Iranian Female Activist Leads Winter Term Project
By Betty Gabrielli / Photos by Brandon Ramos ’06
February 6, 2006
Mehrangiz Kar, an attorney, writer, and one of Iran’s leading activists, was a teacher-in-residence at Oberlin in January. The residency also offered her the opportunity to be with her daughter, Azadeh Pourzand, who is a student at Oberlin.
“Mehrangiz Kar has a distinguished career as a lawyer and advocate for human rights and women’s rights,” says Frances Hasso, associate professor and director of the gender and women’s studies program. “Oberlin College was fortunate to have someone of her stature teaching here during winter term.”
Kar has published widely on women’s issues in Iran. Among her publications are Angel of Justice and Patches of Hell, a collection of essays that examine the status and position of women in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran.
Her Oberlin course addressed a subject she knows intimately: how women’s lives in Iran changed after the Islamic Revolution of 1979; specifically the kinds of strategies that Iranian women have adopted throughout years under the Islamic regime and the ways in which they have faced various legal and religious obstacles in order to defend their rights.
Unable to return to Iran for the time being because of personal and public dangers, Kar had this to say: “Iran is in a very sensitive place right now. We’re trying to overcome a long history of dictatorship, and this is the process. There are prices to pay, and I see myself as a sacrifice to this process.”
In 2000, Kar was among 19 prominent Iranian writers and intellectuals arrested for participating in an academic and cultural conference in Berlin that publicly debated social reform in Iran. She was subsequently tried, convicted, and sentenced to four years in prison. An appeal reduced her sentence to six months.
In 2001, she came to the United States for treatment for breast cancer. Because of her involvement in the Berlin conference, after her departure from Iran, her husband was kidnapped, tortured, released, and re-arrested. Though she wishes to see him and continue her legal work and activism at home, Kar has been advised it is not yet safe to return.
Support from the international community is aiding her in continuing her activism from abroad. In 2002 she received the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize from the Human Rights of the Bar of Bordeaux and the European Lawyers Union.
Kar lives now in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she is a fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She is working on a number of books and articles, including an account of her husband’s experiences in prison and a memoir of her 22 years as a lawyer in Iran. She also receives weekly checkups on the cancer. “I am not completely clear,” she said in a recent interview for the web site of the weekly TV program IranDokht, “but the cancer is under control.”
In the interview, Kar took the opportunity to address the women of Iran directly. Again, there is no doubt she was speaking from her own experience:
“I know that there is a long, arduous road ahead, but it is important to keep in mind that the struggles have only made us stronger. If the last two decades of pain indicate how women will react when faced with turmoil, then we do not have to worry.
“For we have met strife with hardened surfaces and determined spirits. The recent international attention toward the Iranian woman and her situation, together with the dedication of the females within Iran, speaks volumes. I see the women of Iran at the beginning of something far greater.”