Dec. 7, 2022

Schulich prof thinks of her home country in calling for end to gender-based violence

Nationwide protests in Iran had additional urgency for Laleh Behjat
Schulich professor thinks of her home country in calling for end to gender-based violence
Attendees at the UCalgary memorial event hold signs in support of ongoing Iranian protests over the Sept. 16, 2022, death of Mahsa Amini. Joe McFarland, Schulich School of Engineering

The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women has taken on a different meaning for Dr. Laleh Behjat.

Remembering the lives of the 14 women killed at L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989 has always been an important aspect of her message when she has spoken at University of Calgary memorials in the past.

However, Behjat, PhD, says it’s also important to recognize the injustices still happening around the world, with one particularly close to her heart.

The Schulich School of Engineering professor and NSERC Chair – Women in Science and Engineering (Prairies) is originally from Iran, where nationwide protests erupted following the Sept. 16, 2022, death of Mahsa Amini, and have continued for months.

The 22-year-old died in the custody of Iran’s morality police, after she was detained for violating the hijab restrictions governing how women dress.

“It’s been 80 days since Mahsa’s death ignited the fury of Iranian people and started the feminist revolution,” Behjat said during the Dec. 6 memorial. “This movement declares its essence in three words: women, life, freedom.”

'We really, really need you'

A few dozen people were on hand for the ceremony, including a few holding signs reading “My heart is with killed kids” and “Say his name,” referring to men killed in the protests.

Behjat acknowledged that thousands have been arrested and hundreds have been killed during the protests, including children.

“What do we do in the face of such horrors?” she asked attendees. “How do we fight such violence? And isn’t fighting violence an oxymoron?”

Schulich professor thinks of her home country in calling for end to gender-based violence

Laleh Behjat speaks at the event.

Joe McFarland, Schulich School of Engineering

Behjat then spoke of the protest anthem, entitled For, which speaks of the desire of women in Iran to be free to enjoy dancing and being seen kissing someone.

“I believe the best way to act against violence is to choose kindness, caring and love,” she said. “Otherwise, we will be stuck in a cycle of violence.”

In a heartfelt moment near the end of her speech, the protesters held their signs in the air as Behjat reminded those in attendance to think of the women, children and families in her home country.

“I ask you to take action for those who are oppressed because we really, really need you,” she said. “We need you to remember those who have fallen and we need you to help us break the silence.”

We need your messages of love to remind us that we deserve to be free, to have dreams, to have a normal life.

Equality and inclusiveness for all

The ceremony, which was hosted by UCalgary Students’ Union president Nicole Schmidt and Graduate Students’ Association Vice-President Student Life Masume Akbari, MSc’18, also featured a speech from University of Calgary Interim Provost and Vice-President (Academic) Penny Werthner.

Werthner said it’s important for UCalgary and others to host events like this, as educational institutions want to create opportunities for everyone.

“That’s what education is all about: equality and inclusiveness for all,” said Werthner. “That’s the reason a day like this is so important to remember all of the victims of inequalities that have happened.”

She said silence is not the answer, adding the hatred displayed around the world is in our own backyard as well, as witnessed by the events of L’Ecole Polytechnique and the ongoing revelations around missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“I hope we gather today to say ‘no more,’” Werthner said. “Only equality and meaningful, real, tangible equality that is felt by every boy and girl will break this cycle, and that is my hope today that each and every one of us, in this room and beyond, dedicate ourselves to.”

You can watch the ceremony here.

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