What do Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Mahsa Amini have in common? Both are female, and both were targets of fierce physical attacks, apparently for their political views. For Speaker Pelosi, a physical attack severely injured her husband, Paul. Ms. Amini, a young Kurdish-Iranian woman, was beaten, and later died, because Iranian authorities determined she was wearing her headscarf (hijab) incorrectly. Sadly, these are not isolated incidents. Women around the world have faced threats and violence, often simply because of their gender.
Winning elective office does give one a public persona, but most candidates recognize that when they decide to run. What winning does not do is give others license to intrude on the official’s household, so the break-in and violent attack on 82-year-old Paul Pelosi in San Francisco was especially shocking. Until recently, serving in public office did not come with a “DANGER” sign; the January 6th attack on the Capitol changed that. We should be ashamed that holding elected office requires security precautions. When I worked on Capitol Hill many years ago, Washington, D.C. addresses of Senators and House members, and some senior staff, were printed in the Congressional Directory. Similarly, the “Green Book,” a social register named for its velvety green cover, printed names, addresses, telephone numbers, and children’s names, and was updated annually. Those also were the days when political discourse, whether positive or negative, was reserved for the Senate and House floors, and journalists covered the news without editorializing. Technology has improved the way we do many things in our daily lives, but technology also has contributed to the divisive, caustic, and downright weird commentary that dominates today’s 24-hour news cycle.
On the other hand, technology plays a role in highlighting the human rights abuses that led to the death of Ms. Amini. According to reports, the so-called Guidance Patrol detained her for wearing her hijab improperly (no indication of the impropriety – was the scarf loose; did it slip off, did the wind blow it?) and she later died. Heart attack was the police description; a police beating was the public perception. Customs relating to one’s faith should be respected, but why should anyone die over how to wear a headscarf? This tragic incident lit the flame that has burned for more than seven weeks in Iran, as young women turned to the streets in protest of years of human rights abuses in Iran. Some have cut their hair, others have burned their hijab, or refused to wear one. They have been joined by others, including many men, across Iran, and the ruling government has pledged to give no leniency to the protesters. More than 300 people, including some children, have been killed so far.
Abuse of women’s rights is not relegated to Iran, of course. It’s been little more than 100 years since women suffragists were imprisoned and tortured at the Lorton Workhouse here in Fairfax County for peacefully protesting at the White House for the right to vote. Stories of fights for human rights for women could fill multiple volumes, in multiple languages. Iranian-American women, many whose families fled to America after the Ayatollah came to power in 1979, are watching their sisters fight for rights that are automatic here in the United States. Their fight must not be ignored or dismissed.