On January 14, the Persian-language seminar Women, Life, Liberty: Iran’s Democratic Future will become the first academic symposium of its kind, welcoming esteemed panelists from across the globe to address the ongoing movement in Iran.
Looking both retrospectively at the history of the Iranian woman's movement and looking into the prospects for Iran’s future, the event was organized by the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of Toronto and its director, Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi. A professor of history and Near and Middle Eastern civilizations, Tavakoli-Targhi has devoted countless hours to bringing this symposium to fruition.
“We are the leading Institute of Iranian Studies in North America. We have had weekly events and seminars and discussions on various aspects of Iranian civilization, history and culture,” Tavakoli-Targhi says. “We also felt obligated that we should, rather than sit back and watch what is happening, begin to foster an academic conversation about the transition to this future democratic era.”
The symposium comes on the wave of a recent intensification of the women's movement and an uprising in Iran. Protests and civil unrest flared following the death of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16, 2022.
“Iran had a revolution in 1979, promising freedom and liberty but delivering the Islamic regime. The question is: how can we, through our own participation, writing, thinking and discussing the movement, begin to foster this democratic ethos,” Tavakoli-Targhi says.
Symposium panelists range from human rights lawyers such as Mehrangiz Kar, an internationally renowned writer who covered the 1979 revolution, to prominent figures within the Iranian Canadian community such as Ali Ehsassi, an MP in the House of Commons, to professors such as Nazila Ghanea at the University of Oxford, who is also the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
“We decided on a panel that is highly diverse, representing Iranian scholars and Iranian lawyers who are Iranian Jews, Iranian Baha’is, Iranians from different religious denominations,” Tavakoli-Targhi says. That diversity of the panels is a really distinctive feature of this seminar.”
While the symposium will be entirely in Persian, Tavakoli-Targhi says English speakers can keep an eye out for his weekly seminars and discussion groups. Future symposiums are also already being considered, which may tackle topics such as intellectual freedom and autonomy of universities from state intervention.
Registration for Women, Life, Liberty: Iran’s Democratic Future is still open. Participants can attend via Zoom or in-person at Innis Town Hall from 10:15 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“In a sense, we are both looking back at the history and also the horizon of expectations for a democratic and pluralistic Iran,” Tavakoli-Targhi says. “And from that point of view, I think the symposium is rather unique.”