Bahar Mozaffari: The story of an Iranian feminist and her work for gender equality
Updated: Sep 15, 2023
Bahar arrived in Finland in 2006 as a refugee and started taking Finnish lessons immediately. She lives in Espoo now with her husband and two children. Her son has just finished studying in high school, and her daughter is at second year of elementary school. Others describe her as a very active, lively, and fearless child.
The name, Bahar, struck me as lovely. It literally translates to "spring season" in Persian/Farsi. She was born in Iran with three siblings. Bahar, a lovely lady, well-dressed and with a bright smile on her face. The girls in her family were treated like equals, knowing that they have the same value as men, and that they must have the same rights as men.
This is how Bahar became a feminist, she was determined to change the circumstances for herself and women in Iran; therefore, she started working for a women’s rights organization where she helped women, mostly Afghans, who had very difficult living circumstances and no right to the public health care system. For example, she helped women give birth, which was illegal. Therefore, she got in trouble and had to flee Iran. In 2004, she arrived in Turkey with her little son; we had to stay there for two years before going to Finland as refugees. "Things were not easy for us there because the Turkish state did not want us to be there," she describes.
As a migrant woman, I have always been interested in issues of identity and gender equality. When I moved to Finland, my experience was similar to that of other immigrant women who come here. I had to learn a new language, find a job, and make friends.
I found myself involved in this subject because of my background and experiences as an immigrant woman. My father taught me and my sisters to dream about a better and more equal world when we were growing up. He worked as a teacher, a translator and a writer but spent twelve years in prison due to political reasons. He was the first feminist I knew in my life.
In my home in Iran, we were never reminded of our gender or told that we couldn't do something because of it. My father didn't think about women this way. He never let himself get stuck on those stereotypes about gender roles. Neither did my mother. She always reminded us: we have no choice but to make the world more sustainable. This can best happen through acts of equality!
I think that women's voices are heard in Finland. The Finnish system is amazing and invites women to come, speak, and make themselves heard. But it has not always given positive results, because Finnish people and foreign women often have different mindsets and don't have the same way of understanding and comprehending things. So, their voices must be interpreted and translated. This is what we do in our Soraya association, which my sisters and I built for Gender Equality. Our mother’s name is Soraya. We wanted the name of this organization to honor her, as she has always supported women and fought for gender equality.
My job is to interpret and translate the women's words in adequate terms and words so that their voices can be heard well.One of the biggest challenges in my work has been helping women overcome their wrong and negative beliefs about themselves. Women often have very low expectations about their potential, and they are full of negative narratives and negative beliefs. They hardly believe that they have much potential to do better.
My dream is also to bring research into this association—that means having research projects together with the University of Helsinki on subjects such as gender equality. Our vision is to empower women through education and research. We believe that no matter where you live and what language you speak, every person has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
For women living here, I would like to say that you are all unique and special in some way. You are all smart and creative, so don't compare yourself with others but rather use your special qualities and talents to create a wonderful life for yourself.
Finnish Refugee Woman of the Year 2017
Projektipäällikkö, Vantaan osaamiskeskus
Presidentti Tarja Halosen johtaman Tasa-arvoteoilla vaikuttavuutta -foorumin jäsen
Naisjärjestöjen keskusliiton hallituksen jäsen
WILPF Suomen osaston hallituksen jäsen:
Kansanvalistusseuran hallintoneuvoston jäsen
Soraya- tasa-arvo ry:n perustaja, kotoutumisasiantuntija ja Life-coach