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San Diego women on the frontlines of Iran protests

19 July 2009 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

San Diego’s Iranian Americans are keeping the flame of protest alive, in solidarity with Iranian women who are protesting and being killed at the frontlines.

“As an Iranian-American woman, it makes me very proud my counterparts in Iran are protesting alongside the men, and we are making their voices be heard,” said Pantea Hadaegh, a student based in Sorrento Valley, who has attended several rallies in San Diego.

“We are trying to support them as much as possible, by letting our non-Iranian friends know what’s happening over there, spreading the word and telling them we are behind them,” she said.

Iranian-American women are playing key roles in organizing protests in San Diego, showing up at rallies and communicating through e-mails, Facebook and Twitter. They range from girls to grandmothers. Some were born in the States, some hold green cards. Many care about what is happening in Iran.

Wednesday night, the Iranian-American community held another rally — a candlelight vigil — in downtown San Diego. It will took place outside the Federal Building, near Slate and G streets. It is the fourth such rally in the last eight days.

Iranian women are particularly frustrated by the outcome of the election results, when the incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, in what many considered a rigged election.

On Saturday, one YouTube video showing a military officer on a motorcycle shooting a young woman demonstrator through the heart galvanized many women protesters in San Diego. At Wednesday night’s rally, many women held signs with images of the killed Iranian women.

Women in Iran have been in the frontlines of protests, often serving as a buffer between militia and civilians, said Sara Zare, an Iranian American university student in La Jolla.

“They are always at the forefront of demonstrations, because a huge chunk of our community still believes that women are more vulnerable, or they have to be protected more,” she said. “So what’s happening is they are always out there, they are always protesting.”

Women protestors tend to be less aggressive than men, said Zare. This makes the government military more reluctant to shoot women, even though they have started doing so, she said.

Shrinking women’s rights

The election results capped more than a decade of shrinking women’s rights, under Ahmadinejad’s rule, said Zare.

“Women have been so frustrated after the Revolution (of 1979). Before that, they were very active, they were among the all the fighters, all the protestors,” said Zare. “But after that, the government… started to legislate more discriminatory laws and pressured them.”

These shrinking rights include unfair polygamy laws, divorce terms and quotas on the number of women attending universities, said Zare. Women made up more than 65 percent of university students, before Ahmadinejad’s government imposed a 30 percent limit, she said.

Since 2006, Iranian women have also been advocating change through the “One Million Signatures” campaign, a grassroots movement, demanding equality for women. http://www.we-change.org/english/

Zare is part of an Iranian women’s group based in Orange County that continues collect signatures for this campaign in the United States. About a handful of other San Diego women are also involved, she said.

The “One Millions Signatures” movement had a big impact on women by demonstrating that change is possible through non-violent means, said Zare. By going door to door and educating girls and women, its members were able to change outdated thinking, she said.

Non-violent values

These non-violent values permeate the current protests in Iran, Zare said. Many women learned from the “One Million” campaign how to create change thought peace. It has “proven the non-violent approach is the most effective,” she said.

Although many men, too, believe in non-violent principles, women take to them more easily, she said.
“When women with their passion, with their love — they start to fight for their rights — there are less among them who believe in an aggressive violent approach.”

Changing stereotypes

The protests are also changing Western views of Middle Eastern women as passive victims, said Hadaegh.

“We (women) are not victims,” she said. “And the reason why we are gathering in San Diego… and taking the time to educate our friends — our non-Iranian friends especially — is that we are just like everyone else.

“We want to the same kinds of rights and the same kinds of chances to prosper, just like everyone else.”

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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