EDINBURG, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Two Rio Grande Valley professors who left Iran felt compelled to bring awareness to the cultural upheaval underway in the country after centuries of suppressing women’s rights.
Sara Ahmadi, assistant professor in practice at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, left Iran at the age of 30 in December 2011 in pursuit of a Ph.D. in the United States. Her husband, Siamak Javadi, is also an assistant professor at UTRGV for finance.
Javadi, born and raised in Iran, left when he was 28 to move to the U.S. in 2008.
The two sense the momentum of a woman’s rights revolution that was thwarted after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, who was arrested by the country’s morality police earlier this month for violating the state dress code.
She collapsed the day she was arrested and died a few days later from what Iranian authorities have said was a heart attack, The Hill reported Monday.
Since Amini’s death, people have taken to the streets to protest her death and fight for women’s rights. “Woman, life, freedom” are the words being used on social media and in the streets to convey how women in Iran are paying for their freedom with their lives.
The potential start of a second revolution comes as a result of the 1979 revolution when Islamic laws became the law of the land.
“That automatically ranked women as second-class citizens in Iran and it all started after 1979,” Ahmadi said.
Before coming to America, Ahmadi worked as a professor for eight years in Iran. As a young professor, she experienced many embarrassing situations as a result of the rules relating to proper hijab wear.
Ahmadi said while lecturing in Iran, two of her own students, who were religious, reported her to the morality police for wearing jeans under her dress. She said it was a serious issue and she received a confidential letter stating she needed to go in person and talk to authorities.
The professor said she was told by the morality police that she needed to comply with the hijab rules or be fired.
“I remember that I felt so humiliated and it was such a horrible feeling for me that after I came back and I sat in my car, I was sobbing for an hour,” Ahmadi said.
This is just one example of the microscope that Iranian women are under in their country.
This summer, particularly, Ahmadi said the hijab police or morality police increased their numbers.
“People were like ‘that doesn’t make any sense,'” she said. “Instead of fixing our issues and problems, you’re increasing the number of hijab police for checking our proper hijab.”
The couple said they fear for the lives of their family who live in Iran. When the internet is not being banned in their home country, their loved ones tell them about the different ways women are punished for not meeting the hijab-wearing standards.
“This is common knowledge, it happens to so many people around you,” Javadi said. ‘It’s not like these things are happening in a vacuum. It’s happening on a daily basis. You have to remember the context that this is an autocratic totalitarian government. So, the definition of a proper hijab kind of varies depending on the situation. … when it is election time the law kind of bends, and they’re not really arresting everyone.
“When the situation is calm, they may just take you in and have you sign a form that you won’t do it again and don’t make a big deal out of it. But in a situation like this in the middle of a demonstration, you will be screwed. If you are arrested, that is probably going to change the trajectory of your life.”
For Ahmadi, her frustration lies in feeling like the more powerful women become, the more laws are passed to suppress them.
An example of this is that Iranian women are the majority in universities. As a result, the Iranian parliament is trying to curve admission so that not as many women will attend, Javadi said.
The treatment of women as second-class citizens who are not allowed to make decisions for themselves is frustrating to the educated couple.
“The women in Iran are not housewives,” Ahmadi said. “Most of them are independent and they are educated. … As an independent, strong woman, you always live a dual life because you have to pretend to be something that you’re not. You have to cover your head even though you don’t believe in that.
Ahamadi aims to spread awareness by talking about the situation in Iran in the U.S. and hopes to change the narrative surrounding Iranian women and their hijab.
She wants the public to realize that women do not wear hijab as a choice, but because if they do not, they will be killed.
“You have to pretend that you’re a lot of other things just to maintain your job, be able to go to university, get the education that you want, every area.”
Javadi hopes that this revolution will come to fruition and ultimately overthrow the government in Iran.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the U.S. to reset its policy toward Iran and instead of basically selling out Iranians, support them,” he said.
Javadi would like to see the U.S. walk away from negotiations and convince allies to do the same and support the Iranians by informing the public.
“How can that be done, by informing other fellow U.S. citizens so that they can put pressure on their representatives so that the administration and the legislative body in the U.S. realize that it is not worthwhile talking to these murderers,” Javadi said.