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Iranian Women Are Still Trying To Make Their Voices Heard In #MeToo Movement


Iranians are keeping an eye on the #MeToo movement. Activists fighting sexual harassment say a Farsi version of the hashtag #MeToo can be found on social media, but because of government censorship, it is far from widespread.

From Istanbul, NPR's Peter Kenyon reports that Iranian women are still trying to make their voices heard.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Sara, a woman in her early 30s, works at a Tehran marketing firm. She asks, like others, that her family name not be used so she can speak via Skype on a sensitive subject. She says she's active on social media but isn't surprised that she rarely comes across #ManHam, the Farsi equivalent of #MeToo.

SARA: (Through interpreter) I really don't see any campaigns or movements here that can help women speak out about the sexual harassment they've been subjected to. I remember a movie that tackled the subject, but there just aren't many opportunities to talk about it.

KENYON: Sara says when she was a teen, she was nearly kidnapped by four men, one of whom was wearing a chador, the full-length covering worn by some Iranian women. But he had nothing on underneath. But the point she wants to make is that afterward, even her boyfriend advised her to keep it to herself.

SARA: (Through interpreter) I had this devastating experience, and my boyfriend just warned me not to say anything because it would ruin my reputation. The subject is taboo.

KENYON: Feeling suppressed by government pressures and a blame-the-victim culture, women's rights advocates have poured their energy into other campaigns such as the White Wednesday demonstrations against the compulsory hijab headscarf.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Farsi).

KENYON: This video posted to YouTube shows men and women, some with their hair exposed, marching between cars as the drivers honk in support. One woman yells, no to headscarf, no to humiliation.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Farsi).

KENYON: The government has its own videos, one from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's official website begins with Western women.




UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Me too. I have been sexually harassed.

KENYON: The video goes on to quote Khamenei asserting that such behavior simply isn't found in observant Islamic societies.



KENYON: He says, quote, "by introducing the hijab, Islam has shut the door on a path that would pull women towards such deviation." "Islam," says Khamenei, "does not allow this." A slogan fills the screen. It reads, (reading) hijab gives women freedom and identity.

But for years, many women in Iran and other conservative Islamic societies have been saying women wearing the hijab are just as likely to be harassed as those who aren't.

I contacted a 42-year-old female artist in Tehran who agreed to speak by Skype if her name isn't used. She worries about retribution if she is identified. She says despite government efforts to pretend that harassment isn't an issue in Iran, she has no doubt it's a pervasive problem for Iranian women.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: (Through interpreter) If you ask 10 women about this, nine of them will say, yes, they have suffered harassment.

KENYON: Her husband, Arash, a construction worker, says while the #MeToo meme is less prominent in Iran than in the West, he's convinced, in time, that will change.

ARASH: (Through interpreter) I believe this will definitely gain momentum. Any social movement is like a little spark. It will grow, and this movement against sexual harassment will also grow. It will take time, but it will happen.

KENYON: Iran's hard-liners are trying to prevent that. In recent months, human rights groups say several women's activists in Iran have been jailed. And the country's leaders continue to claim that Islamic traditions are enough to protect women from abuse. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEARCH'S "ACTION TAPE 1 (AIM MADSCOPE MIX)" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.