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Maryam Firouz, the Unforgettable Figure of the Women’s Movement in Iran

The brilliant record of women’s movement in Iran that has fought for freedom and justice, is adorned with many memorable figures, every one of whom has been an active vanguard of their time and has played an invaluable role in the struggle of Iranian women for their rights. These courageous women held aloft the banner of struggle for freedom and against antiquated traditions in a patriarchal society that was gravely poor and illiterate. With the establishment of trade unions, political and civic organizations, along with other freedom-loving forces, they embarked on the struggle for freedom from tyranny, the ruling reaction and the violation of women’s human rights. The steadfast struggle continues to-date albeit with its own ebbs and flows, so much so that women’s struggle in Iran, today, plays a key role in the fight against tyranny and reaction, and is recognised as one of the main pillars of our people’s popular movement.

There rose women who formed the first country-wide women’s organization in Iran, the Democratic Organization of Iranian Women (DOIW). Maryam Firouz was one of these militant women.

Comrade Maryam Firouz, the leader of DOIW, is undoubtedly one of these brilliant women and a vanguard in Iranian women’s movement for freedom and equality. She was born in 1914 and joined the Tudeh Party of Iran as a youngster. She fought hard for women’s right to vote, and to raise the awareness of women about their basic human rights. She was sentenced to death by Mohammad Reza Shah’s regime for her activism and had to go underground from 1948. After the 1953 coup, she was forced into exile. She continued to learn French in exile and received a doctorate degree (PhD) in French language and became a university professor in the German Democratic Republic.

Comrade Maryam Firouz who had spent most of her life in secret and in exile, returned to Iran, along with her husband, Comrade Kianoori, soon after the victory of the 1979 revolution. She immediately set about reviving DOIW and expanding its organizations. Soon, hundreds of women joined the organization across the country. Fighting for the ideals of the popular revolution of Iran and working among the marginalized people, particularly women, were the main concerns of Comrade Maryam and her comrades. Fighting for the rights of women was no small sin in the eyes of the misogynist reactionary regime that was gradually appropriating the people’s revolution.

Comrade Maryam was the first woman to be elected as a member of the central committee of the Tudeh Party of Iran (TPI) and was later elected to serve on its political bureau. Comrade Maryam was arrested in 1983 during the regime’s vicious attack on the TPI and DOIW. She was imprisoned at the age of 86 and suffered brutal physical and psychological torture to renounce her beliefs and values. The regime’s security forces arranged for books and memoirs to be published about her and even a film was made about her life to portray her life as they wished. They continued their scheme right up to the last days of her life, when she was frail and over 90 years old. Contrary to the regime’s portrayal of her, it is Maryam Firouz’s life-long struggle against dictatorship and inequality, and the book titled ‘The Brilliant Figures’ that she wrote before the 1979 revolution, are testament to her beliefs. She was a broad-minded intellectual, a committed and brave woman who denounced life of privilege and broke with outdated traditions to fought against gender and class discrimination.

The theocratic regime’s brutal treatment and torture of her was not personal but due to her association with the Tudeh Party of Iran, and the Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women of which she was a founder, and the beliefs for which she had fought and to which she was devoted until the last day of her life. The DOIW was once banned and suppressed by the Shah’s regime and after the takeover of the theocratic regime, its members and sympathizers were arrested and jailed once again.

Today, the new generation of Iranian women and girls have learned from their militant forerunners to break antiquated traditions, to organize their struggle, and to win their human rights. They are opening their own way in various ways, despite all the persecution and discrimination they face in the misogynist and patriarchal society created by the current theocratic regime. They are steadily and steadfastly advancing the struggle in cultural and social arenas, from literature, film, science and technology, to activism on issues like the environment, human rights, discrimination and violence against women, the right to choose one’s clothing and against forced hejab, fighting against child labour, child marriage, etc. They are challenging medieval laws and regulations of the current regime, alongside the popular protest movements across the country.

In her final years of her life, and after years of torture and detention, comrade Maryam Firouz never lost sight of the people’s struggle and followed it closely. When she passed away at the age of 94, in March 2008, the regime ensured that she was buried in secret without those who loved and cared for her able to say farewell to her.

With the death of comrade Maryam Firouz, the women’s movement in Iran lost one of its most steadfast fighters.

Her memory lives on forever in the minds of the people of Iran.

March 2020