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Yasaman Baghban, a Duke MFA student in the Experimental and Documentary Arts program

This interview was conducted over email with Yasaman Baghban, a Duke MFA student in the Experimental and Documentary Arts program, by Sarah Holehouse, a first-year undergraduate student working for the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. 


Can you describe your experience of being an Iranian woman living in the U.S. while the "Woman Life Freedom" movement was happening in your home country?

As a woman who has lived in Iran for more than thirty years, I have personally witnessed the various forms of brutality inflicted on women in Iran. In 2019, following the gas price increase, we faced a week-long internet blackout, and the deaths of over 1,000 protesters left me feeling imprisoned, both during and after that crisis. So, as someone from the Middle East, or better to say West Asia, I know that the constant fear and trauma are pervasive. Personally, I faced immense pressure and found it difficult to cope mentally in the first two weeks after Mahsa Amini's death and the start of the protests in Iran. For instance, despite my financial need to work, I had to quit one of my jobs.

What infuriates me more than anything else is seeing people who support the Islamic regime or make excuses for its actions, attempting to blame all of Iran's problems on sanctions. The root of our problems lies in the essence of the Islamic Republic and its lobbyists in the United States. It baffles me why some Iranian supporters of the Islamic Republic live in the U.S., and all are privileged, while ordinary people like us are struggling with basic issues. Additionally, it's surprising that the US government allows them to live here despite their allegiance to a regime that goes against humanity.

What is the current status of the women’s rights movement in Iran and what are your hopes for the movement going forward?

The movement has not stopped. However, with the continuous suppression of uprisings by the Islamic regime and the fear spreading among people, the protests do not happen every day.

Recently, we found out that the Islamic Republic started systematically poisoning female school students. Hundreds of school girls are mysteriously poisoned and the Media tries to distort or underestimate this unbelievable crime. With these actions, the Islamic regime in Iran tries to make people quiet, but nothing will be the same as before. The world heard our voice, but it is not enough!

What is something that you wish Duke students knew about women’s rights (in the US or Iran) and the struggle to secure an equitable future?

Let me ask you a question: do people truly care about human rights? It's a fundamental question that we must confront, especially when we see the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the U.S., a place considered a utopia for living. This development goes against the principles of equity and human rights that we cherish. Let's be honest with ourselves: do we truly care about human rights, or are we more interested in money and fame? It's an ugly truth that I struggle with every day.

As Duke students and as global citizens, we have a responsibility to prioritize human rights, especially women's rights. We must become the voices of those who are marginalized and not allow conservative forces and social media to mislead us.

As an Iranian, I want everyone to know that the compulsory hijab, a symbol of oppression and objectifying women, has no place in modern Iranian culture. We must dismantle the patriarchal culture that has persisted for thousands of years. I hope that we can all learn from each other and create a world where human rights are respected and upheld.

What recommendations do you have for Duke students who want to get involved in women’s rights going forward?

My recommendations for Duke students who want to get involved in women's rights are to learn about different cultures and be cautious about what they hear or read in mass and social media. Islamic Republic supporters and lobbies have penetrated most media. It is important to remember that the world is not just limited to the U.S. Educate yourself with authentic peoples’ stories and verify the sources of any news with multiple people. Remember that my body is my choice, and discuss this idea anytime, anywhere.

By institutionalizing our beliefs and uniting, we can be hopeful for the future and become involved in women's rights. Do not let these protests fade away. By amplifying the voices, we can keep this uprising alive.