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.

Her Voice Holds Conference on Health of Foreign Women in Iceland

Hennar Rödd / Her Voice, a nonprofit which “strives to raise awareness of the experiences of women of foreign origin in Iceland” will be holding a conference in Reykjavík today, Saturday October 2.

Topics to be discussed include the experience of women of foreign origin within the Icelandic healthcare system, not least as regards accessibility and cultural sensitivity, as well as mental health, sexual health, and freedom. The conference will take place in Icelandic and English and be translated into Polish and English.

Hennar Rödd / Her Voice received funding from the Icelandic Gender Equality Fund to support the conference, which will open with remarks from First Lady Eliza Reid, who is herself originally from Canada. Participants include activists, educators, politicians, artists, researchers, and professionals from Germany, Jamaica, Mexico, Morocco, Poland, Scotland, Singapore, Somalia, and the US.

Inspired by her mother

Hennar Rödd / Her Voice was founded by Chanel Björk Sturludóttir and Elínborg Kolbeinsdóttir and took its inspiration from Chanel’s mother, Letetia B. Jonsson, who is of Jamaican and British descent and lived in Iceland about 10 years ago.

“Whilst living in Iceland, Letetia participated in the community of women of foreign origin and met many inspiring women with whom she shared similar challenges in regards to integrating to Icelandic society as well as the language barriers they met,” explains text on the Her Voice website. “As Letetia’s daughter, Chanel experiences these challenges that women of foreign origin in Iceland face through her mother. These difficulties affected Chanel’s own experience as a mixed-race Icelander and encouraged her to take on this matter. After looking to her friend, Elínborg Kolbeinsdóttir, who studied sociology and human rights, they decided to join forces and found an organisation with the common goal to raise awareness of the experiences of women of foreign origin in Icelandic society.”

Her Voice focuses on four key challenges faced by women of foreign origin in Iceland: Language acquistion, Gender-based violence, high unemployment rates, and barriers to adequate health care.

Those who would like to attend the conference can join Her Voice at the same time; a combined ticket and membership costs ISK 1,500. A ticket alone is ISK 1,000. Find out more on the conference website here.