Speech at International Women’s Day Conference
March 9, 2013
I am so delighted to see all of you who have gathered here today, representing women of the world.
On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, let me congratulate all of you and my sisters in Iran, in the prisons and around the world, as well as the 1,000 heroines in camps Liberty and Ashraf.
As an activist for gender equality, I commend the spirit of this historical day and the splendid prospects it promises, and I salute all the struggles and sacrifices women have made everywhere.
But, at the same time, my heart aches with anger and sadness.
Anger and sadness because a century after this day was first declared as International Women’s Day, violence, rape, murder, attacks with acid, torture, discrimination and exploitation still rein supreme over the destiny of women in vast parts of the world.
I am also angered and saddened by the chronic inequality and degradation that pains women today even in some of the most developed countries around the world.
I am angered by the stubbornness of the glass ceiling which has deprived so many competent women the world over, including those on the dais here, of leadership roles and heads of states in various countries.
I am angered and saddened by the western governments’ appeasement of the religious fascism ruling Iran, which represents the beating heart of fundamentalism and misogyny.
Still, although we have every right to be angry and outraged, we have no right to abandon hope. We cannot lose hope because this chaotic and unjust world must be changed; the responsibility to bring about that change lies with women. Women are the messengers of hope.
It is, and always has been, this very hope that fuels our determination to rise up against the most misogynist, suppressive and monstrous dictatorship existing in the world today.
And now, I call upon all my sisters the world over to join an extensive and united front against fundamentalism in order to play their historical role against fundamentalism.
Some of you may have already heard about what is referred to as the “internal revolution” within the ranks of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). Today, I’d like to elaborate on it.
This transformation embodies a rebellion against a medieval dictatorship in Iran whose keystone is misogyny and the export of terrorism and fundamentalism.
At one point in the history of the world, Spartacus rose up and rebelled against slavery.
At another time, in France, the revolutionary masses broke the chains of feudalism.
And, today, we have risen up against Islamic fundamentalism, which is the greatest threat to global peace and democracy today.
Islamic fundamentalism is the ominous calamity and the predicament of the people in the Middle East, North Africa and even western nations. It is infused with all aspects of persecution and subjugation of women in the most fanatical sense conceivable.
My Dear Sisters,
34 years ago, when Khomeini usurped the Iranian people’s anti-monarchic revolution and a theocratic regime began to raise its head, the geopolitical map of the region started to undergo major changes. Equipped with an exceptionally reactionary ideology, Khomeini decided to export fundamentalism and terrorism to the rest of the region in the hopes of overcoming the domestic gridlocks his regime faced.
Since day one, the Iranian Resistance has warned of this regime’s sinister aspirations, and has risen up against it with all its might. Both in its political platform and in its cultural and ideological worldview, this movement has been and remains today the antithesis of the clerical regime. We always demand and continue to demand a republic based on the separation of church and state. And, believing in a democratic and tolerant Islam, we have exposed and defeated the regime’s reactionary ideology as well as its attempts to exploit the religion of Islam for its own ends.
Concerning the outset, the topic of freedoms and women’s rights was one of the principal points of contention between our movement and Khomeini, who needed to subjugate women and deny them of their most fundamental rights and freedoms in order to solidify his control over Iranian society. His first order of business was to make the hejab compulsory. But, PMOI women, who themselves believe in wearing the hejab as a personal choice, joined other Iranian women in defending the right to freely choose one’s clothing.
The PMOI’s offices and centers attracted women since the first few months of the mullahs’ rule.
As the conflict between us and the regime intensified, women and young girls exhibited tremendous courage and competence.
Whether they were 17-year-old students like Homeira Eshraq, or 70-year-old mothers, like Mother Zakeri, these women stared the regime’s henchmen in the eyes and chose death over surrender.
But, the regime resorted to mass killings, suppression and demagoguery to either eliminate its opponents one by one or else force them into a life of humiliation and disgrace.
For their part, the United States and western governments, one after another, chose to appease and kowtow to the mullahs’ regime in the face of its terrorism and hostage-taking.
By the late 1980s, on the one side stood this Resistance movement and on the other side was a formidable foe equipped with vast material resources. This was a severely lopsided war. We had no weapons except our determination and our people’s support.
At the time, we were confronted with two choices:
Faced with an incredibly disproportionate balance of power, our first option was to accept defeat, which implied abandoning the struggle and thus granting the regime the possibility of long term survival.
The second option was to persevere and to continue the resistance through revolution and transformation, even in light of the uneven balance of power; a revolution and transformation that could unleash the infinite energies of both women and men and expand the struggle to overthrow the theocracy.
We chose the latter option, which of course led to an incredibly difficult journey.
The Leader of the Iranian Resistance, Massoud Rajavi, has described the essence of this transformation as a demarcation with the world of the mullahs and reactionary forces. He has explained that the goal of this transformation was to “eradicate the objectification of women, which the mullahs and their Revolutionary Guards symbolized.”
It was this mindset that paved the way for women’s struggle for equality. I am referring to a movement that, as far back as the 1980s, was endowed with the most advanced and progressive modes of gender relations within its ranks. Nevertheless, despite their active involvement in the Resistance, women had a long way to go in order to achieve full equality and assume leadership positions in the movement. This revolution took place in order to fill such gaps and to set free human powers and energies.
The Mojahedin made the important discovery that if they want to stand up to religious tyranny, they would have to struggle against a patriarchal and reactionary system, namely against a gender-based ideology.
This ideological transformation is a result of the PMOI’s anthropological views, which were diametrically opposed to the Khomeini’s reactionary views.
According to the PMOI a worldview, human beings are born as men or women. And so they are not the same concerning a purely physiological perspective. But they are the same and equal in so far as they are both human beings.
In contrast, a gender-based ideology is based on the superiority and supremacy of the male gender over the female gender. This outlook finds its roots in the history and culture of oppression and objectification, which enslave women, men, and all of society.
Therefore, a gender-based ideology is not intrinsic to the human species as such, and is not a result of their instincts or their fundamental essence. It is rather influenced by behaviors, attitudes and a culture that is itself the product of oppression and exploitation.
In Khomeini’s reactionary ideology, men discover their true identity through acts of suppression and in particular their subjugation of women. They are driven and guided by this ideology.
In other words, in Khomeini’s mindset, a man’s character and identity is dependent upon his ability to suppress and exploit women. Without harboring a sense of superiority over women, he would feel unfulfilled and lacking true self confidence.
In this ideology, women regard their subordination, reliance on men, and second-class status as both rational and natural.
Consequently, the woman develops a quality alien to her genuine human nature; that is, the quality of a subject or a product whose worth is correlated only to its usefulness as a commodity for others.
To put it in another way, women are also enslaved by such attitudes towards themselves. As Simone de Beauvoir said, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
In reality, the relationship between men and women, too, completely diverges concerning their human nature.
This means that neither the woman sees herself as an equal human being nor does the man view her as such.
The end result of this point of view is to assign a priori value and precedence to the genetic and hereditary characteristics of human beings, such as gender, physical appearance, race, ethnicity or language. And this is tantamount to surrendering to blind fate. In contrast, in our view, the humanity and character of a person is cultivated and fostered through his/her own choices and actions.
Whenever a human being succeeds in pushing aside such social and historical arrangements, freedom, in the true sense of the word, would be given to all, regardless of gender.
We recognized that a gender-based ideology, the mullahs’ reactionary view towards human beings, is a roadblock and an obstacle to the flourishing of his/her capabilities. As soon as this barrier was pushed aside through a collective and arduous struggle, women began to chide passivity and evasion of responsibility, and instead started to embrace responsibility, accepting key roles in all levels of the movement. Subsequently, the men were able to shed any remnants of reactionary mindset and attitudes towards women and became advocates of the cause of equality in practice and in deed.
Women must pay the price of their freedom, emancipation and believing in themselves. This would subsequently pave the way for men changing and becoming liberated as well.
Yes, it was this revolt against a reactionary outlook and a rebellion against the enslaving arrangements that unleashed the explosive human energies in the movement. It is a parallel to the idea of converting matter to energy as formulated in Einstein’s E=MC2. This unleashed energy is the source of this movement’s perseverance against the inhumane regime ruling Iran.
This process has been the greatest experience of my life. It has confirmed my thinking on the nature of human beings in practice, proving that every individual has the capability to summon and revive their true human essence. This has tremendously strengthened my hope and belief in the possibility of changing human beings for the better.
Such an outlook on human beings finds one of its manifestations in the mantra “we can and we must.” It means that a human being must develop into what he/she is capable of becoming. It means that there is a vast hidden sea of capabilities in every human being that can make possible what may seem impossible.
You all know that our movement is and has been engaged in an arduous struggle against the ruling religious fascism in Iran. This is a movement that has already sacrificed over 120,000 martyrs.
Despite these critical circumstances, our extraordinary achievement was that in the midst of this struggle, we succeeded in building new modes of relations based on noble values among the movement’s members.
The most significant achievement of this transformation has been the women assuming responsibilities and establishing their hegemony on a large scale and not simply in isolated cases.
Our experience made it palpably clear that defeating the curse of inequality is impossible without first taking a leap; leadership responsibilities must be given to the most competent women without the slightest degree of anxiety. Women’s hegemony in the Iranian Resistance, as a paradigm-shifting transformation, paved the way for women to take on responsibilities in all fields.
This of course was not meant to strip men of responsibility and to marginalize them. The objective was to compensate for centuries of male-dominated modus operandi which foreclosed any possibility for woman to extract and then exercise their abilities to lead.
As a result of this campaign, women succeeded in adopting noble values and rose above a decadent and reactionary culture.
As a first accomplishment, they came to believe in themselves and their capabilities. And when they discovered how necessary their responsible roles are in the advancement of the struggle against the religious tyranny, they decided to leave the world of irresponsibility and passivity, where a women’s self-identity is reliant on others. Instead they stepped into a world of responsible women who in fact lead a struggle with all its potential consequences.
They parted with vices that would hold them back, like jealousy, comparison and attributing worth to physical attributes, appearances, and age, all of which greatly deplete women’s energies. They also managed to replace attitudes of frailty and fragility with a sense of forte and strength.
They shed their fears of facing defeat or exhibiting weakness in the face of difficulties. Instead of succumbing to pressure, they learned to cultivate the power within themselves to overcome defeat.
Instead of losing hope, they learned to remain helpful and assiduous in opening the path to victory.
In our movement, relations among women have changed in a way that women stand alongside each other and support and hear one another as if they were biological sisters. They fulfill the most cumbersome responsibilities collectively and on the basis of such relations. They do not undermine each other. Progress made by any one of them is a source of encouragement and inspiration for other women. And, collective effort to elevate the responsibilities of other women is considered a virtue.
Each woman in the Resistance has come to the realization that by cooperating with and supporting her colleagues, she would actually be empowering herself. In this path, they have attained an incredible ability to make sacrifices for their sisters. For this reason, they succeeded in running the affairs of Camp Ashraf in the most difficult and complicated battles in last decade and now they are running both Liberty and Ashraf.
They have been able to attain a new level of leadership and management in all political, organizational and administrative arenas as well as in vast legal and diplomatic campaigns.
Hail to all of them.
The aim of the internal transformation was not to simply switch places of men and women and compete against the existing model. It was to form relations based on freedom, equality and democracy. That is why I have to tell you that among the other achievement of this transformation was the rise of a generation of liberated men who are committed to the cause of gender equality. There are light years of distance that separates these men and archaic and exploitative “values” of a patriarchal society, including an inclination to dominate others and seek hegemony.
And in their belief in equality and in their attitude towards women, they have reached new heights of purity and blossoming of their human essence. They have liberated themselves of the desire to selfishly compete, to harbor personal ambitions, to be close-minded and to eliminate others. They have gained true and enriched self-confidence. They have thus far taken this difficult journey with the help of their own volition and iron resolve.
I am pleased to say that in light of these relations that are devoid of oppression and exploitation, members of the Iranian Resistance have been able to elevate their abilities to engage in collective work to the next level.
I must emphasize that active work and participation alongside one colleague is, on the one hand, the basis of a democratic order in one’s relationship, and on the other hand, it is a determining factor for success in all endeavors.
The women and men of this Resistance have shunned the destructive attitude of “first for me,” and instead always give priority to their colleagues. In other words, through sacrifice, they have succeeded in reaching new heights in mutual group work. This is the result of resisting against the eccentricity that stunts the growth of people as human beings.
This transformation has helped human beings, both women and men, to flourish and become affable, and to constantly strengthen their resolve and motivation. It has also instilled compassion and forgiveness in contrast to the reactionaries’ cold-heartedness and vengeance.
Doubtless, we have perhaps just passed the half-way mark. But we will continue to move ahead until the mullahs are overthrown and until we have utilized all of our accomplishments in tomorrow’s free Iran.
Although our point of departure in this transformation was to overthrow the religious fascism ruling Iran, but in order to rebuild the free Iran of tomorrow, we must still be armed with this outlook so that we can create democratic institutions in our society. In other words, the Iranian Resistance also has the historical responsibility to be a builder and a founder.
If democracy is not built on gender equality, participation of all people, free choice of all sectors of society, and unconditional freedom of speech, then it would quickly deviate and take on reactionary tendencies.
The idea of equality, in our movement, is inspirational and holds a promise for the Iranian society and especially its women and youth.
When you target sexism, you are actually attempting to shatter the cornerstone of the velayat-e faqih system (absolute clerical rule).
When you target the mullahs’ misogyny, you are in fact aiming at the heart of their ideology. As a result, neither the mullahs’ jurisprudence nor Sharia, nor their reactionary laws, and culture would find a solid footing.
This explains why the mullahs target the PMOI incessantly and extensively through utter demagoguery. In their view, the PMOI’s first offense is its unwavering commitment to bring about regime change in Iran.
But, in addition to this, in accordance with the mullahs’ Sharia, the PMOI has committed the cardinal sin. Because the Iranian Resistance believes that Iranian women are competent enough and must assume the leadership of the democratic Iran of tomorrow.
According to the regime’s Sharia, the PMOI have committed a cardinal sin because in contrast to the mullahs’ reactionary ideology, they believe that men are not intrinsically deprived of will power and are not slaves of their primal instincts. And they also believe that the desire to establish supremacy and commit violence against women, considered as virtues in the mullahs’ religious jurisprudence and Sharia, have no place whatsoever in Islam.
It is because of committing such unforgivable sins that, with endless rage and vengeance, the mullahs slander the PMOI and call it a “cult,” while continuing to suppress them. And have made them the target of a campaign of demonization and misinformation since many years ago.
It is because this is a movement that completely and absolutely rejects the ruling ideology and behavior and has risen up to overthrow oppression, inequality and injustice in its foundation.
Let me conclude my remarks by reiterating some of the Iranian Resistance’s views.
We seek a republic based on the separation of church and state, one that is pluralistic and peace-seeking; an Iran that rejects the death penalty and is non-nuclear.
And, as far as the rights and freedoms of women are concerned, we emphasize the following:
1. Women shall enjoy the equal right to have all the fundamental freedoms, including standing for elections, casting a vote, and becoming judges.
– Women, regardless of their ethnicity, religious or social class, shall enjoy equal rights as men.
2. Women shall enjoy equal rights as men before law.
To combat violence, rape, discrimination and violation of their freedoms, women shall have access to credible judicial remedies.
3. Women are free to choose their clothing. The law on compulsory veiling shall be annulled.
4. Women shall enjoy the right to equal participation on in the political leadership of society.
5. Women shall enjoy equal rights as men with respect to inheritance, signing contracts and managing assets. In the labor market, women shall have equal opportunities as men.
6. Women shall enjoy the free and equal right to choose their spouse, and freely decide to marry or divorce. They shall also enjoy the right to have custody of their children. Polygamy is prohibited.
7. All forms of violence against women, threatening actions or forcibly depriving them of their freedoms are considered crimes.
8. Sex trade and all forms of sexual exploitation shall be prohibited.
9. The mullahs’ Sharia laws will have no place in the Iran of tomorrow. Disgraceful and barbaric laws like stoning shall be annulled.
10. Women must have access to social welfare programs, especially for retirement, unemployment, illness, and old age.
The mullahs are encircled with cumbersome crises both within and outside their regime, politically, economically and regionally. They are in the phase of being overthrown.
That is why they have directed the bulk of their attacks and plots against a movement that has the capability to steer social discontent towards overthrowing the regime.
Now, more than 3,000 PMOI members are faced with another humanitarian catastrophe after being forced to relocate to Liberty prison.
Regrettably, UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Iraq is accomplice in the February, 9, 2013 crime, and is supporting the Iraqi government.
The Secretary General should immediately appoint a new envoy.
The safety and security of Liberty residents has not been addressed and required an urgent action.
I urge all of you, my sisters around the world, and human rights and women’s rights activists, to call on the UN, the U.S. and the Security Council to fulfill their obligations and expeditiously establish a fact-finding mission to expose the blood-stained hands. The UN Secretary General must appoint an impartial representative and in order to guarantee the residents’ security concerns, all of them should be returned to Ashraf or be transferred to the United States so as to facilitate their resettlement to third countries.
Today, defending 1,000 vanguard women in Ashraf and Liberty is an urgent duty for all equality movements. Hundreds of these women have spent years incarcerated in the clerical regime’s prisons. They represent invaluable assets for the equality movement.
I salute them all and I honor the memories of all those who lost their lives in the two recent attacks: Pouran, Saba, Mahdiyeh, Shahnaz, Asiyeh, Fatemeh, Fa’ezeh, Nastaran, and Marzieh. Hail to all of them.
On this occasion, I must also salute the struggles of my brave sisters and daughters across Iran; there are a large number of them incarcerated in Khamenei’s prisons, including Evin and Gohardasht. Hail to all these heroes, combatants, freedom fighters and their relentless perseverance.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we also salute our persevering sisters in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and wherever they are in the anti-fundamentalist front, fighting for equality and freedom.
This is also a moment when we should remember the tens of thousands of brave women who in their struggle against the mullahs have either been tortured or lost their lives. We pay homage to Sedigheh Mojaveri and Neda Hassani who are a source of pride for the arisen women of Iran.
We also salute the pioneering women who blazed the trail for this struggle; heroines like Fatemeh Amini, Marzieh Eskoui, A’zam Rouhi Ahangaran, Mehrnoush Ebrahimi, and others. And hail to Ashraf Rajavi, the greatest woman revolutionary in the contemporary history of Iran.
We also pay homage to the women and young girls who lost their lives during the 2009 uprisings in Iran: Neda Aqa Soltan, Taraneh Mousavi, Shabnam Sohrabi and others.
And we send our heartfelt greetings to the brave young girls who are busy forming resistance units across Iran; as well as the young girls who have decided to chart a new destiny for their people and country.
So, let me tell my sisters across Iran that:
The goal is not simply for women to liberate themselves;
The goal is for them to liberate all of society for the fundamentalists;
This is the responsibility that you have been entrusted with;
You are the ones who will write the future;
Your suffering and sacrifice is a bridge linking the present to that future;
So, rise up and spread the flames of resistance everywhere in Iran;
Hail to freedom;
Hail to all of you.