The Iranian regime marked International Women's Day on March 8 in telling fashion: it prevented Iran's most prominent female poet, Simin Behbahani, from traveling to Paris to attend a Women's Day event. Ms. Behbahani planned to read a poem and speak about feminism, but her passport was confiscated at Tehran's international airport.
The regime's action is the latest in a long series of attempts to stifle the voices of Iranian women, who have taken a leading role in urging the Iranian regime to respect the rights of the Iranian people.
And they have suffered for doing so. Neda Soltan, the young woman shot to death during anti-government protests in June, has become the symbol both for the Iranian people's disaffection with their leaders and for the terrible cost the regime is exacting on peaceful opponents.
In recent months, more than 20 Iranian women's rights activists and female journalists have been arrested. Many are members of the Campaign for Equality, a grass roots movement begun in 2006 whose members have often been jailed for trying to overturn Iran's discriminatory gender laws.
Those laws deny Iranian women equal treatment in matters relating to marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. In court, evidence given by an Iranian woman is worth half that of a man, and a man receives twice as much compensation for injury and death. In addition, ghastly punishments, such as stoning, are disproportionally meted out to women.
Iranian lawyer Shadi Sadr, recently recognized by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her courageous work advocating for women's rights in Iran, said last month in testimony at the U.N., that at least 60 women's rights activists are in prison. "Some of them have never been able to call or see their families. In some cases, nobody knows in which prison they are detained," said Ms. Sadr. She said a new draft law which may soon pass the legislature will further erode legal protections for women.
Secretary of State Clinton has made it clear where the United States stands on an issue that cuts "across cultures and continents:"
"Human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights."
"A society that denies and demeans women's roles and rights," said Secretary of State Clinton, "is a society that is more likely to engage in behavior that is negative, anti-democratic, and which often leads to violence and extremism."