International Women’s Day 2018

March 8th, 2018 by Bita Milanian - Leave a Comment

This year’s International Women’s Day brings more powerful context and more promising momentum when it comes to gender equality and women’s rights than ever in history.

I have been so deeply moved by the courage, honesty and risk-taking women who have come forward in light of revelations and scandals, that my own internal energy has risen up – and I sense millions of other women are experiencing and acting upon a similar stirring and sense of collective awakening.

Last week, moved by the women in Iran, the country of my birth, I posted this passport photo of me from 1986 as a young girl, wearing hijab, before fleeing with my mother to Germany after the Islamic Revolution and during the Iran-Iraq war.  I shared this very personal photo along with a clear statement of my support for women’s rights in Iran and was blown away by the response.  So far, over 60,000 people (and growing rapidly) have viewed the post on LinkedIn, with many commenting. This was so very unexpected – I am truly moved.

Other women of Iranian descent shared their emotional reactions to the photo, as did many non-Iranians, most of whom were unaware of the oppressive conditions most of us lived under in Iran.  I was nearly arrested at age 11 for simply wearing a colorful scarf, walking down the street with my best friend Marjan, although my scarf was fully covering my hair while wearing my conservative mandatory attire.  That was not a good day and it is forever hacked into my memory.

Today, I am thrilled to see that the women of Iran are uprising and standing up for their rights.

This past December, Vida Movahedi became a symbol of defiance after she stood on a busy street in Tehran and waved a white scarf from a stick to challenge the obligation since Iran’s 1979 revolution for women to wear head scarves.  This brave act has started a movement where thousands have followed her path- women AND men, asking for their basic right to choose. She was dubbed “the girl from Enghelab (Revolution) Street” as word — and memes — of her action spread. (Source:

As reported here by Iranwire on Feb 1st, recent protests are spreading. Women across Iran are going to public places, holding out headscarves on sticks to express their objection to the country’s mandatory hijab laws. The Islamic Republic’s prosecutor has warned women they will be punished for not wearing hijab. For the most part, though, officials are keeping quiet, hoping the movement will not gain any more ground.

And earlier this week, CNN shared this story: Threatened with ‘acid, rape, abuse’: Protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law, recapping the movement that started with Vida Movahedi’s brave and meaningful act.

I am a refugee, I am a woman, and I too once was that girl in a compulsory hijab.

Today, I could not be prouder or more passionate about where I come from, about the Persian culture, our language, our music, our fine art, our cuisine, our poetry, our compassionate values, our strength, intellect, creativity and mainly – love.

On this International Women’s Day, I am sharing this image again, while sending out this message to girls everywhere who come from any place, study and practice any religion or no religion, girls who will be the leaders of a better world ahead:

Stay strong. Work hard. Believe in yourself. Study what you wonder about. Explore how other girls and women live. Determine to be great. Love yourself. Love your family. Love your community. And learn to love the world, as it is full of millions of girls just like you, regardless of what you wear or are forced to wear. Believe in us, the women who came before you, and trust that we will not stop until we have addressed the inequities, until we have protected your human rights, until we make sure you have access to education, to justice, and above all access to the pursuit of happiness. Be the change in the girl you wish to see,  for this is the first step in seeing the change in the world you wish to be.

So many women have come before me, have inspired and supported me, have lifted me up even as others have tried to tear me down. They have given us the words to live by, even in our darkest hours. So, on this day I am sharing some of their words with you, while asking that all girls and women, and the boys and men who love and support them, to pause for a moment today and stay in grace and gratitude for women around the world who are about to enlighten communities, countries, entire continents, our global societies with a new courage and confidence.

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” – Malala Yousafzai

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.” – Helen Keller

“Knowing what must be done does away with fear.” – Rosa Parks

“Power’s not given to you. You have to take it.” – Beyoncé Knowles Carter

“You can waste your lives drawing lines. Or you can live your life crossing them.” – Shonda Rhimes

“Step out of the history that is holding you back. Step into the new story you are willing to create.” – Oprah Winfrey

“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” – Coco Chanel

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” – Mother Teresa

“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” – Maya Angelou

“There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.” ―Michelle Obama

“You’ve got to love yourself first. You’ve got to be OK on your own before you’re OK with someone else. You’ve got to value yourself and know that you’re worth everything.” ―Jennifer Lopez

“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”  ―Eleanor Roosevelt

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