The story of this year’s Women’s History Month will end with a grim sentence: 33 years and 148 lashes. The Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh received the new prison term after reportedly having been found guilty of “colluding against the system, propaganda against the system … disrupting public order” and several other counts – and the sentence of corporal punishment for appearing in court without the hijab, Islamic head covering “and other offenses.”
As a lawyer, she had defended several women arrested for not adhering to the mandatory dress code for women appearing in public in Iran. She had also defended juveniles
She has not appealed the sentence, of which she will serve 12 years, because she does not want to place another lawyer in jeopardy for defending her. One wonders, though, how she could possibly survive the lashes. Already in prison she has been beaten and tortured.
Like thousands of people across the world, we are appalled at this ruling and aghast at what it means for humanity. Amnesty International has an online petition to quash the sentence (amnestyinternational.org).
The cowards who imposed this sentence and the thugs who will carry it out will largely remain unknown to us but their cruelty will not be forgotten.
If this present-day story of perverse justice is unique, it is only in its Iranian trappings and reversion to barbarism. It is a story whose basics are sickeningly familiar: Women suffer at the hands of men.
In some areas of the world, law and religion are twisted enough to sanction violence against women. In areas that may consider themselves “modern,” popular culture – television, movies, magazines, radio, music and even language itself – promotes violence against women or, at best, works to numb society into the tolerance or normalization of it.
Sometimes violent actions are called to account, but sometimes even the court of public opinion is slow to act. And when a case or instance does reach some sort of resolution, it is all too often after irreversible harm has occurred.
One way to consider women’s history, then, is to look at what has been taken away or was never “given.” The rocky and pain-filled path toward equal treatment then might seem like Sisyphus’ eternal task: to climb up the mountain, pushing a stone that near the top eludes his grasp and rolls back down to the bottom.
But many mountains have in fact been scaled, and setbacks are just that. Even when they are monumental, the barriers are surmountable. Sometimes we smash them, and sometimes we just chip and pry and whittle.
The history of women is far greater than the story of its myriad victims. It is the story of triumph and refusal – triumphs built on victories, however small, and refusals to let barriers stand.
Women have opposed war, protected their children, served their countries, dug wells, planted trees, improved working conditions and made medical and scientific breakthroughs. They have taught and loved and counseled, often without credit or even acknowledgement.
Their story is now our story, and in this time of misogyny and xenophobia, we will not just stand and resist. With sorrow in our hearts – for Nasrin Sotoudeh and the many other women tortured, raped, beaten or killed because they were women or because they said something or believed something or stood up for something or someone – we will move forward.
We know others will join us. We are not alone.