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Equal Protection under the Law: Even when Women are At Fault

Wednesday 20 June 2007


By: Jelve Javaheri

Translated by: Roja Bandari

Sometimes I can hear her voice, like right now, a coarse and low voice. And another one like mine that says, “Leila, read me a poem.” Then with a voice not so captivating but certainly pleasant, she would recite a poem for me. Me who liked her.

Last night after many years, I dreamed of her again; of her turmoil when she would try to hide it from me. I said, “Leila, read me a poem” and with a pleasant voice, she read for me who liked her. and I was holding her hands, firmly! Lest I let go and she leave. I was holding her hands so I could have her for eternity, and she kept reading. She read for me and I still didn’t want to let go of her hands, the hands that I had forgotten about.

It was night-time, and I was thinking of the darkness of those days when we had no hope, when we were each other’s only shelter to calm the pain of our helplessness. What an endless void!

She was our jolliest classmate. I had known her for two years and we’d become fast friends since the first day we met. She was the best student in class and you could always see a novel in her hand underneath the desk hidden from the teacher’s eyes. She had bought many books in a sale and from her I learned about Hesse, Kafka and Camus. Sometimes you would see this pleasant and happy girl, so quiet and introverted. The first time I saw her like that, it felt as if all the sorrow in her eyes poured into my heart at once. Her voice was tired and depressed. She had cried all night. This old acquaintance was like many of my other friends, who came to class heartbroken and weary and would sometimes talk to me about home.

She was tired. All night she had heard her mother get squashed under her addict father’s punches and kicks in the bathroom. With every second of it, Leila had been humiliated along with her mother, because she hadn’t had the power to help her. She was a different Leila as she talked to me. She was deeper, as if she was speaking from the bottom of the sea. Her eyes cried out “what’s the point?” Depressed and hopeless. After that day we became permanent friends. Until the day that I heard about her suicide.

Leila was sitting in front of me and I was saying:
- Well, kill yourself, at least you’ll scare him!
Javaneh gave me a dirty look:
- Jelveh, you never understand what not to say.
And Leila:
- Actually he’s worried about that. I surprised him once too.

Leila, the best student in our school, was now locked up in a room and was not allowed to go out. She never picked up her university entrance exam card. This was Leila, who was in love with studying, and University could have been a place to soothe her hundred-year-old pain.

Leila died and it didn’t scare her father. The next years he was the same with Leila’s sisters. Leila’s mother kept getting trampled under his punches and kicks.

When I heard about her death, I was crushed under the weight of my powerlessness. Why couldn’t I ever do something? Many times this miserable mother wanted to get a divorce and Leila would beg her, “Mom, please don’t go. He won’t let us go with you. You saw how he threatened us with a knife. Please stay.” But the last time, it was Leila who wanted her mother to leave, “at least she should try to leave this cursed house. Maybe we can leave after her.”

Leila was one of many who were burning in the agony of their inability to decide about their own fate. With her death, this story remained in my mind forever. A story which I heard many times and tried to pass by. A repetition of other stories that we had heard—but with Leila’s death, they stayed permanently in my mind.

The story of Ensieh, my first grade classmate. How her husband threw her like a bag of potatoes down the stairs when she was pregnant and only sixteen years old. She bled so much that she died along with the 8 month-old child in her belly. She didn’t even have a family to file a claim.

The story of Lili who ran away on the day of her wedding because she had agreed to the marriage under the rain of her brother’s punches. She spent two months cleaning people’s houses to support herself and show her mother and brother that she would not share a bed with someone she didn’t like.

The story of Zahra who was getting crushed by her father’s multiple marriages. An alcoholic father. Every time he had a problem with Zahra’s mom, he would beat Zahra and we often saw her with bruises and black eyes in junior high.

The story of all those names in my neighborhood, Akram, Maryam, Zahra, all of those who loved to study but were forced by their fathers to marry men they didn’t know. When they were only 12,13, or 14 years old. Leila is the one who has kept all of these memories alive for me. Those days we didn’t know a women’s movement nor did we know that there were people who were working on women’s rights. Those days, there was no Campaign and no hope and we only thought about death. How I wish Leila was here among the Campaign’s activists! Only if she was here and thousands of women who were squashed in their attics and all of my neighbors who married by force, only if they were all here. Things we wouldn’t all do together!

My dream of Leila has awakened the memory of those dark days for me. Now that my cousin is sitting in front of me, I speak to her with such passion that I see tears in her eyes. I know she hasn’t signed the Campaign’s petition, but these words that are coming from the bottom of my soul have shaken her. She has an authoritarian husband and I have seen throughout the years how he has the final word on everything. But despite all the illusions that he has about the male gender, he now starts to defend the rights of women, “even if women are wrong in all the arguments, the law must be equal.”

How I needed to hear that sentence! Now Leila’s anxious face has disappeared and I could hear her laughter. The laughter that, like always, came from the bottom of her heart.

Read this article in Farsi

 

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