I was only 11 when I was approached by the morality police and asked why my hair was visible through my hijab. Frightened and forced, I lived a life where I suppressed my emotions, my feelings and my freedom. Imagine living a life where you are not allowed to paint your nails with your friends as a schoolgirl, feel the wind blow through your hair as a young woman or walk your dog as an adult without it being taken away. Imagine being told that you are not allowed to get a divorce as a woman because it is a man’s world or that you cannot love whomever you want to because marriage is only between a man and a woman. This is only a glimpse of what life was like in Iran.
I was fortunate enough to permanently move to the United States with my parents at a young age. If you asked people to describe me back then, they would say “shy, quiet, reserved.” If you now ask people to describe my personality, they will say “outgoing, outspoken, extroverted.” As a young woman, I was taught to speak quietly, to not speak up in situations and to keep to myself. Over time, I learned that this was not who I was nor what I wanted to represent. I learned that I valued being a leader and an advocate. This is one of the reasons why I serve as a future leader council of Academy of Medicine of Cleveland and Northern Ohio and also one of the reasons I chose emergency medicine as my ultimate career. I wanted to treat diverse patient populations and conditions. I wanted to be a voice for patients dealing with addictions, homelessness, abuse or violence.
My inspiration to pursue medicine and care for victims of violence stems from outrage at the injustices that women in Iran continue to face on a daily basis. On September 16, 2022, Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian woman, was killed due to not having a proper hijab on. Thanks to a brave young reporter, her story was shared online. The reporter was later taken away to jail. These events led to mass protests which further led to many more people dying or being imprisoned including brilliant young student protestors, physicians caring for the wounded and others advocating online or in person for human rights. A young mother watching protests from her roof was shot. Other innocent people were held at gunpoint on their drives home. What many people do not know is that these things have been occurring for many years in Iran, but no one gets to speak up. The government restricts access to the internet to silence those who advocate. This reminds me of the times I wished to speak up as a child but was instructed to remain silent. Currently, Iran’s parliament is planning a genocide against people arrested during ongoing anti-government protests.
As a young aspiring physician who has lived through similar horrors, I see it as my duty to raise awareness and to share not only my story but also the story of thousands of people who are currently suffering in Iran. Through story sharing and caring for those who are victims of neglect, abuse and violence, future physician leaders can fight against the ongoing injustices anywhere in the world.
On my journey to become a physician, I attended the University of San Francisco for my undergraduate education. Their motto was “change the world from here.” To me, this motto means that while I may be just one person, I have chosen a path of leadership, advocacy and compassion with the ability to set an example that can change the world. I ask the community of future physician leaders all across the world to speak out about these tragedies and help give the innocent people of Iran a chance to stand tall. The Iranian government does not define our culture, our people and the beauty of what Iran has to offer. Sharing stories via social media, speaking to politicians and writing articles will help spread the word and encourage other leaders to take action and help.
I have experienced violation of my rights and my freedom and I have seen differences in the way people treat one another in the world. I was able to find my voice, and as a physician I will help others find their own. Each day that I wake up I feel guilt due to what my friends and family go through. I also feel traumatized as I think about the way I was raised and the false beliefs that I was forced to follow. The government and other leaders brainwash the people of Iran, who deserve to be heard and loved by people all over the world. I realize that I may never be able to visit my country again due to writing these stories, but I see it as my duty to speak out. I may be just one person, but I hope that my words spread far and leave these words on the minds of those who read this article: women, life, freedom!
Image credit: Custom artwork by the author for this Mosaic in Medicine piece.