In absentia

Activists Masih Alinejad and Zehra Doğan awarded ‘Freethinker’ prize


The Swiss Freethinker Association has awarded its 2017 “Freethinker” prize to two pioneering women: Kurdish journalist and painter Zehra Doğan and writer-activist Masih Alinejad.

Sadly, neither woman could attend the awards ceremony. Doğan, the editor of the feminist Kurdish news agency Jinha, has been sentenced to nearly three years in prison for creating a painting of a Kurdish town destroyed by Turkish security forces. Alinejad, a guest on the Women in the World stage numerous times, including at an event in September, is the founder of the “My Stealthy Freedom” Facebook page, which encourages women to post photos of themselves without their hijabs, and she lives in exile in the United States.

Dr. Laila Alikarami (L) accepting the prize on behalf Masih Alinajed and Naz Öke and Lucie Renée Bourges on behalf of Zehra Doğan.

Naz Öke and Lucie Renée Bourges accepted the award in Doğan’s stead. And excerpts from Zehra’s letters were read in both Turkish and English at the ceremony. Dr. Laila Alikarami accepted the award on behalf Alinjead’s behalf and and delivered some brief remarks onstage. “As My Stealthy Freedom campaign believes, saying yes is easy. We can all go with the majority and no harm will come to us,” Alikarami said. “But it is only when we say no that we exercise true freedom, that is when we become our true selves. It is only when Iranian women say no, not just to government but also to dogma and cultural norms that treats them as second-class citizens then they can achieve true equality.”

“I focus on the Middle East,” her letter reads. “I would like to further my knowledge of history, culture and regional mythology. I set aside 4 hours every day with one of my co-detainees to write a novel based on her life story. I draw and I paint whenever I can. And I’ve also started giving drawing classes to my friends here. In a way, I socialize art in my fashion. They love to draw. Soon, I’ll be able to teach them how to make a paintbrush out of bird feathers found in the yard.”

“I wouldn’t like you to imagine a sad-sack withdrawn Zehra, wasting her time,” the letter continues. “I write to tell you everything I do here, so that when you hear and pronounce the name Zehra, you picture a woman with a strong morale and hope, someone who is strong and upright.” Below, watch Alinejad’s appearance at the Women in the World Canada Summit.

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