• Reuter


    Iran’s ‘Virginity’ Suppositories

    In a culture where women who do not bleed on their wedding night may pay with their lives, there’s a creative way to fool the groom.

    By Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour

    When I was growing up in southern Iran, there were many dark and painful stories about young women and girls whose loss—or whose alleged loss—of virginity effectively became a death sentence.

  • The Daily Beast


    Iran to Hang Abused Child Bride

    Razie Ebrahimi was just 17 when she killed her abusive husband to escape his blows—and the state wants to execute her for her crime.

    Languishing in a prison cell in southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, 21-year-old Razie Ebrahimi awaits her date with the gallows.

    For decades, Iran has been brazenly violating international law and sentencing an untold number of juvenile offenders to execution by hanging. Most hopeless among them are young Iranian women, who often suffered from abuse in forced, underage marriages and who turned to violence as the only means to escape their circumstances.

  • Author photo 2011 & passport photo 1987. Courtesy of Henri Blommers photography (left) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (right)


    An Exile Searching for Home

    Her mother took her out of Iran when she was a child. She’s made her way in places as disparate as Amsterdam and Oklahoma, always searching for true identity.

    A few nights ago, I met an old friend for dinner at an Afghan restaurant in the East Village. He came from his uptown finance job, wearing a suit and carrying a long umbrella. I came from a downtown café where I had been writing, my hair a messy knot. In terms of work, lifestyle, and interests, we couldn’t be less alike. And yet, ordering our food was seamless. Though we hadn’t sat down for a meal together in years, we assumed we would eat family style and chose the foods that belonged to both our cultures, the ancient stuff that both Persians and Afghans claim—eggplant stewed with lamb, basmati with raisins, yogurt and cucumber. Before long we fell into talk of his native Kabul and my native Isfahan with great nostalgia. Though we had each left as children under dangerous circumstances, we had never talked about it in any depth. We didn’t meet in an exile community, after all. He went to Harvard. I went to Princeton and we met as 22-year-old yuppies at McKinsey. Back then, we cringed at any mention of home.

    Back then, we lied a lot.

  • Youtube.com

    Free Love

    Iran’s Lesbian Pop Phenom

    America has Gaga, and Iran has Googoosh, a Persian pop phenomenon whose latest music video makes a statement about homosexuality, still considered a crime in the Middle Eastern country.

    Iran’s reigning queen of pop is more likely to walk the red carpet in a kaftan than a flank-steak dress, but when it comes to promoting equal rights in a country ruled by religious law, Googoosh is right up there with Gaga. On Valentine’s Day, the 63-year-old Persian icon released the music video for her latest ballad, “Behesht (Heaven).”

    In between glamour shots of Googoosh crooning in a dark nightclub, the video follows the love story of a beautiful young Iranian woman and her lover, unseen behind the camera. Their relationship unfolds as their love for each other faces obstacles from disapproving parents and violent youths, culminating in the young woman sitting in the audience, tearfully watching Googoosh sing the song’s chorus: “I know they say these feelings should not be, but they are.” The camera then pulls away, showing that the young woman’s off-camera love is another woman (a similar tactic was used in an iconic Australian ad for marriage equality in 2011).

  • © STRINGER Italy / Reuters

    The Venice Sex Game Gone Wrong

    The body of an Iranian student was found in a Venice lagoon wearing only a pearl necklace—and police say she’s the victim of a ménage a trois gone terribly awry.

    No one knows exactly why 29-year-old Iranian costume design student Mahtab Savoji turned up dead in the Venice lagoon last week.  Her body, nude except for a string of pearls around her neck, got tangled up between two water taxi drivers near the Via Cipro dock in Venice Lido on January 28.  After fishing the corpse out of the lagoon, a Venetian coroner determined that the woman—then unidentified—had been strangled to death at least 24 hours before her body was thrown into the murky water.  Her lungs did not contain water from the Venice lagoon, and her body showed no apparent signs of violence other than strangulation.  But no one knew who she was or why she was there.

    Meanwhile, 250 miles away, the day after the mysterious body floated to the surface of the lagoon, Savoji’s friends in Milan—where she had shared an apartment with two hospitality workers from India since November—were starting to get worried.  Savoji hadn’t been answering her cellphone, which wasn’t like her. She missed a Tuesday appointment at the school where she was studying costume design, which tipped off her friends that something might be wrong.  When she missed another appointment later that day, at the Iranian social club where she and other friends from Tehran gathered for fellowship, her friends called the police.

  • An Iranian celebrates along Valiasr street after moderate candidate Hassan Rowhani was elected as president on June 15, 2013, in Tehran. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty)


    Iranian Women Test 'Fashion Police'

    In an interim between the former president and president-elect.

    The Islamic Guidance Patrols are looking for Iranians who may be inclined to violate dress codes as a result of hot temperatures. During a pause between presidents (former President Ahmadinejad exits the position August 3), the patrols have been scarce–and women seem to be taking advantage of their absence. In the heat of summer, some are allowing their necks to remain visible or wearing lightweight, glitzy cloaks. One woman said the president-elect, Hassan Rohani, has “come across as more understanding.” A Scottish-educated lawyer and cleric, he counted on the women’s vote and talked about creating jobs for them. Though these women are taking the chance to wear what they’d like, they’re ready for a crackdown, Bloomberg reports.

  • @zahrasparadise/twitter.com


    The Push for Iran’s Fictional President

    Vote4Zahra campaign gains international popularity.

    Apparently, the people of Iran are frustrated enough with their political leaders to want a comic-book character to be the next president. There’s a campaign on Twitter to symbolically elect Zahra, the principal character in the online graphic novel Zahra’s Paradise, about a mother losing her son during the suppression of the Green Movement in 2009. The story was translated into 15 languages, and author Amir Soltani said that Zahar is “much more real than the current presidential candidates.” The website and Twitter account Vote4Zahar are updated three times a week with poll results, news from the campaign trail, and criticisms of real candidates. Rather surprisingly, Iranian authorities have done nothing to stop the site. At this point, Zahra may be the most iconic part of the election. 

  • Actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. (Richard Vogel/AP)

    Silver Screen

    From Tehran to Hollywood

    Award-winning actress Shohreh Aghdashloo tells Katie Baker about her new memoir, why she fled Iran, and the roles she’s dying to play.

    You lived through the days of the shah, then you saw the revolution, you lived in exile, you had this incredible life in Hollywood. As you were writing your memoir, was there one particular part of your life that was the hardest to go back to or remember? Or was there one that was the most pleasurable to remember for you?

    Oh, yes. Leaving my German shepherd, my dog, behind—Pasha. That is still the hardest one of all. My daughter just finished her studying at Chapman University. She’s now a graduate of Chapman and she wants to be a film director. She was ... living away from us for three years. I was bringing her home yesterday, and all of a sudden ... she turned around looked at the door of the home that she was living in for three years, and she started crying. And she said, “Oh, Mom, I’ve gotten so emotional and I don’t know why.” I said, “Tara, I was your age when I left not only my home, but also my country and my beloved dog, and just as you did, I turned around and looked at it when I was leaving the border ... Imagine, you have to leave your home, your parents, your family, your friends, and basically start a journey that you have no idea what is going to happen in this journey the day after.” But you just hit the road and start a new life.

  • Vahid Salemi


    Iranian Women’s Roles In Focus

    Presidential candidate blasts West for treating woman like "economic tools."

    While campaigning for Iran's fast-approaching presidential election, candidate Saeed Jalili said (in an address to a mostly female audience) that, “Women’s core identity lies in motherhood, not in an economic context.” Jalili used Western women as an argument, claiming they are simply an “object” and “economic tool.” He claimed Iran is a greater backer of women's rights than the West. Fifty-two percent of Iranian graduates in 2009 were women, and they make up 27 percent of the workforce. In fact, current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—who isn't eligible for re-election—proposed a plan in 2008 for married women’s working days to be reduced by two hours, and by an additional hour for each child, with no cuts to salary.

  • Spencer Platt/Getty


    Headscarves Won't Keep Iranian Women From Parkour

    Running and flipping in the face of social norms.

    Parkour, the physically intensive activity of running, jumping and flipping against, walls, fences, curbs and other urban elements is all the rage in the Middle East these days, even among women who refuse to let their requisite headscarves and loosefitting clothing slow them down. But clothing isn't the only obstacle these women are overcoming by practicing Parkour—they're actually risking a lot, especially in Iran. Not only is the satellite TV—where they learned the sport—illegal, women have to be wary of practicing in busy areas where they could be caught by police. But for many of these women, the reward is worth the risk. As one woman from the Iranian city of Lahijan explained, "This sport is all about speed—unlike the lives of young Iranian women, which sometimes feel like they're frozen."

    Read it at France 24
  • Shirin Neshat, Untitled, 1996, RC print and ink, (© Shirin Neshat, Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.)

    The Female Gaze

    Sex, Chadors, and Revolution

    Iranian artist Shirin Neshat explores gender and Islam in a mid-career retrospective at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

  • "Being a woman is not a way for humiliation or punishment!" (Kurd Men for Equality/Facebook)

    Pretty In Pink

    Iran’s Men Don Dresses in Protest

    Iranian men are taking cross-dressing selfies for a viral campaign protesting a sexist punishment for criminals in Kurdistan.

    Last month, an Iranian judge in the northwest Kurdish city of Marivan handed down a rare form of punishment to three men involved in a violent street fight: they were to be paraded around town trussed up in women’s clothes.

    Turns out, the women of Marivan were less than amused by the sentence. When the first convict marched down the streets on April 15 clad in a veil, dozens of angry women turned out to protest, calling the perp walk sexist. Local police cracked down on the demonstrations, breaking one woman’s leg and injuring several other activists, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Citizen journalists recorded videos of the punishment and the protest and uploaded them onto YouTube, while activists created a Facebook page—“Being a Woman Is Not Shameful”—and invited Iranian men to join them in solidarity. So far, the page has gained more than 13,000 likes in the past week, and thousands of male supporters have submitted pictures of themselves dressed up in female finery for the cause.

  • Newsha Tavakolian

    The Female Gaze

    Photos of a Young, Frustrated Iran

    Newsha Tavakolian’s latest show captures haunting portraits of a generation coming of age and feeling stuck.

    “If you can’t breathe through your nose, you open your mouth to continue breathing,” says Newsha Tavakolian. The Iranian photographer is using a famous Farsi aphorism to talk about what it’s like to work in her country’s repressive atmosphere these days.  It’s a theme that informs her portraiture, which has become more emotional and poetic as creative opportunities in Iran have become riskier.

    Her most recent project, Look, is a series of portraits featuring young Iranian men and women—mostly family and friends—shot within the confines of Tavakolian’s home, inside a large concrete apartment building. “I wanted to bring to life the story of a nation of middle-class youths who lack hope for the future and are constantly battling with themselves in isolation,” she says. “Everyone hides this moment of insecurity through social conformity; you’d have no indication of these private moments of doubt were you to walk through the streets of Tehran.”