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In Iran, Global Social Action to End Violence Against Women Takes on Local Forms

Iranians have joined the One Billion Rising global campaign to end violence against women. The global campaign, now in its second year, calls on supporters in different countries to gather publicly on 14 February 2014, and collectively dance for justice for women. Since strict prohibitions in Iran on public assemblies make collective “risings” an obvious impossibility, Iranians have turned to different methods of participation.

The One Billion Rising–Iran group has created a Facebook page to serve as the main platform for Iranians’ participation in the global campaign. Iranians from inside and outside Iran have been invited to make short videos, in which people are shown dancing or stomping their feet in public, without revealing their faces or any other identifying features. 

On 14 February, Valentine’s Day, as One Billion Rising events are being held in dozens of countries throughout the world, the Iran group will distribute balloons in Tehran to women, men, and children, emblazoned with the words “Love and Equality.” The Iran organizers, which include activists and artists, added equality in their campaign messages to highlight global and local realities. One aim is to promote equality as a value in intimate relations, where across the globe, violence against women often takes place. But also, given Iranian women’s rights activists long struggle to achieve gender equality, it serves as a reminder that legal equality continues to be denied to Iranian women, especially in family law, and more recently, in educational and employment policies as well.

The Facebook page features numerous videos of women and men in Iran putting their footwork to use, including one video that uses computer animation to imagine a couple dancing the waltz in front of the Azadi (Freedom) Tower in Tehran. In another popular video, a young woman suddenly stops her walk through a bustling Tehran neighborhood, lifts her arm in a gesture of empowerment and begins glide dancing across the sidewalk to the music playing inside her head. By necessity, the videos are short and simple, and the numbers of dancers on the streets are few, so as not to attract the undue attention of authorities.

While Iranians are used to adjusting the scope of their activism to current political climates, it is the use of dance as a vehicle for serious expression that is new for social action in Iran. According to one of the organizers,

When we initially discussed the idea with some women’s rights activists, we were surprised to see the skepticism about using dance as a form of social protest. Dancing was viewed as a frivolous activity or a kind of escapism. But there is a long history in many cultures and communities where dance has been used as a form of both social cohesion and peaceful protest.

Ultimately, it may have been the appeal of trying newer modes of expression, like dancing, on the well-trodden path of street action that drew the particular group of Iranian activists and artists to launch a local One Billion Rising, despite persistent restrictions in Iran.

As explained on the OBR–Iran Facebook page,

We take to the streets because they form the fabric of our lives. The streets are our stomping grounds. They hold our memories, pain, and joys. They are where we find our allies and friends and where we become aware of dangers. They are where we take refuge when our homes become unsafe. It is on the streets where we have discovered our voices and also have lost our lives. The streets are where we articulate our demands and where we haggle and negotiate, not just with the merchant, but also with the ruler and sovereign. Stomping in the streets is a way for us to arrive at reconciliation, equality and social justice for all. This action is for those who want joy for themselves and for others, and who are willing to stomp for it.

To learn more about the One Billion Rising–Iran and to watch the videos:

To learn more about the One Billion Rising global campaign:

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