Narges Mohammadi, an Iranian women’s rights activist who has been imprisoned for many years, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2023.
The fact that the Nobel Committee’s chairman starts their announcement with “Woman Life Freedom” is a clear signal against the Iranian regime—and a way to draw attention to the diaspora and Iranian women who have been fighting somewhat hopelessly against the regime’s oppression of women since the protests broke out after the death of Mahsa Jina Amini over a year ago.
Narges Mohammadi, originally an engineer, has been fighting for women’s rights, freedom of expression, and against the death penalty for many years. She is one of the founders of the Iranian National Peace Council, consisting of writers, artists, lawyers, and activists working for human rights in Iran.
She is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence in the notorious Evin Prison in Iran and is set to be released only in 2026. Narges has paid an incredibly high personal price for her courageous struggle. She has barely seen her children and husband who live in exile in Paris. Her health has been poor, she is denied access to medicine, and she has been subjected to flogging.
Despite this, Narges Mohammadi has been able to communicate to some extent even during her imprisonment and has supported the protests for Woman Life Freedom during the feminist Iranian revolution. She has also refused to wear the hijab inside the prison.
Berit Reiss Andersen, the chairman of the Nobel Committee, says that with the prize, they want to convey the message that peaceful societies are created when all citizens can participate and have equal rights. They want to highlight that it is women who initiated a peaceful revolution in Iran, and the Committee hopes that the prize will be an inspiration for all women around the world living under difficult conditions in their societies.
The way the Nobel Committee is thinking is correct—there is a direct link from women’s rights to peace. Equal societies are peaceful societies, and there is research to support this. Women obtaining their rights is thus an absolute prerequisite for lasting peace.
After 30 years of working with women’s movements in conflict-affected countries, we at The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation know that women always play an instrumental role mobilising the grassroot movement in a country and make peaceful protests grow stronger. It is women who, in solidarity with other women, call for the fight against injustices and oppression in their regions and sometimes across entire continents. The work for women’s rights is a global movement, and the Nobel Committee has recognised this with the choice of this year’s laureate.
Therefore, the fact that women’s movements and women’s rights defenders fighting for democracy and rights in their countries still receive so little support, both financially and from the international community is a puzzle, and an extremely upsetting one.
It is not certain that the prize will improve the situation for either Narges Mohammadi or Iranian women. There is a risk that the Iranian regime will instead further punish women, in line with the regime’s recent harsher stance, with increased penalties for “inappropriate dressing,” among other things.
That is why it is so extremely important that those of us who can, stand up against those who hate, threaten, and even want to kill women’s rights activists. The positive aspect is that the Iranian women’s struggle for their rights—and, in the long run, the struggle of all women—has once again been brought to the forefront of the international stage.
—Petra Tötterman Andorff, Secretary-General of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation