This article is written by the “Secret Women’s Committee,” a newly formed secret women’s organization within Iran. Throughout the text, “woman” means anyone who identifies with the female gender/identity and, as a result of this identification, is deprived of privileges based on the gender binary of woman/man. These individuals can also experience various forms of oppression stemming from patriarchal values.
Almost six months have passed since the day our cry of ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ echoed in the streets. Six months have elapsed since women, after years of continuous struggle and resistance, managed to take their first hesitant steps towards establishing a women’s revolution. This effort undoubtedly owes a debt of gratitude to the resistance and sacrifices of our comrades in all previous uprisings, from the uprising in 2017 to the Revolt of Hunger and the uprising in 2019. Throughout these years, we have continuously proclaimed that the bloody autumn of 2019 continues, and we have followed its traces in the Jina revolutionary movement.
Now, it can be clearly acknowledged that the voice of women and other sexual/gender minorities is no longer just one among several existing voices. It has transformed into a strong and expressive voice that is being heard in the current political atmosphere of Iranian society. However, it is important to note that this declaration is not intended to focus on or praise the Jina uprising. Instead, its purpose is to address a concern and justify the necessity of establishing more organized feminist collectives.
Therefore, it should be seen as an initiative to invite all women, mothers, sisters, and other sexual/gender minorities to engage in a dialogue, with the hope of achieving victory in the women’s revolution that we have already embarked upon.
For us women, who were trapped in the grip of male-dominated politics for years, with all its hierarchical structures and mechanisms, it felt essential to resist every form of male dominance and organizational structure. Consequently, throughout the years of building women’s emancipatory movements, we insisted on non-structured and leaderless groups as the necessary form of collectives. We have all experienced countless instances of working in groups and collectives where non-organized, flat hierarchical activities were seen as democratic. For those of us exhausted by patriarchal structures and organizations, these collectives formed around the principle of greater equality held a unique allure. It appeared that in these new circles, no one had the final say; everyone had an equal opportunity to voice their opinions; the decision-making process was more equitable; and above all, our sisterhood would foster empathy and attentive listening to each other’s stories of pain and suffering.
As members of the “Secret Women’s Committee,” we engaged in discussions to reflect on our individual experiences from the past. Through this introspection, we arrived at a realization that the seemingly unstructured nature of our endeavors contained a form of hidden structure. Ironically, the very indeterminacy that characterized our approach also made our goal of ending our group’s decision-making hierarchy difficult to accomplish. Individuals who lacked a superior position within the prevailing arrangement often found themselves assuming key roles due to their reputation, organizational history, or past activities. Even in the most optimistic and democratic scenarios within each community, there existed smaller friendship-based sub-groups where individuals paid greater attention to one another’s words and interrupted each other less frequently. These cliques would repeat positions and lend their approval to the statements of fellow insiders, while exhibiting opposition or indifference towards outsiders or those considered different. The decision-making process was at times so ambiguous that by sheer chance and the luck of being part of the “decision-making group,” one could seize the opportunity to voice their opinions and contribute to the decision-making process. While our gatherings fostered an atmosphere of storytelling and free expression of grievances, the idealized “sisterhood” we aspired to achieve in politics often yielded to a more casual social environment and varying degrees of closeness with older sisters.
Through engaging with diverse texts, exchanging experiences with others, and critically reflecting on our past engagements, we have reached a profound realization: there is no such thing as an entirely unstructured group. Regardless of the nature, duration, or purpose of people gathering around, some form of structure inevitably emerges. Just as numerous words and concepts warrant reclamation from the influence of male literature, the establishment of a feminist structure and organization also requires restoration.
The necessity of organization and structure
The growing presence in a political movement goes beyond merely listing demands; it necessitates the creation of horizons and perspectives, as well as organizing efforts to achieve these goals. We are referring to the exercise of political will, which requires the development of appropriate tools to shape and influence any political process.
It is important to recognize that “women’s” liberation cannot be guaranteed in any revolution, and women must forge the necessary tools to assert their will within political processes. The recent spark of the revolution, after a period of apparent stagnation, was ignited by the daily struggles of “women” and other sexual/gender minorities against one of the most oppressive forms of violence, namely the compulsory hijab. The movement gained nationwide momentum through the efforts of “women” activists. However, the past six months have demonstrated that the widespread slogan of “women, life, freedom” does not automatically imply that women’s concerns are fully incorporated into this movement. We have a duty beyond that.
The urgency of our historical moment, coupled with a critical assessment of over four decades of “women” activists’ endeavors and the persistent systematic oppression they face, compels us to assert loudly that we believe this phase of the women’s movement is coming to an end. While we acknowledge the positive achievements of past experiences and recognize their influence on our present consciousness, we consider it essential to break away permanently from the current state of affairs, of which the present state of the “women’s” movement is a part.
The primary objective of contemporary women’s liberation movements and other movements advocating for sexual and gender minorities has evolved beyond mere awareness-raising. Previously, due to society’s limited understanding of women’s and LGBTQ+ issues, raising awareness about gender and various forms of gender-based oppression was deemed essential. However, today, after decades of relentless efforts by activists fighting for women’s rights and sexual/gender minorities, coupled with advancements such as the expansion of publishing platforms, the dissemination of informative articles, the translation of original texts, the growth of virtual spaces, and most significantly, the daily encounters of women and other sexual/gender minorities with gender-based oppression, it has become evident that simply promoting awareness is no longer sufficient. In essence, while informal women’s circles have proven highly effective in empowering women to share their voices, stories, and consequently unveil and highlight the intricate and diverse manifestations of domination and oppression, these very same unstructured groups have grown weary of solely engaging in dialogue and aspire to take concrete actions. This is precisely where the limitations of unstructured groups become apparent. Without a shift in their modus operandi, and without organizing themselves to actively address the issues they have discussed, individuals are unable to engage in meaningful political action.
Across various movements worldwide, including those fighting against racial discrimination, labor exploitation, and various forms of oppression, the initial stage of raising awareness and disseminating the movement’s message has often been propelled by the powerful mantra of “I narrate, therefore I am.” This approach has played a crucial and courageous role in drawing attention to the cause and generating momentum in its early stages. However, it is important to note that substantial and lasting structural transformations in the fight against oppression have predominantly been achieved through organized efforts and sustained organizational work.
Recent months have provided us with valuable practical insights, reaffirming the need for the women’s movement to transcend the stage of making demands by forging connections with other ongoing movements. This crucial connection necessitates taking proactive measures towards establishing a women’s political organization—an inclusive entity that can serve as a foundational pillar within the organizing force of the revolution. By assuming an active and impactful role in acquiring political power and assuming leadership in this revolution, the women’s political organization can contribute significantly to its overall objectives.
Missions, ideas and policies
Given the aforementioned considerations, our primary focus lies in the imperative of organizing individuals and groups who embrace a feminist perspective in their political engagement. We firmly believe that the establishment of our collective as an organization is of utmost significance. Operating under the name “Secret Women’s Committee,” we align ourselves with the left bloc and adopt a socialist strategy. Our positions unequivocally distance themselves from right-wing, centrist, and identity-focused approaches to gender-based oppression. We firmly uphold the interconnectedness of class, gender, national, and religious oppressions.
While acknowledging that the most progressive and comprehensive perspectives on women and other sexual/gender minorities have emerged within the discourse of the left, we recognize that the practical realization of feminist equality remains far from accomplished. As leftist feminists, we have felt a disconnection from our fellow comrades on the left for several years, and our aim is to restore this connection, not merely on select issues but in a fundamental and comprehensive manner.
Based on this, we acknowledge that our primary mission is to challenge the prevailing discourse of bourgeois feminism, focusing instead on women and other sexual/gender minorities who have faced marginalization in various forms. We aim to emphasize their existence and create equitable connections with them by establishing networks of solidarity and support in this direction.
During the height of the “Woman, life, freedom” movement, we were inspired by the empowering affirmation of existence by our Balouch sisters. We understand that such revelations are not solely the result of this revolution. On the contrary, the revolution progresses steadily, carried forward by the often unseen resistance and daily struggles of women in this country and region.
The voice of women’s liberation and equality resounds from Rojava and Turkey to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of this region. We understand that in order to live, fight, and stand in solidarity with those who share a similar fate with us in this region, as well as our comrades in other parts of the world, we need to reevaluate the frameworks that perpetuate various forms of oppression and the creation of false friendships and hostilities. This requires taking a historical perspective on concepts that are often considered eternal and everlasting. Therefore, it is crucial to be more attentive than ever to national issues and racial conflicts, while firmly distancing ourselves from centrist nationalist discourse and emphasizing the right to self-determination for nations. We aim to organize forces that transcend restrictive borders and, of course, have an impact on them. As a result, we strive to foster interregional relationships to establish women’s organizational nuclei beyond the borders of Iran.
The “Secret Women’s Committee” represents all bodies that bear the scars of historical repression and violent systems. Our priorities include addressing the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community, acknowledging their struggles that are interconnected with feminist movements, and standing against the common enemy of patriarchy and heteronormative power. Shedding light on the challenges faced by immigrants and refugees, who have become an integral and inseparable part of life in the Middle East, as well as addressing ecofeminism, are also among the key focuses of our feminist organization. In essence, our aim is to bring visibility to any form of oppression imposed by the patriarchal system. Oppression and suffering form the basis of politics. Therefore, establishing connections through women as the intersection and focal point of oppression represents the most progressive form of political organization.
In the “Secret Women’s Committee,” we believe that the only way to liberate ourselves from patriarchy and male domination is through organization. Therefore, we reiterate: Let’s not mourn. Let’s organize. “Resistance is life,” and we have brought life, womanhood, and resistance into the political world.