5 minutes with Iranian women: Hope and Despair: An Iranian Poet Living in Exile Sheema Kalbasi left her country at 14 and trans
It's been 25 years since Sheema Kalbasi last walked the streets of Tehran. The poet and human rights advocate was 14 years old when she left Iran and says, even at that time, she knew she would never be able to return. Now residing in Washington, D.C., Sheema has become an award-winning poet and a voice for women and minorities struggling against human rights abuses in Iran.
Recently, Sheema spoke with TakePart about her poetry, life in exile and why she is dedicated to fighting for human rights.
TakePart: Can you tell me what happened when you were younger and had to leave Iran?
Sheema: I was five years old at the time of the revolution. Like many Iranians, the revolution changed my life and my family’s in the most fundamental way: growing up in fear that every day someone might knock on your door and take one of your loved ones away, watching the bullet-riddled bodies of the executed army officers on TV and on the front pages of newspapers and later during the Iran-Iraq war. The list goes on and on.
I left Iran at the relatively young age of 14. I was only partly following my family, it was also my own deep desire to live in freedom. Despite all the difficulties I experienced, if I had to make that exact decision again, I would choose the same. We lived in Pakistan for few years and moved to Denmark afterwards.
TakePart: You have become a voice for the people of Iran through your poetry and work as an activist. Why did you choose this path?
I did not choose any particular path. This is part of who I am: to express to the best of my ability the pain I see in others and my own life experiences as a teenage asylum seeker, an exile, an immigrant, a child of post-revolution Iran and today as a woman.
TakePart: What are your views on the human rights situation in Iran. Specifically for women?
Sheema: The ongoing human rights abuses in Iran include execution, stoning, arrest and torture of ethnic and religious minorities, trade unionists, students and women’s rights activists. In a nutshell, Iranian women experience legal gender discrimination. They cannot be appointed to the highest office, they cannot become judges, they cannot leave the country without the permission of their husbands or fathers and they are subjected to cruel punishment and the most grotesque penal code such as stoning. However, I believe that in the near future, the Iranian women will play an instrumental role in bringing about change, not only to improve their own status but for Iranian society in general.
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By Jenny Inglee