'Now I can fly': 3 Iranians in St. John's reflect on being a woman in Iran — and Canada

Together with other women, Leila Moradi, right, performed the feminist protest chant A Rapist in Your Path at a rally for Iranian women on International Women's Day. (Curtis Hicks/CBC - image credit)
Together with other women, Leila Moradi, right, performed the feminist protest chant A Rapist in Your Path at a rally for Iranian women on International Women's Day. (Curtis Hicks/CBC - image credit)
Curtis Hicks/CBC
Curtis Hicks/CBC

While International Women's Day is an opportunity for many in Canada to celebrate women's achievements and to draw attention to persisting problems, the day has a very different significance for Iranian women.

For Maryam Hajheidari, this year's International Women's Day is special — a chance to point to women's rights issues in her home country.

"One of the aim to celebrate the International Women's Day is just to raise awareness for the discrimination. And Iran is one of the good sample that you can see discrimination," said Hajheidari.

"We want to show the people that how women in Iran have been discriminated for a long time."

Hajheidari, originally from Isfahan, one of Iran's largest cities, came to St. John's in early 2016 to complete her master's degree and now works for the Association for New Canadians.

Together with other members of the Iranian community and the movement Women Life Freedom N.L., she organized a rally Wednesday afternoon on Memorial University's St. John's campus.

The event, attended by more than 50 people, was one of many rallies in support of Iranian women held globally Wednesday. Protests erupted in Iran, and internationally, after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was killed while in Iranian police custody in September, calling for more women's rights and a regime change.

While women in Canada also continue to face issues like pay inequity and sexual violence, Hajheidari said Iranian women are still fighting for the bare minimum.

"We don't know how equity would be look like because we are still fighting for equality. And we know that equality is not enough," she said. "But how we can think about equity once we are still looking for our basic rights?"

Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

Leila Moradi, born in West Iranian city Kermanshah, also helped organize the event. Moradi, who came to St. John's in the fall of 2021 to study, works for Blue Sky, an organization that provides care for children and families.

Between being a woman in Iran and in Canada, there's "a big gap," said Moradi. Even in Canada, she still sometimes questions her rights, due to years of oppression in Iran.

"There are a lot of insecurities in Iran but here — not much. We have something like, the women are always invisible. So you can see it here, too, but in those countries it's awful. It's really awful," said Moradi.

"In Iran, so we always have a special fear for talking about something.… So, just silent every time."

Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

Hajheidari agrees — she knows first-hand the restrictions on women's rights in the Middle Eastern country, especially the discrimination of mothers, who aren't allowed to request a birth certificate for their own child and have no custody rights in case of a divorce.

"I was the one that gave birth. I was the one that carried my baby nine months. And now I don't have any right to even request for a birth certificate," said Hajheidari. "We are invisible. They don't want to see us."

Fatmah also knows what the situation for Iranian women is like. She was born in Tehran, Iran's capital, and came to St. John's in January to complete her bachelor's degree. CBC News agreed to withhold Fatmah's last name over concerns for the safety of her family in Iran.

While she doesn't perceive much of a difference between men and women in Canada, being a woman in her home country, she said, is hard.

"It's anything but a person. Not a human," said Fatmah.

"Your opportunities are so low, the chances you have compared to a man. A man is just up there and you're down there. Follow them. That's all we are known for."

Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

International Women's Day is not something she has ever celebrated, Fatmah said, but she agrees — this year, it's a special occasion.

"We are saying, 'We want freedom. This is the woman's day. This is our day,'" said Fatmah. "We deserve so much. And we are going to get it at the end."

Hajheidari and Moradi want international action to help the revolutionary movement in Iran. They will continue to speak out for women's rights themselves — acknowledging that living in Canada, they now have the chance to do so.

"I really feel free," said Moradi.

"I was walking in my country, but right now I can fly."

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