Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani

The Two Storytellers of the Women’s Prison And the Imaginary Literature of the One Million Signatures Campaign

Translated By Simin D

Saturday 28 April 2007

We have gathered here today to talk about two friends from the women’s movement — Nahid Keshavarz and Mahboube Hosseinzadeh — who have been arrested for collecting signatures to change discriminating laws against women. Even though they’re in prison, I do not intend to speak here of shackles and red-hot pokers and I do not want to speak of insults and daggers, for I know this language is not what Nahid Keshavarz and Mahboube Hosseinzadeh nor the women’s movement wants to promote. I do not intend to say what the “enemy” has done to us, for creating enemies has no place in the minds of Nahid and Mahboubeh but rather in those who even fear their own shadows. I do not want to create divisions within the women’s movement by separating the authentic from the inauthentic.

I do not even want to say free Nahid and Mahboubeh, for I know that in their feminine wisdom, freedom is a collective achievement. Instead, I want to speak of Nahid and Mahboubeh’s feminine imagination.
I want to speak of how Nahid and Mahboubeh have knocked through the dead end realities of women’s lives by using the power of their feminine imagination. Today the tale of Nahid and Mahboubeh from Evin Prison is the tale of the pain of hundreds of female prisoners and their story is that of the One Million Signatures Campaign which was borne from womanly imagination.

For when the lives of women are turned into an unsolved secret, it is only our imaginations, which are able to shine light and color on the darkness of our lives. Women have used such imagination since girlhood and this is a power that the closed mentality of the authorities do not even have the capacity to understand. We have learned to recreate reality with our imagination and challenge the bitter realities of life. Today, Nahid and Mahboubeh are symbols of this feminine rebirth, an imagination which took shape at the onset of the One Million Signatures Campaign, came to fruition and found its way throughout our country.
In reality, the One Million Signatures Campaign was borne of a feminine imagination to resist the violence imposed on us by the riot police when they attacked our peaceful rally for equal legal rights on June 12, 2006 in Haft-e Tir Square.

That day what was "real" was: “They have the right to shoot,” through which the authorities created such a heavy atmosphere and the right-to-shoot scare appeared so real that some women activists broke with their imagination and submitted to the fear. But the events of that day in Haft-e Tir Square managed to break through that heavy and powerful reality, and feminine imagination filled the air as it spread throughout the city.

In the midst of the commotion to break the stranglehold on 12 June 2006 - made possible with the help of the student movement - the women’s movement and its passive sectors took on renewed life, as did other social forces, including those which clash with our feminine imagination.

After 12 June 2006, the One Million Signatures Campaign was given new life and the fifth generation of Iranian feminists was born. In the beginning, it seemed that the collection of one million signatures was an unattainable goal held by a handful of passionate women and a collection of young and inexperienced university students. It seemed so unreal that even to the authorities and the masculine mindset it was ridiculous and insignificant. But with the womanly imagination of the likes of Nahid and Mahboubeh and hundreds of young students, the One Million Signatures Campaign gradually tore down this abrasive reality and found its way into homes and flowed ever so calmly, smoothly and powerfully that it has been transformed into an important challenge to the security apparatus, which regards it now as a "threat to national security."

The feminine imagination of One Million Signatures Campaign was able to also connect with the past and retrieve the timeless song: Going house-to-house, door-to-door, by Qorat ol-Ein from the depths of history and establish a new method for civil movements. Of course, this method too at the beginning seemed impossible and unreal. Through the imaginations of the boys and girls of the fifth generation of Iranian feminists, it became possible and real, and now defenders of human rights recommend this method of “chehreh beh chehreh ” to other social movements. Our feminine imagination has established itself as a new reality and is spreading throughout alleys, streets, and parks like Laleh Park of this city. Laleh Park, that same place where Nahid and Mahboubeh were collecting signatures while smiling, laughing and sharing their imagination with others and creating a creative and lasting narrative.

And when Nahid and Mahboubeh were imprisoned behind the tall walls of Evin Prison, they used their everlasting imagination and were transformed into storytellers of female prisoners, recounting daily for us, the narrative of women’s lives in prison.

They beheld the other women prisoners, looked at themselves, and claimed Evin Prison from their jailors when they asked: “How do we differ from these women prisoners?” Unlike their jailors, Mahboubeh and Nahid were able to learn from the fate of their fellow inmates and teach them as well. To learn from these women, we need the magical power of feminine imagination. Without a doubt, for Mahboubeh the reporter



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