Cultural Dialogue (Part 1)

The Neglected Roles of Women in the Holy Defense Literature

Adjusted by Iranian Oral History Website
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Over the past two decades, the role and status of women during the Holy Defense era has taken on a significant portion of the sacred defense literature, but there are still a variety of topics that have not been paid much attention to.

On December 8, 2020, Faezeh Sasanikhah, author of Bright Lights of the City, and a researcher in this field in a live program of Radio Goftogoo examined importance of addressing women's lives and memories in the holy defense and the reason for not paying attention enough to some of these memories. Somayeh Shariflou and Fatemeh Doostkami also guested by phone for a few minutes and talked about the role of women in literature.

Iranian Oral History Website presents discussions of this program in two parts to those interested in this field. What you read here is the first part of this cultural dialogue.

Faezeh Sasanikhah talked about her assessment of conditions of representation of women in the holy defense literature relying on her experiences in her works and interviews she has conducted during this period: "For almost two decades, the issue of women's role in the holy defense has been seriously discussed. Regarding my studies on this subject and the interviews I've done in this regard, I can say that in the initial work on this issue, more attention has been paid to the memories of women who were on the front lines, such as rescuers, nurses and those who voluntarily traveled on the routes leading to war zones, but gradually the discussion became more widespread and its scope became more serious and role of wives and mothers of the martyrs in the war was addressed.

The compiler of the book Bright Lights of the City continued: "One of the best published works in this regard is narrative of wives of the martyrs, which I think the first time Fatah Narrative Institute made documentaries in which wives of commanders like Shahid Chamran recounted their memories and talked about their lives and how to being familiar with their wives and marry and live with them during the war until their martyrdom, and then Habibeh Jafarian influenced by these documentaries wrote a series of small pocketbooks called "The Hidden Half of the Moon." One of these books was memoir of Ghadeh Jaber (Chamran), wife of Shahid Chamran, which I read and love it very much; in fact, these documentaries and books removed latent layers of joint life between commanders and their wives that haven’t been discussed. Until then, what we had seen and heard from the commanders' lives was about military matters, but from that point onward, the discussions entered their family lives and role of their wives was arisen.

This writer and researcher in the field of sacred defense and women remarked about role-playing martyrs' wives and significant impact of women in the role of motherhood for upbringing brave men: “My familiarity with literature of the holy defense in the field of women began here, but gradually and at the same time society also paid more attention to the issue of women and their role in the holy defense and more discussions were raised about it. For example, publication of One Woman's War: Da (Mother) brought about a great change in literature of women of Holy Defense and attracted a lot of attention to this subject. Of course, I should point out that before publishing this book, other books about presence of women in the war had been published, especially about the girls who were present in Khorramshahr and Abadan as volunteer aid workers on the front lines and nearby, but these books were not seen as worthy.

Author of Until Trumpet of Israfil explained: “In addition to addressing role of mothers and wives of martyrs and women who worked on the front lines in hospitals, the role of girls and women who were in war support headquarters in different cities and villages that were not necessarily related to war zones were regarded; for example, women and girls who were active in Tehran or Alborz province, or women who voluntarily worked in one of the hospitals in the very small but key city of Mahshahr. During the war, the wounded were sent there from the south of the country and from there to other cities. We see that these people slowly entered the scene of recounting women's narratives from the war.

Regarding the reason for women's low presence as the subject of the holy defense literature, Sassanidkhah said, "As long as we reduce the war to firing bullets and imagine it only on the battlefield, not only in the field of women, but also in other matters related to the field of war and holy defense, we are facing these deficiencies. If we can distance ourselves from this approach and examine role of women in the holy defense from different angles, we will engage in a variety of activities that have been less addressed or haven’t yet been addressed.

In response to the presenter's question why our heroes still do not express depth of their feelings and keep some points of memories for themselves, she said: One of the reasons that narrators of Holy Defense do not express all that they have seen is to preserve its spiritual reward, and hero of Holy Defense believes that we fought for the sake of God and let it remain for the hereafter, but the second reason goes back to our interviewers and writers, which is a more important issue. The extent and manner in which we communicate with war narrators is very effective in expressing different issues on their behalf. I have been working in this field since 2014 and my very important experience is that if there is a good relationship between the narrator and the author, we see good things happen in this regard, but if there is no communication, the narrator would not express many parts of his/her memories. In fact, if the narrator trusts the interviewer, he/she would express many things has not previously been willing to recount. Another point is that they may tell you some points during the interview, but the society is still unprepared to accept some issues or create controversies in the narrator's individual and family matters, and therefore it is deleted in the text.

She pointed to other roles of women during the Holy Defense and said about necessity of explaining these roles: all aspects of women's presence should be addressed. The part that has become a concern for me in recent years about role and status of women during the Holy Defense is cultural role of women behind the front, which has had a great impact on society. For example, how much text do we have about mother of a martyr who lost her young who had children and wife and his loss in the family is clear and tangible, but ignores this issue and invites other martyrs to attend the front at the funeral of other martyrs? And how many of these mothers have we introduced? Or how many works do we have about student girls who did cultural activities at school and were active in the field of poetry, theater, and cultural support of the Front, and for example, by writing letters and sending paintings, they encouraged the warriors? Poetry, theater, and the likes made atmosphere of behind the front harmonious and empathetic with atmosphere of the frontline, nurturing women and girls who would accept responsibilities of a warrior, veteran and martyr's wife in the future. Even in Eternal Fragrance, memoirs of Masoumeh Ramhormozi, I have read that the narrator said we grew Sabzeh during Norouz and sent to the front, which made the warriors happy. These are our neglected cultural perspectives of the war. Or the women who lived in the cities around Alborz province went voluntarily to the surrounding cities and harvested crops or picked products of gardens so that a fighter on the front would feel comfortable with his crops. Such measures gave the fighting warrior spirit that people behind the front are thinking of you.

At the continuance, Somayeh Sharifloo, a writer and researcher in the field of the sacred defense, was telephone guest of the program. Regarding status of the sacred defense’s literature in the field of women and books written on women's subjects, she said: "If we want to look at the topics that haven’t been discussed and not paid attention to in a large way, there are a lot of work to do, but the work that has been done are very good. Especially recently, over the past 10, 15 years, much better works has been done in terms of that more detailed material has been done of the memories of women and roles they played during Holy Defense or events that women were present in.

Shariflu said about the most important concerns of women who were present in field of the holy defense, and a part that she considers has been missing from the war in the women's narrative: “this issue can be looked at from a number of angles. One side is interviewers and writers who deal with this issue and first addressed women who had been present in the front, but when they consulted this issue, they concluded that a woman who might have been present at the scene as a rescuer or defender has been as effective in creation of this very brilliant history that a woman living in a war town or a woman who was a defender’s mother or wife. He was a defender. As someone who does research in this field, I believe it's all important and all historical layers that women had been present should be addressed. Early, the writers attended women who had been present on the battlefield, but gradually concluded that memories of wives, mothers, and even women who had no one on the fronts were also important.

The author of the book The Most Beautiful Days of Life in the final part of her interview said about her three published works: “My first book is a combined work between memories of martyred commanders and the prophet's (PBUH) Sira called Rainy Eyes. The second book is research on all the roles women had during Holy Defense. Of course, I started this work from the beginning of Islam, i.e., role of women in the holy defense from the early days of Islam throughout history, the revolution and after that; and my last book The Most Beautiful Days of Life, is memoir of Ms. Seyedeh Fawzia Madih, one of Khorramshahr women whose husband was among the defenders. In this book, we have discussed urban wars, and it was published by Sooreh Mehr Publication, and I have two other works about, Khorramshahr which dates from history of Islamic Revolution and reaches the khorramshahr resistance.


...To be continued


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