Tuesday 12 April 2016
"I am not a slave": Nude Protester Calls for Solidarity
On March 31, Iranian theater and film actor and director Moujan Mohammad Taher staged a nude protest near Tehran’s Milad Tower. Soon after, the protest attracted widespread attention, with videos and photographs being posted across social media, views of Tehran clearly visible in the background.
“I am not a slave,” the 36-year-old wrote across her body. She modeled her protest on public acts by Femen activists, known for their topless protests against religion, authoritarianism and the sex industry. According to Mohammad Taher, this is the first nude protest in Iran, a defiant “no” to the Islamic Republic’s anti-women laws.
“My message to women is that they can be active inside Iran and demand their rights loudly,” Mohammad Taher says.
“This kind of protest can give Iranian women more courage to engage in struggle against current conditions,” she told Hessam Yousefi, an Iranian political activist based in Leipzig in Germany.“I did this as a representative of all women who are not heard. I did it under very difficult and hard conditions, under the shadow of a government that arrests women who demonstrate, and throws them into prison. Women must have their own organizations and fight against unjust laws. They must support each other and go forward hand in hand. Without power and without knowledge and unity you cannot get anywhere.”
After becoming inspired by the protests by Femen “warriors,” Mohammad Taher realized that a former classmate, Solmaz Vakilpour, had taken part in a nude protest in Germany. “It gave me a very good feeling and I thought that I too could do a protest in a fundamental and radical way. We agreed that if the conditions were right both of us would participate in an act of protest. Almost a year after we talked, preparations were underway in Germany to stage a nude protest on March 8, International Women’s Day. I decided to do the same thing in Iran on the same day.”
But although she planned the event as a solo demonstration, she did need help from others — a photographer, of course, and someone to sit in the car, waiting to drive her to safety if trouble started. As March 8 approached, one of her compatriots became afraid, so they had to postpone the protest. Later, they chose March 31, just as many Iranians were beginning to return from their Nowruz holiday.
Mohammad Taher said some people warned her recent protest would mean she would no longer being able to work in the film and theater industry. But she says she was never able to make the kinds of films or stage the type of plays she would have liked to anyway. “I had to work within the worldview of the government and because I did not like this worldview in fact I had no job. This does not mean I did not work or make money. It means that I was not doing the job for which I had studied and had spent time and money on.”
Asked what she thinks about some of the criticism leveled at her, Mohammad Taher says people need to look at the fundamental message being conveyed underneath the dramatic impact of the protests. “Some think we should move forward slowly — or as they say, engage in reforms. But I hope the protest will ripple like throwing a stone into stagnant water. I am actually happy about the objections, because they show that my protest has been noticed. I hope that in the same way that Femen’s actions gave me the courage to do such a thing, my act will give others courage.”
In an interview with IranWire, Marjou Mohammad Taher spoke of the difficulties of breaking such taboos in Iran, even for someone as dedicated to getting the message out as she is. “First of all, it was very hard for me to break this taboo in my own head. I had to damage my reputation among close family members. Showing the body of a woman in Iran is breaking a taboo in itself. I very consciously wrote what I wanted to say on my body and got naked, even though I was afraid.”
She is frustrated at those who have tried to undermine the significance of what she has done. “Can anybody say that I was not in danger? If we look at it realistically we must come to the conclusion that it was not a small act. I am not saying this because I was the one who did. It was a highly stressful situation and to prove that it was done in Iran and not, for example, in Turkey I had to do it twice, once in Gisha Street and the second time in Sheikh Fazlollah Autobahn.”
She is also frustrated at attitudes among some Iranians. “They are looking for a hero who will die for them. If they saw an arrow in my heart they would say: “Oh, what a great woman! What a brave act!” But they are unhappy because I am alive and continue to protest.”
Mohammad Taher rejects accusations that she staged the protest to get asylum status outside Iran. “If I wanted to do this, I did not have to put my life in danger or, according to some people, dishonor my family. The truth is that Iranians find my body ugly. I do not have a beautiful body to attract attention. So my mind was at peace because nobody would misunderstand it as a sexual act.”
She says that because the “news in Iran never reflects reality,” many people in the country will not be aware of her stand. But for those who are, the impact will not go unnoticed, and nor will the fact that it is part of something larger. “The movement will continue and there would be women who think like me and will fight for their beliefs.”