An Iranian woman and civil rights activist who spoke about recent protests in Iran as the result of generations of trauma
Nasrin Parvaz was born in Tehran in 1959 and became a civil rights activist when the Islamic regime came to power in 1979. In 1982 she was arrested and spent eight years in prison before receiving asylum in England in 1994. In 2003 “A war against womanhood”, one of her short stories, won the Women’s World Award. Her works are focused on personal and political journeys based on her life and collective experiences she has witnessed and heard about.
Nasrin Parvaz was born in Tehran in 1959, and since she was a young woman, she started in Iran her fight against the veil she was forced to wear by his mother even before the Islamic regime came to power in 1978 and made it mandatory.
In 1979 she returned to Iran from England, where she had been studying and became a member of a socialist party in Iran fighting for a non-Islamic state in which women had the same rights as men.
In 1982, at the age of 23, she was arrested by the regime’s secret police and taken to the Joint Committee Interrogation Centre, one of Tehran’s most notorious prisons, where she was tortured and sentenced to death.
Fortunately, her sentence was commuted to ten years imprisonment, and she was released in 1990.
After her release, she resumed her activities, and once again, she found herself being followed by Islamic guards.
When some of her friends were arrested again, she decided to leave her country to find refuge in England, where she claimed asylum in 1993. A year later, she was granted refugee status and never returned to Iran.
Ten years after she fled Iran, the regime turned the centre where she was interrogated into the Ebrat Museum.
The torture chambers were preserved, with the regime claiming that they were used only by the forces of the Shah, who was deposed in the 1979 revolution.
She studied for a degree in Psychology and subsequently gained an MA in International Relations at Middlesex University.
She then completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Systemic Theory at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, where she worked in a team of family therapists.
In 2003 one of her short stories, A war against womanhood, won the Women’s World Award.
In this story, she talks about a girl of seven years old who decides to remove the veil she was wearing while she was with her mother waiting for her turn in the reception of the Whittington Hospital in London.
Through this situation, she recalls her childhood and her hostility to wearing the veil imposed on her by her mother before it was declared mandatory by the Islamic regime.
Nasrni explains how Iran became a war zone for women after the Islamic regime came to power in 1979 and started a war against womanhood.
In 2010, another was longlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize, and a third was shortlisted for the Asham Award.
She has also translated some poems, prohibited in Iran, from Farsi into English with the poet Hubert Moore, and to date, she has written two books: The Secret Letters from X to A. and One Woman’s Struggle in Iran, A Prison Memoir.
The Secret Letters from X to A. examines a country torn by violence and decades of human rights abuses where entire families are divided between supporters and opponents of the regime.
The story is about a young history teacher, Faraz, who accepts a summer job offer from his uncle Rohulah to help convert the Joint Committee Interrogation Center into the Ebrat Museum, commemorating repression under the Shah.
Against the wishes of his own family, who despised Rohulah and his work for the Islamic regime, Faraz accepts the job but then realizes that by replastering and repainting the cells once filled with graffiti and messages of prisoners, he would destroy all evidence of atrocities committed by the present regime.
While examining the wall of one of the cells, Faraz discovers hidden notebooks of Xavar, a former woman prisoner, who movingly describes her daily interrogations and the appalling conditions she was held in while pregnant.
Xavar writes in detail about all kinds of physical and psychological torture in her letters addressed to her activist partner Azad, who opposed the regime of Ali Khamenei.
One Woman’s Struggle in Iran, A Prison Memoir, is the story of her imprisonment for eight years by the Islamic government of Iran.
During her years of imprisonment she was brutally and systematically tortured, threatened with execution, starved, and forced to live in appalling and terribly overcrowded conditions.
In 1982 at the Joint Committee Interrogation Centre Nasrin first saw children imprisoned with their mothers and deprived of air, doctors and medication.
After six months in the Joint Committee Interrogation Centre, she was transferred to Evin Prison, founded in 1972 under the Shah’s monarchy.
She began her artistic exploration of her time in the Evin Prison with the idea that no pictures or vivid paintings depicted her experience as a political prisoner.
In the Prison of Evin, she saw women pregnant, severely tortured and giving birth in the prison’s clinic.
She wrote that in her wing, there were 400 prisoners with ten children of different ages who were restless as their mothers were under torture.
By living in this situation, she asked: “What were the effects of prison on children?”
In 2018 her hands met clay for the first time, and she started to work with several different printing methods, which helped her realize that she could say what she wanted through art.
Through her writing and art, she has narrated the events that have marked contemporary history, such as brutal power politics and social injustices all over the world, as well as the collective trauma this places on people.
In recent years in Iran, there have been numerous protests, and many women human rights activists like Nasrin Parvaz have been imprisoned for taking part in women’s rights demonstrations and protesting against the mandatory wearing of the veil.
After President Ebrahim Raisi came to power in August 2021, the Iranian authorities became stricter, imposing new measures to control the population, particularly women.
On July 5, 2022, a directive was promulgated, requiring women to wear the hijab regardless of their religion.
The directive requires women to wear a veil that covers not only their hair but also their neck and shoulders, while previously, Iranian women from the age of nine and up had to go out with their heads veiled and their bodies covered by a loose and long dress.
In addition, on July 12, the regime established the “National hijab and chastity day” while strengthening obligations and controls.
Following the murder of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was arrested on September 13 by morality police for “improper hijab”, Nasrin latest works thematically address the protests in Iran.
In Iran, protests under the slogan “Women, Life and Freedom” have spread internationally, and a lot of manifestations took place in many cities such as Auckland, London, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Rome, Seoul, Stockholm, Sydney and Zurich.
In this context, Nasrin said that protests are not just a burst of anger from a young and idealistic generation but the accumulated trauma of generations of Iranians struggling for freedom.
She declared that she fears for the safety of people from her country, but she remains hopeful that protests will sweep away the Islamic regime and realize the dreams of generations of Iranians who came before them.