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Iranian Women Leadership During Iran’s November 2019 Uprising

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The November 2019 uprising in Iran was a crucial turning point, highlighting the substantial leadership role played by brave women. However, it wasn’t until the nationwide protests in 2022 that their contribution gained international attention. In tandem with men, Iranian women and girls boldly took to the streets, engaging in protests and advocating for their rights within a system that had historically marginalized them from political, social, and economic spheres. This uprising brought to the forefront the longstanding discontent within society, indicating a turning point and the potential for positive transformation.

The noteworthy involvement of women in the protests did not escape the notice of Iranian state media. On November 20, 2019, the Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), published CCTV camera screenshots showing women providing directions to protesters in various locations.

“The remarkable involvement of women in recent disturbances is conspicuous,” Fars wrote. “In various locations, especially on the outskirts of Tehran, women, seemingly aged 30 to 35, play a special role in leading the disturbances. Observations by a reporter from ‘Sobh-e No’ Daily show that these women dressed in a similar manner. Each has a distinct role; one records the protests, another stops vehicles, and yet another incites the people, urging them to join the ranks of the disturbances. The question of why women have become field commanders in recent disturbances itself warrants scrutiny… The vibrant presence of women has been a significant factor in stirring the emotions, sentiments, and societal zeal, deliberately harnessed by some opposing movements to extend the protests.”

On the same day, Javan, another newspaper affiliated with the IRGC, openly acknowledged that women were inspired by the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MEK/PMOI). The newspaper stated, “A specific role was designated for women, involving both the targeting of Basij sisters’ centers and encouraging the youth. The manner in which women participated closely resembled the tactics employed by the  Mujahedin organization.”

Subsequently, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, then Minister of Interior, shed light on the influential role played by women in Iran. He provided additional insight: “Within the streets, approximately two to three hours after sunset, we encountered forces engaged in these scenes. They typically operated in groups of four or five individuals, sometimes six, with a woman often accompanying them. This woman played a dual role, inciting and inviting others to join the protest.”

However, these audacious efforts came at a significant cost. Throughout the November 2019 uprising, numerous courageous women, numbering in the dozens if not hundreds, lost their lives. Their sacrifice served as a poignant message to the oppressive clerical regime, illustrating that a new generation is following a path blazed by thousands of their sisters who had gone before them.

Several cities, including Tehran, Karaj, Tabriz, Baharestan, Ahvaz, Shahr-e Ray, Robat Karim, Abadan, Behbahan, Mahshahr, Sanandaj, and Kermanshah, bore witness to the sacrifice of these female freedom fighters.

Although the exact number of martyrs remains unknown, certain cities stand out based on available and compiled names recorded by the Iranian people and the Resistance. Notable examples include:

  • Karaj with six martyrs
  • Tehran with five martyrs
  • Robat Karim with three martyrs
  • Abadan with three martyrs

However, among these cities, Ahvaz stands out with 14 martyrs, including Masoumeh Darabpour, Maryam Eydani, Zeinab Neysanpour, Mohadeseh Moghadam, Fariheh Karimzadeh, Fatemeh Haqverdi, Shahla Baledi, Kowsar Tabe Matughi, Reyhaneh Maleki, Soheila Fallahzadeh, Kowsar Boghlani, Nasrin Boghlani, Fariba Al-Khamis, and Maryam Esmaili, who proved that the potential for such groundbreaking audacity exists even in a region where women face the most deprivation and restrictions.

After the brutal crackdown of the November 2019 uprising, even though the clerical dictatorship celebrated for the umpteenth time that it had not been ousted yet, there were more than 1,500 martyrs who proved the regime wrong in its perception that the nation had forgotten its roots and the tens of thousands of souls before them who preferred to die in honor but reject a mere living on their knees.

Primarily, it was the women and girls, long subjected to the misogynistic oppression of the clerical regime throughout their lives, who defied the tyrannical laws and assumed roles as leaders and pioneers of resistance. In the recent history of Iran, which has witnessed tens of thousands of heroines, these women stood out as symbols of resilience.

While the world may have overlooked this significant milestone, the mullahs, whose rule trembled during the November 2019 uprising, did not. The events must have served as a reminder of a prediction made by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance, during a grand meeting of the Iranian Resistance at Earlscourt Hall, London, on June 21, 1996.

At that time, she warned the misogynistic mullahs, stating, “You have done your utmost to humiliate, suppress, torture, and slaughter Iranian women, but rest assured that you would receive the blow from the very force you discounted, the very force whom your reactionary mindset cannot allow you to take into consideration.”