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Opinion: How women became warriors in Iran

No strangers to struggle, they have been a driving force behind the Green Movement and on the front lines of post-election protests.

An Iranian woman protester shows her green-painted palm in support of defeated reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi during a silent demonstration against the results of the Iranian presidential election in central Tehran on June 17, 2009. The sign across her mouth bears a stamp of Mousavi's signature. (Fars News/Reuters)

Her eyes, wide open, she seemed to be staring into nothingness as her body was drained of its blood.

The world watched Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old music student, die from a gunshot wound after protesting peacefully in Tehran. The video, circulated on YouTube, was something that a lot of people won’t forget very soon. I know, as an Iranian, I never will.

Even though official reporting of events has been very limited due to restrictions by the government, we were able to get a glimpse of what is going on in the streets via amateur videos and photos. What was evident in all those images is a very clear presence of women of all ages in the protests. Photos showed young, green-clad girls standing defiantly next to other, male protesters.

The images give evidence of the bravery of Iranian women. Today those women are not just fighting for a sheerer head-scarf or the freedom to show a little more of their arms; they are fighting to change the political face of the country and thus their future.

For years many women have carried out subtle campaigns of civil disobedience. They pushed the boundaries with acts as small as wearing brighter nail polish, more make up and even by smoking cigarettes in cafes. These were considered huge steps. But these protests were as far as women would go because they feared punishment.

Azadeh Moaveni, who reported for Time Magazine from Tehran, in her latest book “Honeymoon in Tehran” described how the general population in Iran was not ready for revolt: “Every few months an editor at Time would ask whether we could do an 'Iranian youth at boiling point' story, and I would explain that Iranian youth weren’t even heating up yet.”

Moaveni’s view, which was very apt at the time, shows how so much changed this June when election results were announced and young Iranians felt anger and frustration. Many women, who used to be preoccupied with the latest fashion trends and what to wear to the next party, faced bullets and batons in the streets. Risking their lives, or imprisonment, they were fighting for what they had yearned for over many years. They were trying to get their rights by peaceful means because they knew the consequences.

Women have been undoubtedly a great part of the so called “Green Movement.” Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, became a key part of the campaign. Her presence meant a promise of a more open arena for women in the political scene and maybe some relaxation of the rigid social laws. Young women appreciated the attention that Mousavi gave his wife, treating her as his equal and a friend. They envisioned that such relationships would become more widespread in Iran if he became the next president.