In remarks commemorating the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took special note of the efforts the women in the Middle East have made on behalf of freedom and democracy:
"They have insisted that their voices be heard. And in the coming months and years, the women in Egypt and Tunisia and other nations have just as much right as the men to remake their governments -- to make them responsive, accountable, transparent."
In recent years, the voices of the women in Iran have been particularly resonant in calling for equality and human rights. Iranian women have organized a grassroots effort to obtain a million signatures aimed at overturning the country's discriminatory gender laws; female human rights lawyers defend the children and women in an attempt to protect them from injustice and violence. Iranian women have been in the forefront of the pro-democracy demonstrations that brought millions into the streets after the disputed presidential election of 2009.
And how has the Iranian government reacted? Scores of activist women have been arrested, denied due process, and sentenced to long prison terms. Thousands demonstrating for freedom in the streets of Iran have been viciously beaten; one, Neda Agha Soltan, was shot to death; and the photograph of her bloody face became the icon of the Iranian struggle for liberty and individual rights.
And still Iranian women do not give up. For International Women's Day this month, they called for new demonstrations in favor of women's rights and for the release of Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karroubi, the wives of opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who have been under arrest since the middle of February. Peaceful demonstrators were met by hundreds of security forces wielding tear gas and batons.
At a press briefing, then State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley decried the mistreatment by the Iranian regime:
"We support these brave women, as well as those facing continued political persecution at the hands of a government that has imprisoned over 100 women for their political views. Many of them have been arrested, tortured and subjected to lengthy detention without charge. Their family members have been jailed and harassed, and they have been barred from organizing on behalf of women."
The United States, said Mr. Crowley, recognizes "the important leadership role that Iran's women play in civil society and the struggle for all Iranians to express their universal rights."