Shortly after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in the late 1970s, my mother marched in the streets of Iran to fight for women’s basic right to freedom and expression. The incoming government had brought with it its own fundamentalist version of Islam and was brutally enforcing its laws on the people of Iran – a nation previously known as the strongest and most modernized country in the Middle East. Women were soon treated as second class citizens, being told what to wear, how to live, how to act, and what to think. Over 30 years later, my mother was once again marching for women’s rights, this time in the streets of Washington, D.C. and alongside her daughter to foster a more perfect union, to promote justice, and ensure domestic tranquility in the United States of America.
On Saturday, January 21, we joined forces with hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens to walk in solidarity for human rights, equality and inclusion. As an athlete ambassador for Shirzanan, a non-profit media and advocacy organization that increases access to sport for Muslim female athletes around the globe, I was proud to join forces with nexus organizations, namely Athlete Ally, who fight discrimination of LGBTQ athletes in sport and through the engagement of athletes. Donning my Shirzanan t-shirt and helping to hold a banner reading “Equality is a Team Sport,” my mother and I marched with current and former Olympic and professional athletes – Mary Harvey, Joanna Lohman, Lori Lindsey, and Greg Louganis – to name a few.
The march represented the very essence of a nonviolent protest, with not a single arrest or incident of violence taking place. The atmosphere throughout the day was one of positivity, collaboration, kindness, and hope. From strangers sharing their snacks to making room for the elderly or pregnant women, despite the fact that we were packed tightly together like sardines, to the clever signs and chants, we were able to witness what unity meant. The recognition that we are all in this melting pot that is the United States was front and center as more than half a million people convened toward the National Mall in the name of one cause: human rights.
A member of our coalition shared with us a news report that President Trump and his family were bowling in the White House while a significantly sized protest was taking place. I asked my mother if she believed our efforts would make a difference. She stated, “I am happy that women have been moved enough to pour into the streets in this way. It is a testament to how they can come together and make their power known. But without more of these events and policy-driven pushback, this march will have little effect.” Perhaps she was right: only two days after the Women’s March, and one day after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Trump reinstated a federal ban on U.S. funding for international health organizations that counsel women on family planning options that include abortion. Approximately $600 million annually is spent on international assistance for family planning and reproductive health programs, making it possible for 27 million women and couples to access contraceptive services and supplies. None of this money is reported to be spent on performing abortions.
Even though the above decision was made based on party lines, we, the people, must continue to march and partner with nexus organizations and local and state representatives to protect human rights, women’s rights, American values, and our policy of inclusion to ensure that America remains a beacon of light and hope.