Iran begins to recognize their 'forgotten' women of war

In 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, launching an all-out assault featuring both air strikes and ground invasions to propel themselves into Iranian territory.

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October 3, 2019 13:07
3 minute read.
Iran begins to recognize their 'forgotten' women of war

Iranian woman kisses the grave of a person, who was killed during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), at a holy shrine in northern Tehran. (photo credit: REUTERS)

In an unexpected move, the leader of Iran’s state Foundation for the Preservation of Sacred Defense Works and Values has acknowledged that the role of women in the Iraq-Iran War of 1980 has been "ignored," and said he wants to change that, according to Radio Farda.

Brigadier General Bahman Kargar made the announcement late last month.

About 500 Iranian women fought as traditional combatants during the 1980-1988 war, as well as reports of 25,000 female doctors, nurses and aid workers also serving on the Islamic Republic's front lines.

In 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, launching an all-out assault featuring both air strikes and ground invasions to propel themselves into Iranian territory.

One woman, Shahnaz Haji Shah, 26, was killed by an Iraqi mortar in the city of Khoramshahr near the border of Iraq in 1980, for example.

The city was under constant fire for weeks during the initial invasion before the city was commandeered by Iraqi forces. However, Haji Shah chose to remain in the city to defend it until her last breath, including saving an Iranian soldier.

According to accounts by her relatives, Haji Shah was struck directly in the heart by mortar fragments as she attempted to reach an enter a house as it was being hit by Iraqi shells to save anyone inside, Radio Farda reported. She became the country's first female martyr of this war.

Only five people attended her funeral, including her mother and brothers, who marked her name onto a provisional tombstone so her family could find her remains after Iran took back the city in 1982.

Haji Shah is just one of the 6,500 Iranian women who lost their lives during the eight-year battle with Iraq. In total, one million people died.

While Haji Shah's story has been documented widely throughout Iranian media, many have claimed that little to no attention has been given to the thousands of other women who were casualties of the crippling war.

Women living in conflict zones underwent violent trauma imposed by invading Iraqi soldiers, including rape. Hundreds of thousands lost their husbands and children.

According to Radio Farda, nearly 170 women were captured as prisoners of war by Iraqi forces during this time. Iranian media does not elude to whether these women were traditional combatants or not.

In images promoted by Iran's clerical establishment, women are depicted solely in tradition roles, such as knitting or cooking for soldiers. Now, according to ISNA's Kargar, "We are ready to pursue naming sites after female martyrs because we believe the role of women in the Sacred Defense has been ignored."

Furthermore, of the countless public squares, roads and other sites named for the estimated 200,000 male Iranian soldiers who were killed in the war, only five have been named for female victims, Radio Farda said, according to Shargh daily. The latter is a Persian news site.

Kargar acknowledged in a recent address that many Iranian women were responsible for "great achievements" during the war.

Tahmineh Milani, a female Iranian filmmaker, was quoted in 2018 by Didar News, another Persian news outlet, saying that she had aspirations produce a movie highlighting the role of women during the war, but that she was forced to stop after the state shut down the project.

"I wanted to show what our women went through during the early days of the war because we have seen what men went through repeatedly,” Milani said.

It was the Foundation for the Preservation of Sacred Defense Works and Values that did not agree with Milani's efforts to make the film at that time.


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