Women lead Iran's march to basic rights

The struggle for human rights and gender equality continues in Iran as we mark the one-year anniversary of the demonstrations against the rigged elections.

On June 12, 2009, the Iranian people took to the streets in droves to protest the fraudulent elections that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency. The Iranian regime resorted to extreme violence against these peaceful demonstrations.

Since that day, the people have not backed down and continue to fight peacefully for their basic human rights. Meanwhile, the Iranian government continues its crackdown on any opposition or dissent with ever-increasing brutality.

On May 9, the lengths to which the regime will go to crush its opponents came to light. Five political prisoners were executed in secret. Not even their families or their lawyers were notified.

Shirin Alam Holi, a 28-year-old Kurdish woman, was put to death along with four men. In letters from Evin prison in Tehran, Shirin wrote of being tortured to confess to trumped-up charges of terrorism. She denied the charges and refused to confess, sadly sealing her fate.

At least 25 other men and women await the same fate.

However, as we see time and time again, the harsher the repression, the stronger the movement grows.

And as the story of Shirin Alam Holi demonstrates, women activists are at the forefront of the struggle for human rights in Iran.

This powerful feminist movement did not arise out of the disputed elections. It predates the 1979 Iranian revolution. Women in Iran have enjoyed the right to vote since 1963, for almost 50 years -- even longer than women in Switzerland.

After the revolution, when the regime began imposing laws that were discriminatory against women, the feminist movement gained strength.

In December, a wave of arrests and violence followed peaceful protests taking place on the Shiite Muslim holy day of Ashura. Dozens of women journalists and human rights activists were targeted, and I was no exception. In an attempt to stop me from doing my work from abroad, the government arrested my sister, Dr. Noushin Ebadi. My sister has never been politically active or participated in any rallies or demonstrations. She was arrested and detained for three weeks solely because of my work fighting for human rights.

Mansoureh Shojaee, one of the founders of the One Million Signatures Campaign, was also arrested at this time, putting the list of women involved with the campaign who have been arrested at more than 50. (The One Million Signatures Campaign has been working since before last year's election to collect signatures from Iranian men and women who oppose discriminatory laws and practices.) This June 12 is a global day of action for concerned citizens worldwide to spotlight the horrific human rights abuses that have become all too common in Iran.

Women will be at the forefront of today's peaceful activities as they were yesterday and they will be again tomorrow. And mark my words: It will be women who will bring democracy to Iran.

Contact Ebadi, a lawyer, a founding member of the Nobel Women's Initiative and the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work defending human rights in Iran, at pmproj@progressive.org.