Neda Agha Soltan was a daughter, sister and friend, a music and travel lover, a beautiful young woman in the prime of her life. Killed by a Basij militiaman during a protest march on June 20, she has become the face of the opposition movement in Iran.
Soltan was among countless women, of all ages and backgrounds, who have taken to the streets in recent days to demand a recount of the presidential vote they and others say was won by Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister. Mousavi made his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a feature of his campaign and promised to give women more rights.
The Ahmadinejad era has been a giant leap backwards for women in Iran. His government has spent millions on propaganda telling women their proper place is in the home. Universities capped the number of female students admitted. In 2005, the regime launched a “culture of modesty” campaign aimed at enforcing stricter veiling. It replaced the Center for Women’s Participation, founded under the liberal presidency of Mohammad Khatami, with the Center for Women and Family, whose exclusive goal is to promote “modesty.”
Last summer Ahmadinejad and his supporters attempted to push a “family protection law” through parliament, easing restrictions on polygamy and taxing mehriyeh, the traditional payment a husband gives a wife upon marriage. In a country where 42 percent of young women looking for a job are out of work, Ahmadinejad went so far as to cite polygamy as a solution to female unemployment. Mehriyeh is the only source of financial independence women have within a legal system that severely limits their rights to divorce, child custody, and inheritance.
Worst of all Ahmadinejad supports sigheh, the religious “temporary marriages” that allow men to engage in consequence-free sex with prostitutes or to marry little girls and then divorce them when they are finished with them.
Iran’s 34 million women, disgruntled by Ahmadinejad’s gender policies are demanding female cabinet ministers, the right to able to run for president and the revision of civil and family law.
Neda Agha Soltan was not an activist. She was just a woman who wanted to be heard, wanted her vote to be counted. Her friends say that her outrage over the rigged election filled her with an unexpected daring and a willingness to stand up for her beliefs. I hope that I can be blessed with some of her courage.