Former prisoner of Iran, Sussan Golmohammadi, was a student at UCLA in the 1970s while her parents were in Iran during the oppressive Shah regime. It was at UCLA that she learned of the revolution that was taking place in her own country.
“I met students who stood up against the Shah,” she said during the International Women’s Day march in Westwood on Saturday. “I returned in 1979 because we were told that we would have more freedom to work and go to school.”
But freedom for women never came.
Golmohammadi’s husband was killed and she was imprisoned for three years after returning to Iran and joining the women’s movement. After her release from prison, she was placed on house arrest for 10 years and told not to leave the country. But Golmohammadi joined the hundreds of women who exiled to Europe and became activists.
On Saturday, Golmohammadi stood among hundreds of men, women and children in Westwood who gathered to show their support for women’s rights around the world.
Supporters of the International Women’s Day Coalition, who led the march, gathered at noon on Wilshire and Veteran avenues and marched through Westwood to El Conte Avenue, near the UCLA campus.
Many participants denounced the Iranian and U.S. regimes by wearing placards that read, “No more patriarchal laws in Islamic and imperialist regimes.”
The coalition has been conducting annual marches since 1911, but this year their message was different.
“This time we have two enemies: the Islamic Republic of Iran and U.S. imperialism,” said Mary Lou Greenberg, a long-time human activist and member of the New York chapter of the International Women’s Day Coalition.
“Our message is that we don’t need to choose between the two regimes. We are here to liberate ourselves,” she said.
Greenberg came to Los Angeles to help organize Saturday’s march. The L.A. chapter of the coalition conducted a Women’s Day march two years ago, but the crowds were much smaller. This time, nearly 500 people gathered in Westwood to join their cause.
People on the street watched as the crowd made its way through the largely Iranian community where several shops advertised their businesses in Farsi, the primary language of Iran. The crowd chanted, “Break the chains for the women of Iran, break the chains for the women of the world” as it passed through the neighborhood streets.
Most of the onlookers watched in silence, refusing to comment to the press, while a few oppositionists yelled at the crowd, blaming them for blocking traffic.
“Go back to your own country and leave us alone,” one man shouted as he pushed his way through the crowd to the other side of the street.
Overall, the peaceful march was well organized with police officers in cars and on motorcycles escorting supporters as they made their way through the streets of Westwood.
As the war in Iraq and Afghanistan continues and the U.S. threatens war on Iran, the plight for women has become more intensified. Women are caught in the middle of both regimes, said Greenberg.
“The U.S. tries to promote the war on terror by saying they are concerned about women,” said Greenberg to the Westwood crowd. “But this isn’t true. They are not helping to liberate women. They are making it worse.”
The International Women’s Day website states that while the U.S. claims to be a “liberator” of Iraq, they have actually caused nearly one million deaths and the disruption of millions of families. Many female children who have escaped the U.S. bombs and raids have been sold into prostitution.
A’iacute;da Reyes is a member of The World Can’t Wait national organization. She came to the L.A. march from San Diego to show solidarity with women around the world and to speak out against U.S. imperialism.
“It’s not just in Iran. It’s the same as in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Reyes. “The U.S. is using women as the pretext to liberate them. They are bringing troops to implement democracy but they are not doing it for us.”
The World Can’t Wait organization distributed orange ribbons to the crowd as part of their “Declare It Now” campaign.
The orange ribbon has become a national symbol calling for people against torture, war and oppression to make their support visible.
“The orange ribbon means that we are in solidarity against these things,” said Adela R’iacute;os, member of the organization. “It is not enough to sit at home and get upset at your TV. If you don’t make it visible, it doesn’t count.”
Alison Scott, president of the Students for Critical Thinking club at California State University Los Angeles marched with the crowd. Her nine-member group endorsed the coalition to bring awareness to the student population.
“It’s important for us to recognize how crucial this is to what our own future could be like. It’s not limited to someone else,” said Scott. “We have a strong culture of objectifying and taking advantage of women, even if it is not overt. In a lot of the ways it is subtly embedded in our culture.”
Scott spoke out about the U.S. sanctions against Iran, saying that we are being led into another war by the pretense of protecting women’s rights.
“They say they want to liberate women but what they want is oil and to be in with the people in control so that they can have economic connections,” said Scott. “That’s more important to them than helping women.”
Scott said that many people support the coalition and many have been against it for religious reasons. She cited an incident when a woman wearing a hijab admonished the organization for speaking out against the religious practice of wearing the head and body covering.
“The distinction people need to make is we’re not saying, ‘Don’t have religion involved in your life and don’t wear the veil,'” Scott said. “We’re saying, ‘Women should not be forced to wear the veil. They should have a choice.'”
“We can’t go out in public without wearing the hijab, we can’t wear anything except the Islamic (head-to-toe) covering,” said Mona Roshan, who spent eight years in an Iranian prison for being part of the women’s movement.
Roshan was two months pregnant when she was arrested and tortured by Iranian officials. She spoke out on Saturday against the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Every day thousands of women are stoned to death because they have exercised their basic rights and it has been worse since the U.S. invasion,” she said. “Our revolution becomes the blame because the U.S. says they are there to liberate us. We don’t want them there.”
The invasion of Iraq, which began on March 20, 2003, was led by the United States and eventually became the Iraq War. The objectives of the invasion were to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to free the Iraqi people.
In the fifth anniversary of the war’s beginning, no WMDs have been found and the oppression of women has worsened, said Cindy Sheehan, an anti-war activist whose son, Casey, died in the Iraqi War.
In 2006, the International Women’s Day Coalition joined Golmohammadi, Roshan and many other exiled Iranian women in Europe for a five-day march for women’s rights. The event began on March 4 in Frankfurt, Germany and ended on March 8 in The Hague (Netherlands). The crowd moved on foot through the cities, then by car caravan to the next stop, protesting in front of the embassies of the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
On Saturday, they brought their cause to the streets to Westwood. Simultaneous marches occurred in Brussels, Iran, Turkey, San Francisco and many other areas across the world.
“The women’s struggle belongs to the world,” said Golmohammadi. “We want to unify with American women. We don’t want to choose between Iran and the U.S. We choose to liberate our