Parishad Kavyani (she/her) is a fourth-year bioinformatics student at the University of Alberta and is the Vice President of the Iranian Students’ Association. I had the pleasure of interviewing her for Women Empowering Women. Read on to learn more about the situation in Iran and the best ways to support Iranians.
CW: Mentions of political, sexual, and personal violence.
*Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Brynn Niblett-To start, could you please give a brief introduction of who you are and how you’re connected to the current situation in Iran?
Parishad Kavyani-My full name is Parishad Kavyani, and I go by Pri. I’m originally from Iran: I was born in Iran, I grew up in Iran, I made my very first friends in Iran, friends I’m still in touch with. Iran is technically just my home, no matter how far from it I am geographically, that’s where my heart is and where my family and friends are. So there’s an emotional connection for me, and that’s how I’m connected to it. I am aware of my privileges as a young woman, a young person, in North America. I know that I could be Mahsa Amini. I am well aware that I could be murdered any day in Iran. I recognize that I have the responsibility to advocate for my people and fight for them as a free woman in North America. I understand that not everyone has to be friendly to my cause, but there’s no harm in giving people a chance to educate themselves, be grateful for the opportunities they have, and be the voice of a community that is fighting for a good cause.
BN-Are you in contact with those friends, currently? Are you getting information from them?
PK-We do get some firsthand information from them, not as soon as they wish. The internet is not stable; they sometimes shut down the internet. And so, we don’t hear from them for days, sometimes we don’t hear from them for hours. For example, most of my friends are also university students right now. There was an attack to one of the main universities in Tehran that some of my friends go to. We were in touch with them, then after a certain time, nobody had any contact with them. All of a sudden, at a certain time, the internet just goes down. And so we don’t hear from them. But occasionally, yes, we talk to them.
BN-For non-Iranians, what do you think are the most important facts about the current situation that they should be aware of?
PK-Yeah, so I thought about this question a lot. There’s a lot that we can talk about here. The first thing is that, a month ago, a lot of people just looked at this movement like it was a religious matter. And that was from the Western Muslim community. I remember there was a lot of arguments among the practicing Muslim community; how they looked at it was misunderstood. They were like, “This is a hate movement against my religion”. And I think now we’re standing at a point that most things are cleared up, but I would like to take advantage of this opportunity and talk about it as an Iranian. What they’re setting on fire is not hijab. It’s just the forced headscarf, and it’s a symbol of decades of oppression. It doesn’t only symbolize the oppression that women are facing by that forced religion, but it’s the oppression that Iranians are facing as a whole country since the Revolution of 1979. By burning the symbol of oppression, they’re just trying to deliver the message that “I’m done with this regime”. My mom, herself, she’s a practicing Muslim individual. And she’s with this movement. And I think when Muslim people read about it, and when they learn about it, they have to be in the front lines fighting, because a regime is taking advantage of what is important for them and what is valuable for them, to hurt people. So you have to be in the front lines, and be like, “No, stop, this is not my religion”.
Another thing: I personally categorize Iranian people’s demands into two different categories. Number one, is the injustice that people and, majorly, women are facing just because of patriarchy. For example, women not being allowed in stadiums, girls not being allowed to get education without that forced headscarf, women not being allowed to ride bicycles, women not being allowed to get a passport or to leave the country unless their father or husband gives them permission by signing some official papers, couples not being allowed to hold hands outside, fathers not being allowed to hug their daughters outside without showing identification, women not being able to sing, people not being allowed to dance. These are some rights that seem to us as basic human rights. But there’s a second category [of demands] that gets worse. For example, children having the right to play in their own balcony without getting shot, people being able to run errands without getting shot, university students being able to attend school without the fear of getting shot or being held hostage, dead bodies of protesters not being stolen, political prisoners not being severely raped, not using chemicals and tear gases that significantly impact people’s health, not using heavy war weapons on their own civilians. These are the rights that are not political; they are just human [rights]. The severe violation that people are facing, this is just a crime against humanity.
Also, non-Iranian people should be aware of the power of media. If the [Iranian] government could, they would have killed all the protesters by now. And there’s an example for that. In November of 2019, during a three day protest [against] a 200% inflation for the gas prices, [the government’s response] was to shut down the internet completely for one week. I had no idea how my family were doing. We just lost contact without even knowing that there was a protest because they just immediately shut it down. And in three days, they just killed 1500 of their own civilians. This regime does not care about the people that they kill. This brings me to my point: global pressure and global attention is important.
There’s another thing that I have personally faced: sometimes I talk to my friends about the things that people experience in Iran, and they can’t even imagine it happening. I think it’s really important for non-Iranians to trust us when we get first-hand information. Trust us and believe us when we talk about mass murderer, when we talk about all these horrific experiences. For example, I, myself, was arrested in Iran when I was 17 by the morality police for having red nail polish. As a 17 year old girl, I was slut shamed, because I had red nail polish. How can you justify that?
One thing that is really simple, but a lot of people don’t seem to understand the value of it, is reposting on social media. Using hashtags, reposting things [from Iranians], because it can save lives. There have been many activists that have been released from the prisons, they were in critical conditions, but they were released just because their names became a trend on social media. Social media is really powerful. The non-Iranian contribution to the movement matters so much more than the Iranian contribution, because as an Iranian, of course, I care about my country. Of course, I do everything and anything I can to make a difference for my people. But when non-Iranians also contribute, that just means that this is a social crisis, people are actually responding, and we actually have to do something about it. Non-Iranians should know that our community is always welcoming. We would love to educate people on everything, we would love to have them to join us. So these are the things that people need to be aware of: be active, care. I think a lot of people care, they just don’t know how to get involved. Reach out to the Iranian community. And even if you don’t have [access to Iranian community members], try to repost on social media, it’s really important.
BN-To go back and clarify, this isn’t a religious protest? Because I feel like I’ve seen the possibilities for Islamophobia, especially Western Islamophobia, to flourish in situations like this. And so maybe could you address that and really hammer that point home?
PK-Absolutely. Hijabi women are also protesting, because we are fighting for freedom, right? Hijabi people are also fighting, because there’s so much more to choosing what you want to wear. There’s so much more that people are fighting for. People want their freedom. People want to be able to choose what they want to do with their lives. People want to be able to travel on their own. The reason that I haven’t been able to travel to Iran since 2017 is because my parents are divorced. I don’t know where my father is. So I can’t go back home. If I go back home, I can’t come back, because I will need his documentation. There are a lot of women athletes that cannot go and attend global competitions, just because their husband does not allow them to leave the country. You know, there’s so much more that people are fighting for. And if this movement had anything to do with religion, religious people in Iran wouldn’t have been with them. If they recognize that people are intentionally disrespecting what they value so much in their lives, they wouldn’t have joined them. So that says a lot.
BN-You have spoken about misinformation on your Instagram. What are some of the biggest or most alarming pieces of misinformation that you’ve seen? And is there something that people can do to avoid getting caught up in misinformation about Iran?
PK-There are two things that are the main things that I could think of. The first one is [from] probably about a month ago. This was the first time that [Western] media started talking about Iran, only to call people liars. “There’s no way that 15,000 individuals that have been arrested are getting executed”. And this was while 227 MPs out of 290 voted yes to execute all the people that have been arrested. But that’s the reality of Iran, just because it’s outside of your imagination, it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening and doesn’t mean that you have the right to invalidate people’s experiences. And we can see that they’ve started executing people. So, we were never lying.
The second one was one that I also talked about on my Instagram, and that was by The New York Times. It was about morality police being abolished in Iran completely, which is just false. The impact of such headlines is that it misdirects the attention of people that actually care. You’re sitting here, and you’re like, “Okay, New York Times is reliable, so I’m actually gonna trust it”. But then, in the beginning, The New York Times, and many of the other Western media [outlets], recognized one problem with Iran, and that was forced religion and forced hijab. And they said, “How is this being controlled? Morality police. And now morality police [are] gone, so the problem is solved”. And just by that, everybody that cared, but they didn’t know the sources, they were just distracted. So, these are the two things that were probably the most misleading. But thanks to a lot of Iranian activists that are now outside of Iran, it got fixed. Within 24 hours, there [were] headlines about it. It was wrong; it didn’t happen. Morality police are better than ever. And that’s also not the main problem. Don’t recognize that as the main problem. And don’t recognize that as a step because, as I said, the government might make some promises. That’s only because they just want to have less attention on Iran. Because this is the time that they finally might face the consequences.
To answer the second part of the question, it’s definitely harder for the non-Iranian community to be able to differentiate between the misinformation and the accurate news. Like with The New York Times, the only reason that Iranians could pick up on it was just because [we] get first-hand information. For non-Iranians, I can’t tell you who to listen to, but there are some people that I can ask you to not listen to. Don’t listen to NIAC (National Iranian-American Council). All of their members, all of their advocates, do nothing but lobby for the Islamic Republic outside of Iran. And they always spread misinformation. For example, in 2009, there was a movement, it was one of the biggest ones, it was the Green Movement. I was nine years old, but my family was very much involved. But the global media was only influenced by what NIAC was giving them because we didn’t have as many Iranian immigrants/Iranian activists outside. NIAC just misled the entire movement. The US didn’t stand with the people of Iran, just because of the way that NIAC was representing people’s demands. The former President Barack Obama also had a comment on it, “I regret [not supporting the Iranian protests] in 2009”, because [NIAC] just misrepresented what people want.
BN-Finally, how can people best support you and your work with the Iranian Students’ Association? And is there any other information that you think people should be aware of?
PK-With our Student Association, we’re doing the Woman, Life, Freedom Project. That is asking people to say the phrase “Woman, Life, Freedom” in their own language and just submit it through the link. We try to organize rallies. We’ve had three [rallies] so far on campus. And whenever we have some more, we’re going to post it. We’ve been posting a lot of petitions that need to be signed; those positions are really important. But, yes, we’ve had three [rallies] so far. And we’re gonna have more coming up probably in the next semester. But unfortunately, the only attention that we get is from Iranian students. Again, there’s not as much community response, which I think is very important. One thing that’s really important for people is that we don’t have much time. They’re executing people as we speak. The number that I have right now, for December 4, the total deaths is 471, 64 children killed, 18,210 individuals arrested, 585 of them are students. More than 3,000 detainees have been identified. The protests are in 159 cities in Iran. So the entire country is involved. We don’t have much time and the regime is not scared of killing people. And the world needs to understand that. Right now, people, and especially youth, are fighting for a better future. And this fight just represents the good fight. We’re fighting for freedom, for justice, for women’s rights. Whatever the outcome is, it is very unlikely for Iran to be the same as what it used to be before September 16, when the government killed Mahsa Amini. So, I think individuals have to understand that, when it comes to activism, individuals matter [and are needed] for a change to happen. We have to take actions, as simple as possible. You don’t have to take your time and go to protests. But you can just repost on your social media, and just get people to understand that “Oh, she posted. Let me post too”.
If you are interested in more resources about the protests in Iran, please follow:
(On both Instagram and Twitter)
(Only on Instagram)
Featured Photo Credit: Forbes (AFP via Getty Images)
Hi! I’m Brynn, and I’m super excited to be writing on the blogs committee this year. I am a third-year Women’s and Gender Studies student with interests in film, feminism, theatre and social justice. Blog writing provides me with the perfect opportunity to combine all of these passions. I hope you will join me on my blog journey!