In honor of Women’s History Month, Dr. Farzeneh Milani, a professor at the University of Virginia, hosted a dialogue Wednesday about women in Iran and Islamic culture.
Milani is a professor of Persian studies and studies in women and gender at the university.
Milani lectured about female Iranian writers. She also talked about the suppression of Iranian women and how they used words to combat it.
Milani began her discussion with a story of a woman who relied on poetry and words to get her message across.
She fought for justice with dignity, with words not swords. She used her poetry to bare witness, condemn and fight for justice.
“Words can be a very strong tool to fix problems and Iranian women have done just that. Cultures, like people, are full of paradoxes. Iran is a land of paradoxes.”
Iranian women are prize-winning authors, CEOs, award-wining directors and Grammy nominees. But, they do not get the same respect as men.
Milani noted a number of changes that occurred after the Iranian Revolution.
The life expectancy of Iranian women has increased from 64 to 72 in the last couple of years, and the average age of marriage among women has moved from nine years old to 24.
Female children are now attending school in Iran. Attendance to elementary school for women is now 95 percent.
The first novel published by an Iranian woman was in 1964. Currently in Iran, there are about 370 female novelists, almost equal to the amount of male novelists. There are almost 104 publishers who are women, and before the revolution there were none.
Although strides have been made, women in Iran still lack political representation. Women cannot be judges and they have lower paying jobs and higher unemployment rates.
Milani checked the New York Times bestseller booklist and discovered up to the early ‘80s there were no books about Iranian women or by an Iranian woman.
“After the hostage crisis, a slew of books made it to the bestseller list,” Milani said. “Almost every one of those books that made it to the bestseller list talked about hostages. Iran is still being held hostage to our hostage ordeal.”
Milani said some authors have lied about being taken hostage in Iran because they know that will help their sales.
Milani said women have fought a long time to obtain their rights.
“For years, women have been at the forefront of modernizing civil disobedience in a nonviolent way, to get their point across” Milani said. “Women have faced batons and bullets with empty hands and life-fuming words.”
Milani said there is nothing more important than respecting each other.
“If you respect a woman or a man, you have to respect their choice and that is the end of it.”