Former captive Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe speaks in support of Iranian women at Cardiff conference
“Do not underestimate how wonderful it is to be free and to live in a free country.”
That was the takeaway message from Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as she spoke at a women’s conference in Cardiff today.
Ms Zaghari-Radcliffe was in conversation with Radio 4 presenter Samira Ahmed in front of some of the 1900 attendees at the FiLia 2022 conference in Cardiff.
She reflected on the challenges women in Iran are facing in the current uprising and drew correlations with her own experience of imprisonment.
She told the audience that for nearly four years she had “lived under the shadow” of Boris Johnson’s words when he wrongly said she was in Iran to teach journalists, because the regime used his words against her.
Describing her isolation in prison she said: “When you are in prison it makes you much stronger if you know there is someone outside to fight for you, to think about you”.
But added that although there was a huge campaign for her freedom and her husband, Richard, was working tirelessly to secure her release, she was largely unaware of these efforts as he couldn’t disclose any plans in case they were overheard or undermined by the Iranian authorities.
Describing the difference between women and girls protesting today – some of whom are as young as 15 – and the experience of women under the revolution in 1979 she said that Iran had gone past ‘a turning point’.
“Although it started as a protest about the hijab it evolved very quickly into something much more than the hijab. It’s students, it’s university students, it’s school students…it’s like a generational shift that we are seeing in the protest.
“There is this anger that has been suppressed in women, in people in Iran, for a very, very long time, and we are not just talking about freedom of what we want to wear, we are talking about an economical crisis, the cost of living is very, very high and people are genuinely not very happy.
“The new generation of school children, they are the generation of social media and TikTok and they are more aware of what is happening around them.
“I was born two months before the last revolution and my generation lived through our parents’ failed revolution; they were expecting something else – what they got was not what they were hoping they would get.
“We also lived in a society that everything was under the cover of religion and a lot of fear to standing up for their rights – this generation doesn’t have that, they are more courageous, more aware, and I definitely think social media … helps them to understand their rights and their freedoms in a very different way.
“So, I think what we are seeing in Iran … there is no return … it is just going forward.”
She talked about a slow adjustment to life back home, saying the world has changed in 6 years especially after Covid, and there is no return to how things were.
Talking about the struggle to find mental wellness after being imprisoned she said: “When people say ‘you look well’, I say that you don’t really know what’s going on inside a person. Mental and emotional torture has largely replaced the physical.”
“A prisoner doesn’t have many tools, but a strike or a sit-in are effective forms of political resistance. But strikes, hunger strikes, are dangerous. And the last thing a prisoner wants to do is lose her life.”
“The thing that saved my life was sewing. My friends sent me beautiful fabrics to work with.”
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was the final speaker of the first day of the three-day event which is the largest feminist conference in Europe and moves to different cities every year.
Aiming to raise awareness of issues across the globe which specifically impact women, there have been plenary sessions, talks and workshops today about subjects such as motherhood and migration, prostitution, the impact of pornography, rape and violence against women, and women in warzones.
Today’s formal session ended with a rally and a vigil for women who have been victims of domestic violence and femicide.
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