June 20 marks the beginning of the Iranian people’s resistance for freedom and democracy in 1981. Iran’s women pioneer their people’s movement against the mullahs’ religious dictatorship.
Generation Equality has been playing a significant role in the Iranian people’s resistance for freedom from the Shah’s time until today. Women who sacrificed their lives for freedom in the 1970s opened the way for women’s largescale participation in the movement. Then came another generation of women in the 1980s whose sacrifices and unsubmissive struggle shook the foundations of the mullahs’ misogynous regime.
And then, the world saw the next generations of brave Iranian women and girls who pursued this tortuous and blood-drenched path during the uprisings in 1999, 2009, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022, and 2023. Generation equality will continue to thread this path until the overthrow of the mullahs’ misogynous regime and the dawn of genuine freedom in Iran.
So, let us commemorate on this anniversary the tens of thousands of women who watered the sapling of freedom with their blood and persisted in their democratic demands since the beginning of the mullahs’ rule in Iran. They chose to resist at any cost honorably but not succumb to the dictator and turned into shining stars who lit the dark night of their nation.
Women’s largescale participation in resistance for freedom
Less than a month after the Iranian people’s overthrow of the Shah’s dictatorship, women were the first to hear the footsteps of another tyrannical regime.
Khomeini’s first fatwa on March 7, 1979, targeted Iranian women’s freedoms. By this order, it became mandatory for women to cover their hair and wear the veil in government offices.
Iranian women took to the streets the next day which coincided with International Women’s Day, March 8, 1979, to protest the oppressive fatwa against women in a massive demonstration.
Hassan Rouhani, the regime’s incumbent president, has boasted that he was the one to ban the entry of non-veiled women to the offices and departments of the Armed Forces.
For 2.5 years before June 20, 1981, women and girls joined opposition groups, particularly the PMOI/MEK, and actively participated in resistance for freedom and efforts to stop the tyrannical advances of the new regime.
Dozens of schoolgirls who supported the PMOI/MEK opposition were killed and wounded in attacks by the regime’s agents and club wielders during this period. Nasrin Rostami, 16, in Shiraz, Mehri Saremi in Khorram Abad, Sima Sabbagh in Rasht, Sanam Ghoreishi in Bandar Abbas, Fatemeh Rahimi and Somayeh Noghre-Khaja in Ghaemshahr, and Fatemeh Karimi in Karaj were among many who did not succumb to the club wielders’ threats at the cost of their lives.
On April 27, 1981, the Muslim Mothers’ Society which supported the opposition PMOI/MEK staged a demonstration in protest of the beating and killing of their children. 200,000 women participated in this protest rally. Their strong presence caught the mullahs by surprise and had a tremendous impact on developments in that critical period of Iran’s history.
The Iranian people’s resistance for freedom reached a turning point on June 20, 1981, when half a million Tehran residents participated in a historic march for freedom.
On that day, Khomeini’s revolutionary guards opened fire on the peaceful demonstrators. Iran’s pioneering women, too, had to make a choice. They had to choose between the shame of caving into the mullahs’ suppression and the honor of resistance for freedom. Of course, they chose the latter and answered the call of history.
June 20 bloody crackdown, women’s magnificent resistance in prisons
After cracking down on the June 20th peaceful demonstration, the clerical regime began its massacre of opponents. Ironically, the first group of victims comprised of girl students, 16-17 years of age, who had not given even their names to the regime.
Indeed, what was the message of these young women? Why was it that the first statement of the prosecutor’s office after June 20, bore the pictures of 12 under-18 girls who had not even identified themselves to the regime officials before being executed?
Never in history, had a dictator launched a genocide by releasing the photos of unidentified young women he executed.
The mullahs’ murder machine started its endless and indiscriminate killings. Young teenage girls, pregnant women, elderly mothers, workers, farmers, doctors, engineers, artists, and athletes were killed en masse. Sometimes, all or five-six children of the same family were executed in the course of mass executions of the 1980s.
Women’s rights were half of men’s everywhere except in prisons where they had a double quota of torture merely for being a woman. The misogynist mullahs could not tolerate the women who opposed them.
The victims included Nafiseh Ashraf Jahani, 10, who was put on summary trial and sent before the firing squads. Maryam Assadi, 11, Afsaneh Farabi, 12, and 13-year-olds Fatemeh Mesbah, Shahla Ghorbani, Fatemeh Sajedi, and Fatemeh Jabbarzadeh Ansari, and Nassrin Nouri Mani, 15, were also among those executed in the 1980s.
Tahereh Aghakhan Moghaddam was executed while eight months pregnant. The names of at least 50 pregnant women are among those executed by the Iranian regime. Dozens of elderly women, like Sakineh Mohammadi Ardehali (Mother Zakeri), 70, stood up bravely to the mullahs and defeated their efforts to break them.
Women’s inspiring resistance and their double quota under torture
Hundreds of former prisoners have attested that women’s resistance in prisons and under torture was inspiring to the imprisoned men, as well.
By their resistance, Iranian women dealt effective blows to the medieval outlook promoted by the clerical regime.
So, the mullahs put women under tremendous pressure to break their high spirits. Long-term solitary confinement, Unit One, Cage, and the most brutal of these torture chambers, the residential unit where they sexually assaulted female prisoners, were designed to reach this aim.
Iranian women, however, were deeply aware of their great role and historic mission and were thus able to endure such inhuman tortures, imprisonment, and executions.
They were not just a few isolated examples but a generation of women who regardless of their age, education, profession, ethnicity, and economic class, chose the honor of resistance for freedom to defeat the enemy of their nation.
Various groups of women in resistance for freedom
Despite repressive conditions in Iran, secret executions, and all the dangers threatening those who have such information, the Iranian Resistance has been able to compile the names and information about 20,000 victims of execution.
Around 5,000 of those names belong to the women of PMOI/MEK.
The most general categorizations based on age, profession, and education attest to the reality of a Generation Equality born in Iran to determine the fate of their nation through their resistance for freedom.
Following are the categories:
681 women were killed under torture
50 women were executed while pregnant
789 teenagers were executed between 11 and 18 years of age
230 women had a high academic education
734 women had bachelor’s degrees
4,010 women were high school graduates
381 women were government employees
73 women were artists
The number of victims of political executions by the clerical regime is estimated to be 120,000, one-third of whom are women. The said figures are therefore but a small and incomplete part of the whole picture.
On the anniversary of the June 20th milestone in the history of Iran, we honor the memory of and pay tribute to heroines who fulfilled their responsibility towards their people, country, and history with utmost courage. Future generations will have a lot more to say about their role and values.