A few weeks ago, more than thirty universities in Iran agreed to prohibit women from studying 77 different majors. I sat in a lecture hall five thousand miles away reading about how Iranian women are forbidden to study any subject that will lead to their personal success or independence. I looked at pictures of female students holding picket signs, shook my head and pitied the anger in their eyes, thought to myself how awful it is to be told you can’t learn. Then I tuned back in to the end of class, shut my computer, and went to dinner with friends—a dinner during which we seethed with stress about upcoming papers and sternly discussed whether or not Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. McSteamy would survive another episode.
We all do it. We read articles about faraway places, and we want to care. But all we do is think about how awful it must be and go on with our day. What else are we supposed to do, right? Reading about these types of issues feels so far away from our world that they become almost fantastic. In a sense the newspaper has come to act as the world’s most intriguing novel, highlighting exotic and dreadful stories that give us temporary relief from the thoughts that pervade our day-to-day lives. The stories always make us think, but only until we realize we are late for work or that the new episode of Madmen is about to start.
I don’t want to forget about what I read anymore. But the first step is not taking action every time I see something wrong in the world. I am not asking anyone to fly to Iran and start protesting beside the female students. The first step is remembering, allowing these events to inform the way we live our daily lives. When I do that, when I think about the imprisoned minds of those Iranian women, the heap of requirements I must fulfill to graduate doesn’t seem so daunting. I am no longer upset that Penn forces me to take courses in every conceivable area—and it doesn’t feel so much like force anymore. It feels like a push, like Penn is looking out to make sure I am educated enough to succeed. Whenever I’m stressed about the amount of work I get to do, I remember the determined eyes of those Iranian women. Remembering, appreciating. It’s the way we have to start. Only once we begin allowing these stories to resonate with us for more than the time it takes to finish our breakfast can we gain the strength and passion to begin fighting.
The Seneca International Research Committee is here to bring you the stories worth remembering. We are here to educate you on the status of Women’s Rights around the world so that you can start gaining the passion needed to take action. So as you read these pieces, all I ask is that you remember them, that you think about the fact that you weren’t forced into marriage at twelve years old, that you don’t have to fear soldiers entering your home at any hour of the night to use your body as they please, and that you have the power to learn about anything you want. So let’s learn about these issues together, let’s remember them together, and soon, we can take action together.
Director of Research
University of Pennsylvania Branch