After many months of nationwide protests in Iran under the slogan “Woman. Life. Freedom”, SAT-7 surveyed viewers in the country about their views on women’s rights and religious freedom. The survey, which also included responses from viewers in Afghanistan, will inform the new season of Insiders, a program that advocates for gender equality and Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).
The survey was conducted at a time when women’s rights and religious freedom are under severe threat in the Persian-speaking world. Iran’s oppressive treatment of women has not abated despite months of protests, while Afghanistan – ruled by the Taliban for over two years now – is barring women and girls from most areas of public life.
Respondents were asked if they believe discrimination against women increases whenever the right to FoRB is denied. Several respondents agreed wholeheartedly, while others were more cautious. “It is not necessarily the theocracy that suppresses women, but the theocracy can also lead to their suppression,” explained one respondent, while another believed that “the right to freedom is denied to all sections of society, even men”.
When asked whether women’s freedoms were restricted in the name of religion, there was a clear divide between Christian respondents and people of other faiths. Responses from Christians included, “We are all equal in Christ,” and “God created men and women to complete each other.”
But the reality for women in the Persian-speaking world is far from this. “In Iran, neither men nor women are valuable,” lamented one respondent, while another said, “In Afghanistan and Iran, women are like slaves.”
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
The survey responses made clear the lack of religious freedom experienced by Persian speakers. “I can’t go to a church freely; I can’t even freely say that I am a Christian,” one viewer said. “It is all secret. I can’t walk easily in my path with Christ.”
Living secretly was a common theme in the answers we received. Another response read, “I was rejected by my family and deprived of my father’s inheritance right due to my change of belief. I have lived secretly for 15 years, and I have no citizenship rights.”
Restrictions infiltrate even the most private, sacred spaces: homes, families, and minds. One comment read, “You can’t freely go to church, freely hold religious ceremonies, or freely talk about your thoughts and desires.” Another said that “hopes, desires, faith, and belief are completely gone”.
SAT-7 programs like Insiders exist for people such as these, people who long for greater religious freedom and autonomy in their lives.
HOW FoRB CAN HELP TRANSFORM THE REGION
We asked if, and how, FoRB might benefit the region. There was near-total agreement that FoRB would have a great and positive impact for a range of reasons: it would lead to the “progress of society”, “flourishing of opinions”, and more.
One man summed up what it could look like in practice. “If I have a friend who sits at his different place of worship and hears and feels peace, it is worthy of respect for me. And on the other hand, he can also accept me if I am not like him. We may not have a relationship together anymore, but we can respect the privacy and opinions of each other.”
Another respondent was careful to note that it is how we use our freedom that counts. “[FoRB] can create a positive or negative effect depending on the type of faith and belief. If the truth is freely expressed and revealed in a society, its positive effect can be received.”
The conditions in Iran and Afghanistan are forcing many families to flee. Click here to read more: https://sat7.org/middle-eastern-families-on-the-move/
Arvand, an Iranian Christian who responded to our survey, moved to the UK with his family in search of greater freedoms. “I thank God that the British government supports me and my wife,” he said. “It is enough for us that we are somewhere that we can worship our Lord freely. But if I had freedom of speech and opinion in my country and I was allowed to think about other religions, I would not be forced to run away from my home country to the West and be in exile with my wife and two children.”
Many other Persian speakers have moved to Türkiye in recent years. “I lived in Iran and my social rights were very limited, but now I have enough freedom in Türkiye,” said one survey respondent. “Of course, due to being an immigrant, I am still facing limitations here.”
Moving country may lead to greater freedoms, but it raises other problems. “I live in Türkiye as a refugee,” one respondent shared. “But I do not have the rights of citizenship. I am not allowed to work; I don’t have medical insurance; and there is much racial discrimination.”
HOW THE CHURCH CAN HELP
One of our final questions asked how the Church might better support Persian-speaking Christians. Responses varied massively: some people expressed bitter disappointment and hopelessness, while others called for more help.
“As Iranian immigrants, we need more support. I do not see support from the international Christian community,” one respondent stated. But several others suggested that restrictions were making it impossible for Christians to help. As one person claimed, “As long as this government is there, you can’t do anything.” However, all the answers to this question – and to the whole survey – indicate the importance of FoRB rights in the region and the need to promote them vigorously.
Insiders, presented by Sally and Hengameh, is a popular SAT-7 PARS talk show featuring discussions with experts. Now entering its eighth season, Insiders was initially created to champion women’s rights in the Persian-speaking world, but its aims have since expanded to promote other human rights, especially FoRB, for both male and female viewers in Iran and Afghanistan.
Would you please pause and pray for the following right now?
- For Iran and Afghanistan to experience freedom of religion and belief
- For the safety and justice for women in these regions
- For international support on these important issues