Women, Life, Freedom: Candlelight March in Solidarity with Activists in Iran and Afghanistan

UN Women in Iceland hosted a candlelight march against gender-based violence on Friday night. RÚV reports that this is the first time the march has been held since the COVID-19 pandemic began and took place under the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom,” echoing the rallying cry that has taken up by feminist activists and protestors in Iran and beyond.

The march began at Arnarhóll and ended at Bríetartorg, a small square in downtown Reykjavík that commemorates activist and suffragette Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir (1856 – 1940). Harpa concert hall was illuminated in orange during the event, as orange has come to symbolize a better, violence-free future for women and girls around the world.

First Lady Eliza Reid and Minister of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir

According to a Facebook post about the event, the candlelight march marks the beginning of 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, “an international campaign that commences on 25 November—the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women—and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day.” This year, the 16 Days of Activism campaign continues with its ongoing mission to end femicide, “the murder of women  because they are women.” Event organizers say that 81,000 women and girls were killed globally in 2020, around 47,000 or 58% of whom died at the hands of an intimate partner or a family member. This equates to a woman or girl being killed every 11 minutes in their home.

“By taking part in UN Women Iceland’s Candlelight March,” concluded UN Women in Iceland, “we show solidarity with the brave women and girls of Afghanistan and Iran who are leading the fight against their countries’ regimes’ repressive treatment of women and girls, while being met with brutal and often lethal force.”

‘There’s no going back because there’s nothing to go back to’

Zarah Mesbah speaks at the 2022 Candlelight March

Friday’s march was led by activist Zahra Mesbah, an Afghan woman who was born in Iran, Iranian Zoreh Aria, and UN Women in Iceland director Stella Samúelsdóttir. Individuals from both Afghanistan and Iran were invited to walk in front. In her speech, Zahra emphasized unity, saying: “The only thing that matters is that I am a person, and all people deserve freedom and to live with dignity.”

For her part, Zoreh urged attendees to show their support for the Iranian women who are risking their lives every time they protest. “In their minds, there’s only one way forward and there’s no going back because there’s nothing to go back to,” she said. “They are fighting for freedom and dignity. We ask people to stand with peace, freedom, and the Iranian nation and to ask the government to take action.”

All photos taken by Heiðrún Fivelstad on behalf of UN Women in Iceland.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Awarded at Women Leaders Forum

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

Former President of Iceland Vigdís Finnbogadóttir has received the 2020 POWER, TOGETHER Award for her role in making the pink ribbon the globally-recognised symbol of breast cancer. Former US Diplomat Nancy G. Brinker, a breast cancer awareness advocate, is the other recipient of the award this year. The award was (virtually) presented to Vigdís today during this month’s Reykjavík Global Forum Women Leaders conference.

Breast Cancer Survivor

Vigdís was the first woman to be democratically elected as a Head of State in the world. She served as Iceland’s President from 1980-1996. Today she remains the longest-serving elected female head of state of any country.

Vigdís was a single mother and ran for president not long after surviving breast cancer. During her campaign, she was asked many personal questions, for example whether having just one breast would hamper her ability to lead the country. Her powerful response was “I never planned to breastfeed the nation.”

Global Forum Champions Women Leaders

According to a press release from Women Political Leaders, the organisation behind the POWER, TOGETHER Awards, they “recognise women for their distinguished commitments to set aside differences and come together to ensure a better future, because no sustainable change can be reached in isolation.”

The Reykjavík Global Forum was launched in November 2018 in Reykjavík, Iceland. This year the forum features Hillary Clinton, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and current WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The Forum is co-hosted by Women Political Leaders (WPL) and the Government and Parliament of Iceland.