Even though International Women’s Day has passed, SAT-7 continues to promote freedom, human rights, and justice for women in the Middle East and North Africa year-round. It is important create awareness around the events surrounding women that occur, and even more important for all of us to learn and pray for the women and men in these regions during such events.
Despite a violent government clampdown, nationwide protests in Iran after the death of a young woman arrested simply for wearing the headscarf improperly continued into the new year. From the start, the producers of SAT-7 PARS’ live programs felt compelled to respond.
Presenters expressed their deep sorrow at the loss of life; shared messages of hope and support for women; spoke God’s word into the crisis; and committed the people of Iran into the Lord’s hands in prayer.
One of these live programs is Insiders, a weekly women’s social and cultural talk show. Its presenters, Hengameh Borji and Sally Momtazi, tell us how they have been affected by the brutal government response to the citizen protests in Iran and how their program adapted to support viewers in this tumultuous time.
“I have lived half of my life outside Iran,” says Hengameh, who came to the UK after coming to Christ from a Muslim background aged 16. She came to study theology for two years but was unable to return.
However, “I have always felt connected to Iran,” she stresses, “through the church I attend, through the program I present, and through my family. But my heart has never felt as connected as it is now”.
“But then I decided to be strong – to be with my people, stand with my people, and stand for my people.”
Seeing the situation develop with new deaths every day has left her “heartbroken”. Hengameh said, “It’s so hard to see the brutality of the government towards people who are just protesting.”
“For the first month I was mourning,” she explains. “But then I decided to be strong – to be with my people, stand with my people, and stand for my people.”
After the first week of protests in Iran, the Insiders team realized they had to address the aspirations and suffering of millions of Iranians. Immediately, they put the subjects they had planned for the season on hold. Instead, almost every episode over the next two months related to the protests in some way. With expert guests they discussed topics including the mandatory headscarf and women’s resistance; practicing democracy; challenges to girls in Iran and Afghanistan; and finding hope in days of despair.
“People in Iran want to live a normal life,” Hengameh adds. “To have the freedoms we all take for granted. That’s my hope and that of all Iranians.”
Hengameh’s co-presenter, Sally, says she has felt the same distress while watching weeks of government crackdowns. What has encouraged her, however, is the solidarity shown by Iranians. “It is so encouraging that men are daring to stand by the women who are leading the protests. Claiming basic rights is not just a women’s fight; it has become a men’s fight too.”
Sally says God spoke to her through Matthew 25:31-46 and showed her that she could not just stand by and do nothing: “We must pray, and we must be brave: we need to be the voices of the people when they are being silenced.”
“We try our best to cover all the events in Iran,” she explains. “In one episode we welcomed Mehdieh Golroo, a women’s activist who was jailed in 2015 for protesting against a series of acid attacks on women. She took the theme ‘Small steps to big results’ and explained how each small step can have an impact. It was very powerful,” Sally says, her voice warm with encouragement.
Asked how we should pray, Hengameh says she sees no hope of Iran’s current leaders allowing the freedom that people so desperately want. “Pray for wise and righteous leaders for Iran,” she says. “Pray for protection for people on the streets, in the prisons, on trial. And pray that we Christians will have strategies and be ready for change.”
Would you please pause and continue to pray for the following right now?
- For leaders in Iran to recognize the dignity and value of women, and act wisely and righteously
- For protection for the people on the streets, in prisons, and on trial
- For the Christians in Iran, that they will be prepared and ready for change when it comes