March 20 marks the first Nowruz—the Iranian New Year—since the Iranian government murdered 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini in September. Allegedly, she wasn’t wearing her hijab properly, which the oppressors in charge decided was worthy of a death sentence.
Since Amini was killed, thousands of Iranians have protested in the streets. Other women have been ripping off their hijabs in a show of solidarity. According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, or HRANA, 516 protesters had been killed as of this past January; 70 of them included children. Just this month, it was reported that schoolgirls in dozens of schools across Iran were poisoned. It’s believed that Islamist groups that don’t want girls to get an education were responsible for the attacks.
I grew up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, and we slowly saw the rights of women being taken away. There, girls and women are treated like second-class citizens. They are mandated to cover their hair with hijabs and dress modestly, and if they don’t, the consequences can be deadly—just like it was in the case of Amini. Each year, thousands of girls between the ages 10 and 14 are married off with permission from their fathers. At a time when a girl is coming of age, she is forced to wed, be subservient to a man and have his children. It’s sickening.
My mother and father saw the way the country was going, and they didn’t want my sister and me to lose out on any opportunities. They knew we had to escape the country. My father left before us because it was safer that way. My mom, sister and I fled together with Iranian border guards shooting at our vehicle as we got away. We risked our lives for a brighter future in the United States. I’ll never forget my parents’ sacrifice; they left everything behind for us.
Nowruz is a holiday that celebrates spring. It commemorates renewal and the triumph of light over dark, of goodness over evil. But while Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his thugs are still in power, can we really celebrate the deeper meaning of Nowruz? How can we rejoice while protesters are being killed and schoolgirls are poisoned? How can we observe the holiday while nothing is being done to help the Iranian people?
This Nowruz, it’s important to get together with friends and family and usher in spring, which is a time of hope and rebirth. We can pray that the Iranian people will rise up and take back their country.
But at the same time, we can’t give up on our protests against the tyrants in power, even if we’re thousands of miles away. We can’t stop speaking about what’s going on in Iran, an issue that the mainstream media has largely ignored.
We also can’t stop urging our politicians and government organizations to take action and penalize Iran for what they’re doing to their people. In December, the United Nations finally removed Iran from the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, but why were they on there in the first place? We need more than symbolic moves.
Next year, when we celebrate Nowruz, I pray that it won’t be under the same circumstances. I hope that Mahsa Amini’s horrifying death leads to real change in the region, and that girls and women can once again be free.
Until then, I’m going to be as loud as I can, shouting my support for the protesters and pushing politicians to take real action. We are not powerless.
When we stand up for what’s right, that’s truly when good will triumph over evil.
Dr. Sheila Nazarian is a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, star of the Emmy-nominated Netflix series “Skin Decision: Before and After,” and the host of the podcast The Closet.