mother's day

Dear Mum: “You risked everything so I could live a life of freedom”

By Mona Bani, the co-director of May Project Gardens, a community garden in south London

When you first introduced me to International Women’s Day, a moment that’s among my earliest memories, I never imagined writing about it for the world to read. Back then, it was part of your hidden activities: the cover-ups and pseudonyms you were forced to live under for our protection since you’d fled post-revolution Iran because your vocal belief in equal rights for women made you a target. I remember being six years old and playing on the floor in our Copenhagen home while you continued your political work from afar, a colourful IWD poster on the wall behind you. It was unusual, brave and kind of naughty – just like you.

The other mums at school didn’t do the things you did. They didn’t produce political radio shows from their bedrooms that were illegally broadcast across Iran. They didn’t publish their own women’s rights magazines. And they didn’t plan IWD conferences every year, attended by hundreds of women from across the Middle East, fighting for the chance to create better lives for themselves and their children under governments that didn’t acknowledge their humanity. But that was our secret world – and one that you showed me before everyone else had caught up.

You led the way for me to live a life where I could produce my own radio shows, write articles and plan conferences in broad daylight, with no pseudonym, without the threats you faced. It’s only now I realise what you risked for me and what I learnt from you. You have taught me to stand up for myself and challenge injustice, no matter the cost – a message continued in your activism today.

Growing up in Denmark, where you first sought asylum, and later in London, I always knew we couldn’t return to Iran. I knew the dangers you faced there were too great and that we could never visit your parents. And I knew there was tension with your own mum for that reason. But I never quite grasped what you’d sacrificed then, never fully understood your loss. Your life sounded exciting, like something out of a movie. When I eventually made friends I could trust with that story – with our secret – they echoed the same response: that our life was cool and interesting, and that I was lucky to have a mum like you. They were right.

But what we didn’t see, was that perhaps you didn’t see yourself as lucky. Would you have chosen to leave your home if you didn’t have to? Did you need your mum around as much as I have needed you? Maybe, for you, fighting for women’s rights and human rights wasn’t a choice or hobby, it was survival. You saw it as your duty and you did it so fiercely that I can sit here today, writing this letter, without fear or needing permission. And for that, I’m forever grateful to you.

All my love, Mona

deborah says:

“My mother lives in Australia and not being able to get to her, even if something were to go wrong, has been a daily nagging anxiety of lockdown. But some of my friends have mums within walking distance and they haven’t dared see them for just as long. This Mother’s Day, more than any other, many of us truly understand the value of our mums. If you’ve lost your mother you’ve had to weather this strangest of storms without her. If you’ve been trapped together in close quarters, she might be needing the gift of space for Mother’s Day (and so might you!). If you’re waiting to give her the longest vaccinated hug of her life, then I hope you don’t have to wait much longer. In the meantime, we hope these letters might inspire your own letter to your mother.”