The following piece was intended to be peformed by members and friends of the Women's Cultural Center NGO for a public Women's International Day gathering at Tehran's Laleh Park. The permit for the gathering was cancelled at the last minute by authorities and the skit was never performed.
Master of Ceremonies of International Women's Day : I ask Firouzeh Mohajer, Parvin Ardalan, and Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani to come to their places to deliver their speeches.
Noushin Ahmadi, Firouzeh Mohajer, and Parvin Ardalan rise and sit on the steps leading to the amphitheatre's stage in Laleh Park. At the same time, five other women (Zohre Arzani, Nazanin Kianifard, Mitra Shojaee, Mansoureh Shojaee, and Talat Taghinia) walk on stage and remain standing.
Nargess Tayebat, in the role of Public Prosecutor, holds a microphone and is seated in the front row of the audience, facing the stage. Nahid Jafari holds a microphone and stands next to the three (Noushin, Parvin, and Firouzeh) sitting offstage. Sahar Sajaadi, Homa Medah, Nahid Keshavarz, Faezeh Mohammadi, Fakhri Shaadfar, Mahsa Shekarloo, Simin Marashi, and one other women whose face is battered and bruised and whose clothes are covered with the first names of the other speakers written on scraps of paper are seated offstage.
Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani : We have decided to hold a group speech instead of delivering individual speeches. Nahid Jafari will speak for all of us since we are not actors and cannot even adequately play our own roles. Our speech will not take longer than 30 minutes. So please stay with us.
Parvin Ardalan : We women have always had to prove ourselves. Here are our identity cards. I am Parvin Ardalan, this is Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani and this is Firouzeh Mohajer.
Nahid Jafari [ Takes the identity cards and examines them ]: Checked!
[ Parvin and Noushin and Firouzeh take out masks and place them on their faces .]
Public Prosecutor : I am the Public Prosecutor of this group. I elected myself to the position, of course. After all, the people's vote is of dubious value, so spare us the sit-ins and protest, and allow me to serve as Public Prosecutor.
Nahid Jafari : Alright, Mr. Public Prosecutor. What do you want? Excuse me for saying, "mister," but public prosecutors are usually male. Women aren't even allowed to defend themselves.
Public Prosecutor : I want to know why you're wearing masks.
[ Nahid Jafari lowers her face to allow Noushin, Firouzeh, and Parvin to whisper their response into her ear. After listening, she stands up and faces the audience. ]
Nahid Jafari : These women say, we are wearing masks because wherever we go, instead of listening to our words, they look us up and down, judge our appearances, estimate our ages, and then decide who is the youngest and who is the prettiest. We are wearing these masks to spare you the trouble.
[ Nahid Jafari briefly turns back to check with the three women, and then faces the audience again. ]
Nahid Jafari : It is best that we begin. The topic of our speech is "violence against women." Will Ms. Firouzeh Mohajer please speak.
[ Nahid Jafari takes the microphone to Ms. Mohajer's mouth. Firouzeh silently moves her lips. After several seconds, the Public Prosecutor rises from her seat. ]
Public Prosecutor : We can't hear you, speak louder!
Nahid Jafari : Ms. Mohajer says that everyone remains silent about violence against women. When women protest, their voices are unheard. What have all the protests against unjust laws achieved?. Our laws not only do not support abused women, but subject them to further abuse. Ms. Arzani, who is an attorney, can say more.
Zohre Arzani : In societies whose laws are discriminatory and unequal, especially towards women, there is a great deal of violence because the discriminatory laws directly and indirectly perpetuate violence in society. In our country too, there is legal inequality against women, such as in the laws of retribution, blood-money, and family law. Despite the fact that in the Peking document all governments became bound to take steps to reduce violence against women, no significant steps have been taken in our society. When women are legally entitled to take action and file complaints, such as in instances of physical violence, they must undergo a long process where proof of the offence is so difficult that it inhibits women from taking action. For example, the court demands that the abused wife provide a third person to serve as witness to the act of violence. This is impossible because these crimes are committed within the confines of the home and away from the eyes of others.
Public Prosecutor : Well if violence against women is a legal concern, what is your beef with the people? Go get your rights from the law.
Simin Marashi : Hold on. The issue of violence is not just a legal one, and domestic violence is only one form perpetuated against women. Financial or economic violence has long roots in our society and is very important. It is common for men to forbid their wives from working. Then they belittle them and call them inept and lazy and control all the financial resources. Many women are trapped in situations where they feel fear, insecurity, hopelessness, and shame. Violence against women begins even earlier than childhood, before birth, and continues until death. In different stages of women's lives, it takes on different forms, sometimes occurring at the same time and sometimes repeating throughout a woman's life.
Nahid Jafari : Ms. Ahmadi, what is your opinion?
[ She takes the microphone next to Noushin's mouth but Noushin only mouths her words. ]
Public Prosecutor : Now what's that supposed to mean?
Nahid Jafari : Don't you remember International Women's Day two years ago when a university student publicly spoke out against sexual harassment on the streets and directly challenged the police for not protecting women? They never got over it and still bring that incident up. Yet, Homa Medah insists on telling her story about sexual harassment. See Homa over there? She's been speaking for some time now but no one listens to her. Coming to the center is very difficult for those on the margins like Homa, who is both a woman and young. Homa, come in front of the crowd and speak, but for godssake say it in a way so as not to create trouble.
[ Homa Medah pulls out a sheet of paper and begins reading. ]
Homa Medah : I draw myself in even further and squeeze my legs tightly against each other. I press my backpack to me and look out the window. The traffic's heavy. I want to roll down the window. I struggle to get a hold of the handle and even harder to turn it. Cold air hits my face. I think of my inability to say anything. The pressing becomes stronger. "Miss, roll up the window. We're freezing." Why can't I cry out that I'm being fondled back here? What pleasure does he get from pressing his body against mine? Why don't I say anything? Why don't I tell the driver to pull over so I can get out? No. Why should I get out? What did I do? Why should I strand my exhausted self on the highway instead of punishing him? I collect all my strength. I am a feminist. I am a member of a collective. I am young and expect much from the world. I am strong. I should open my mouth and say, "Mister, sit properly. Mister, stop taking up so much space." Now is the time. I open my mouth. Nothing comes out. Nothing. Nothing. I remember the countless times we discussed sexual harassment in the taxis during our weekly meetings. After every discussion, I swore that I would stand my ground the next time it happened. But if I open my mouth, whose side will the driver take? Mine or his? What about the other passengers? What will they say? "You think you're so hot, don't you? A little modesty would help," they might say. Or, "If you have a problem, get out." I take a look at him. He is middle-aged, in a gray suit with a huge attaché planted between his open legs, sitting like a king on a throne, pretending to be occupied with something else. Maybe I should boldly stare him down since speaking escapes me. Maybe that will shame him some. But he's casually looking the other way. The pressure increases and all the while, he's looking the other way. Tears form in my eyes. Why can't I say anything? If I don't speak up now, then what were all my discussions with my family and friends about? I look back at him. He's now looking this way, past me, as if searching for something. I swallow hard and press my lips together. I must say something. Instead, he says, "Driver, I'll get off here." I open the door and step out to let him get off. A muffled sound comes out of my throat, "pervert." I jump back in the taxi and shut the door. Such bravery. Dear God, what is happening to me? What is happening to us all?
Nahid Jafari : Homa wants her voice to be heard in taxis, not here. But she always forgets to take the memo she wrote to herself. Ms. Ardalan, what do you have to say about violence against women?
[ Nahid brings the microphone closer to Parvin but she also lip syncs. ]
Nahid Jafari : Ms. Ardalan says that since she cannot speak within the allowable legal framework, someone will have to translate her words.
Fa'ezeh Mohammadi : I am Fa'ezeh Mohammadi. I am a translator. My specialty, "Translating text within a legal framework," will soon be offered as a university course, although I am already an expert. Ms. Ardalan's words translates as thus: "There is no violence in society. Our lives are secure and we have no problems. That 22.5% of women prostitutes were sexually abused in childhood has nothing to do with our respectable families. That, according to statistics, the number of runaway girls have increased by 20% since 1986 and their average age has decreased from 16 to 13, has no relation to the way we live our private, public, and political lives. Our country's unstable economic condition is not responsible for these problems either. These runaway girls have most likely come from Mars. And no doubt, American oil cartels and multinationals are behind prostitution here."
Fakhri Shadfar : Excuse me, please stop right here. I am Fakhri Shadfar and I collected data and documents for the "Women and Men Against Violence campaign." Here is something from a newspaper clipping: According to an official, of the 547 billion spent on internet connection, 247 billion is spent on sex sites. In other words, 40 per cent of users rush to sex-related sites. These users are primarily from the middle class - us - and it indicates a serious problem. I doubt that these people are getting any proper information about sex on these sites. According to the same official who spoke to Sharq newspaper , 50% of sex workers' clients are married men.
Public Prosecutor : Lady, why are you misleading the public with this false propaganda? What sexual problem? With so many problems in our society, why are you focusing on this?
Nahid Keshavarz [ takes the mike from Fa'ezeh ] : Pardon me, I am Nahid Keshavarz. We organized the Domestic Violence Workshop. It was there that we realized sexual violence was so pervasive. Domestic violence occurs in the seclusion of the home, and because of social taboos, sexual violence is seldom publicized. But failing to bring attention to a problem doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Our experience and the experience of those women around us speaks of a major predicament. Social mores and customs prevent women from coming forward with their problems. Contrary to the popular belief that the home is a safe place for children, statistics show that the home is where most children are subject to attack and aggression. A study conducted on 50 victims (39 girls and 11 boys) of sexual violence between the ages of 12 and 16 revealed that 18 children were molested by their fathers, 7 by their brothers, 8 by other family members, 9 by neighbors, and only 4 by strangers.
Nahid Jafari : How about we let the speakers talk. Ms. Mohajer, why don't you say something?
Firouzeh Mohajer : It's better that Sahar Sajaadi speak. She is a physician and would like to speak about AIDS. You know that AIDS is a very important issue.
Public Prosecutor : Oh come on! Who's supposed to be doing the talking here? You or them? We came here to listen to you because of your status and position. These people are nobodies.
Nahid : Keep it down, Mister. All women are important. Stop trying to divide us. You've always divided us between good women and bad women, now you want to separate the nobodies from the somebodies. I suppose next will be the feminists and non-feminists. Sahar dear, please speak. If there is any day you should be allowed to speak, it is International Women's Day.
Sahar Sajaadi : HIV/AIDS is a major global problem and it is increasing in our country as well. Victims of sexual violence are at risk for catching transmittable diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis. They say that having multiple sexual partners increases the risk and that a strong family can safeguard individuals from such diseases. But the home is not safe for women, and in fact, only gives us a false sense of safety. In Iran, the majority of HIV-infected women were infected by their husbands - husbands who were intravenous drug users or who had other sexual partners. Many of the men were unaware of their infection. Some knew they were infected, but for fear of being abandoned by their wives, hid their disease. In some instances, they purposely infected their wives. As for the women, they were either unaware of their husbands' high-risk behavior, uninformed of proper prevention methods, or unable to persuade their husbands to use prevention.
Iran's family planning national policy has been very successful, but the method of contraception most encouraged and propagated by the state and most widely used within families has been the pill. Iranian women have dutifully performed their roles in lowering the birth-rate. But contraceptive pills and tubal ligation cannot prevent the spread of AIDS. That is why it is recommended to use condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS.
Nahid Jafari : Thank you, Sahar. Now I think it's time for that woman to speak. [ Nahid points to a woman whose face is battered and bruised. ] The one over there. I know her name but I dare not speak it. After all, we are a face-saving people. Her bruised face is not shameful, but exposing how she was bruised is shameful. Come forward. If you have always been silent, at least say something today, on International Women's Day. Say something.
[ The battered women, whose clothes are covered with scraps of paper written with women's names, walks through the audience, climbs up the stairs, and silently sits in the last row.
At the same time, Nahid Jafari's mobile phone rings. She answers the phone. ]
Nahid Jafari : Hello? Yes. yes.Who? From the College of Psychology. Yes. Excuse me, hold on please while we break for an announcement. [ A female university student walks across the stage holding a poster. Nahid changes her demeanor and addresses the audience. ] Tomorrow from 12-4 pm, the Women's Cultural Center and the College of Psychology Students' Association of the University of Tehran will hold an International Women's Day event around the issue of violence against women. We invite all university students to attend. [ Nahid returns to the phone and speaks. ] Yes, yes. [ She puts down the phone. ] They want to speak to you, Ms. Ahmadi. They would like you to give a talk at tomorrow's event. What should I tell them?
[ At that moment, Farshad Moradi enters the stage and begins yelling in anger. ]
Farshad Moradi : Goddammit! What's all this noise? I can never get any peace and quiet! What kind of life is this? Having a feminist wife only brings misery! Domestic bliss goes out the window! I've got work to do but nothing gets done because of all the ruckus these women create!
Nahid : Ms. Ahmadi, is this your husband?
Noushin Ahmadi : Yes, it is. Actually this is Farshad Moradi, who is playing the role of my husband since my real husband would never participate in such trivial events.
Nahid Jafari : Then this is Javad Mousavi Khusestani? The same person who published, The Book of Development , where he critically analyzed and condemned Iranian despotism? I read that he outlined the roots of despotism quite well.
Noushin : Yes, but as soon as he reaches the doorstep of our home, the pursuit of uprooting despotism effectively ends. In fact, he is currently working on an article about the necessity of democracy. Of course, democracy outside the home. My husband, like most men, is a great admirer of democracy so long as it doesn't have to be implemented at home.
Nahid : Did you prepare lunch for Mr. Mousavi before you left home today? Writing can be a terribly exerting process.
Public Prosecutor : Excuse me, but why are you dumping your personal issues here?
Mahsa Shekarloo [ speaking angrily ]: Wait a minute, do you really think that inequalities inside and outside the home are unrelated? Do you think a girl who is battered at home can defend her rights outside it? Can a man who violates his wife and children's most basic rights be a defender of freedom and democracy? It's because of people like you that we have no democracy. because you separate the private and the public and pursue your lofty ambitions only outside. No wonder things never change!
Nahid Jafari : Mahsa dear, don't get caught up in a heated discussion. Excuse us, Mr. Public Prosecutor, Mahsa Shekarloo is a bit upset. Mahsa dear, don't forget that whatever we do, people will blame our feminist beliefs. They'll say that feminists are all high strung neurotics. Oh, I forgot, they're still holding the line. They want to know whether Ms. Ahmadi, Ms. Ardalan, or Ms. Mohajer will speak at the International Women's Day event.
Parvin Ardalan : None of us will deliver a talk because we're suffering from nightmares.
Public Prosecutor : About what? What's this all about? Only once a year do we have the time or inclination to listen to you, and that is March 8. Now you won't even speak on this one day. Remember that we won't make any other time for you. At the very least, tell us what your bad dreams are about.
Nahid : We can watch their dreams if we like. Look over there. They are about to be sentenced.
[ Nahid gestures toward the stage, where Zohre, Nazanin, Talat, Mansoureh, and Mitra sit. Noushin, Firouzeh, and Parvin turn their chairs around so they face the stage and their backs are to the audience. ]
Zohre Arzani [ bangs her hand on the table ]: Court is in session.
Talat Taghinia : I am Afsaneh Norouzi. I'm really Talat Taghinia, but I will try to put myself in Afsaneh's place. I have been in prison for the past 6 years. I was 27 years old when my husband, children, and I went to Kish and stayed at my husband's friend's home. I cannot say his name. We are a poor family. My husband had to leave for several days for work-related reasons. I stayed behind with my children. After my husband left, our host tried to rape me. I defended myself and stabbed him to death. As God is my witness, I didn't intend to kill him. I was just defending myself. What else could I have done? The court doesn't believe that I acted in self-defense. But how can I prove it? People don't normally attempt rape in the open where there are witnesses. Some people say it was my fault because I was not completely covered, that I provoked him. Such things are always said about women. They also say the level of danger was not in proportion to my reaction. I shouldn't have used a knife to protect myself during those terrifying moments when I couldn't think straight. I suppose I should have sat him down and discussed the matter with him. If I had submitted to him, would I be facing stoning instead? I defended myself and now they say I shouldn't have killed him. For six years I've been in prison and my children are alone. My husband is pursuing my case, but he has neither money nor connections. This is my lot. My question is to you feminists, who claim to defend women's rights. What have you done to help me?
[ Mitra takes the microphone. ]
Mitra Shojaee : I am Kobra Rahmanpour. Actually, I'm Mitra Shojaee, but I interviewed Ms. Rahmanpour's attorney about her case and for that reason, I will speak as Kobra. I am 23 years old. I was 20 when this all began. Three years ago, I killed my 90-year old mother-in-law with a knife and was sentenced to death by the courts. At any moment, I can be taken to the gallows. I am the victim of two households: That of my family, who for reasons of extreme poverty, forced me to marry a 60-year old who had already been married and divorced three times and of my husband's. I met my husband through my aunt, who worked in his home on the city's north side. I thought if I married him, I could save my family and myself from a life of brutal poverty. Both him and his mother treated me very badly, like a piece of merchandise. Before we were married, I lived and worked in his house for three months. During that period, he had sex with me. It was only after my father filed a complaint and pressured him that he finally married me. Then one day, he drove me to Tajrish Square, handed me twenty thousand tomans ($16.00) and told me to go back to my father's home. I had nothing to return to. I would have wound up on the streets, probably having to sell myself. For that reason, I refused and returned to my husband's home instead. When my mother-in-law opened the door, she began cursing me and attacked me with a table knife. Four of my fingers were badly cut. I grabbed the knife from her. But frustration and hatred led me to attack and stab her, which led to her death. Now, I am awaiting execution. What have you feminists done to help me and countless others like me?
[ Mitra walks toward Mansoureh and hands her the microphone. Mansoureh steps forward. ]
Mansoureh Shojaee : I am Zahra Kazemi. I'm not actually Zahra Kazemi, I'm really Mansoureh Shojaee. Not far from here, the real Zahra Kazemi is buried underground, not resting in peace. I will agitate for her now. I am a journalist. After years of being away from Iran, during which I continued my education and pursued photography, I returned to my country with excitement and joy. Shortly after I arrived, I decided to make a report about the family members of imprisoned university students who had gathered outside Evin Prison. Afterwards, I was to visit my aging mother in Shiraz, who was counting the seconds to my arrival, and then to Canada to see my only child. Instead, I was arrested outside Evin while taking photographs. I was killed soon after while in custody. So soon that sometimes I think I was killed first and then arrested. My mother, who was afraid and alone, gave her consent to have me buried here instead of delivering my brutalized body to my waiting son. I was buried without any investigative autopsy, into the land in which I was born and where I eagerly returned so that I could write about its pains and participate in its joys. There has been silence ever since. You feminists, who claim to be the defenders of women's rights, what have you done for my trampled upon rights, for my old and mourning mother, and for my son who is wandering alone in a foreign land?
[ Noushin, Parvin, and Firouzeh turn back their chairs and face the audience. Zohre takes the microphone and addresses the three women. ]
Zohre Arzani : I am the attorney for the Women's Cultural Center, but here, I represent these plaintiffs. They have accused you three speakers of doing nothing for them even though you claim to have done much. Ms. Ahmadi, Ms. Ardalan, Ms. Mohajer, what have you to say in your defense?
Nahid Jafari : I am representing the three speakers and will recite their defense: We have taken action for the women. However, our numbers are small and our voices short-reaching. Of the 14 million population of Tehran, the only people who care about these issues are the people present here today plus a few others. A total of one thousand people, may be a bit more. You can see for yourselves how small we are. What else can we do? Our events' most consistent and loyal participants are the police. We have with us a letter demanding your release. We have written such letters before and tried to collect signatures, however, many refuse to sign.
Public Prosecutor : Excuse me, but Afsaneh Norouzi's and Kobra Rahmanpour's cases are problematic. That is why I, for one, refuse to sign.
Nahid Jafari : Mr. Public Prosecutor, you know that's not the reason. Every case, every issue can be "problematic" and every letter contains spelling mistakes and typos. The problem is much bigger than that. We have taken steps, but it is very difficult.
Zohre Arzani : These are just excuses and my clients have to return to prison soon. You did not defend yourselves, you only condemned others. You can justify all you want, but what will you do with your conscience? Aren't these women the subject of your nightmares?
Nahid Jafari : Yes, and what nightmares they are. [ Nahid turns to the three speakers. ] I can no longer defend you. It is best that you speak yourselves.
Firouzeh Mohajer : I think we should end this speech ensemble.
Parvin Ardalan : I agree, or else we will reach a point of no return. The best thing to do is to vacate the premises.
Nahid Jafari : Then, we will end the speech ensemble right here. If you genuinely want to applaud, then do. But please don't do so to be polite. Don't forget to sign the petitions for the release of Afsaneh Norouzi and Kobra Rahmanpour. We thank you for your attention. Good-bye.