Women, Life, Freedom: Why I Am Singing Iranian Women’s Anthem This International Women’s Day

Being an advocate for abortion access right now feels like you are being swallowed by quicksand.  

Every time you grab for a piece of democracy to pull you to safety, the anti-abortion extremists throw it into the sand.  

The whole system and you are sinking.  

As an Iranian American, this quicksand feeling gives me déjà vu.  

Growing up, my family would recount stories of how the revolution in Iran quickly pivoted from a mass movement overthrowing a king to an extremist taking authoritarian control. How the authoritarian religious leader tore down every institution and replaced them with entities and individuals that would only advance his agenda. And from mandating women to veil to pushing them out of their jobs, the state was quick to smother women’s rights first in their effort to tear down the rights of all Iranians. 

Listening to my family’s stories about their home country, I have always understood that rollbacks in women’s rights are a harbinger for the loss of other rights and freedom.  

But now, I have my own stories to tell—because the very same trend is playing out here, in my home country, across our nation and throughout our states.  

In the same year the Supreme Court took away our right to abortion, state and local lawmakers have become even more emboldened to ban health care for transgender individuals, ban books, ban education about our country’s history of racism, and the list goes on and on. 

Not to mention, judges across our country now feel empowered to function as political actors—rather than impartial enforcers of the law. This politicization is glaringly evident in their recent decisions restricting voting, upending public health by striking down pandemic measures, hurting immigrants in crisis, and the list goes on and on.   

I grew up with my family and family friends telling me how, in the initial years of the Iranian Revolution, they thought they would be protected. That the rollback of rights wouldn’t really affect them. But it always does. The rights taken away from some inevitably become a training ground for how to take rights away from all.  

So maybe you weren’t worried when the Supreme Court took away the right to abortion. It didn’t directly affect you. Maybe you won’t notice a difference in your life if a single Trump judge decides to force a medication for abortion off the markets. But these decisions are infecting our democracy. They are linking arms with similar efforts to attack other rights and spreading sickness.  

What happened in Iran can happen anywhere—because there is hatred for women everywhere. After all, it was also men in robes (and one woman) who took away our right to abortion this past summer. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  

We can fight back, just as the women in Iran are fighting back. Authoritarianism relies on people giving up because they think they cannot change anything. But Iranian women—especially the youth—are saying enough is enough.  

They are singing, screaming, at the top of their lungs:  

Zan, Zendigi, Azadi.  

Women, Life, Freedom. 

So on today’s International Women’s Day, let us repeat that refrain—and resist any and all attempts to take away the rights of women, which soon become the rights of all.