years, with women bearing the brunt of the clerical regime’s efforts to crack down on dissent and reassert its commitment to a regressive, Islamist ideology.
In November 2019, when Iranian authorities opened fire on crowds of protesters who were demanding popular sovereignty and an end to theocratic rule, approximately 400 of the 1,500 people who were killed in those incidents were women. This fact is a testament to the prominence of place that women have taken for themselves in Iran’s democratic Resistance movement, driven by the fact of the current regime’s inherent sexism and escalating efforts to reverse the gains that women have made in education and the workplace in spite of systematic efforts to exclude them and confine them to roles as wives and mothers.
Women’s leadership of “Resistance units” on the front line of Iranian uprisings mirrors the female leadership of the overall Resistance movement.
Maryam Rajavi stands as the head of a pro-democracy coalition known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and it has designated Mrs. Rajavi to serve as transitional president, pending the nation’s first free and fair elections, in the event that the mullahs’ regime is overthrown.
She has introduced a 10-point plan for the country’s future – a plan that includes a commitment to political and social gender equality, as well as legal safeguards for the rights of all other marginalized groups that suffer routine discrimination under the current system.
For all the effort that Western powers have expended in railing against the prospect of that regime obtaining a nuclear weapon, they have overwhelmingly endorsed policies that afford un-earned legitimacy to that regime. Although the November 2019 uprisings and similar large-scale protest movements clearly demonstrate that this is not the case, the international community has long operated on the assumption that the theocratic system is too deeply ingrained and too widely supported to face serious challenge.
In taking this position, Western powers have very much closed their eyes to the ayatollahs suppressing human rights and especially women’s rights. The Islamic Republic maintains 27 government agencies including 10 ministries for the express purpose of enforcing the country’s mandatory veiling laws and other markers of its ultra-hardline interpretation of Islam. Women have been pushing back furiously against these agencies’ operations, but they face an uphill battle. In the long run, they will need the support of the international community in order to overcome the obstacles to their advancement that the regime has erected.
That support is all the more vital for those women who are currently suffering the consequences of fighting for their own liberation. The Iranian Resistance movement has recorded the names of dozens of women who are presently being held as political prisoners in the Islamic Republic, where they are frequently subjected to sexual harassment, threats of sexual assault, humiliating “virginity tests” and other horrific mistreatment. Male political prisoners also suffer horribly, and they have also been given too little attention by the international community, but nothing compares to the dual impact of Iranian women’s plight and their invisibility.
International Women’s Day represents a challenge to that sort of invisibility wherever it manifests. Regrettably, even modern democracies are sometimes guilty of overlooking their own marginalized people. Even more regrettably, that practice cannot be expected to end as long as those same countries are prone to downplaying or disregarding the terrible plight of women and minorities in other countries, where they suffer in the open every day of their lives, virtually begging for international support as the fight a desperate battle against a larger force.