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We cannot let the Syria scenario continue in Ukraine. Given the direct connection which Putin himself has drawn between his invasion of Ukraine and his support of rape and misogyny, it is incumbent upon global feminist activists who are opposed to gender violence to stand up and speak out against this invasion.

As an Iranian American socialist feminist, I strongly oppose Vladimir’s Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and wish to express my solidarity with the Ukrainian people who are fighting valiantly to defend themselves and their right to a democratic existence.

Before Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, one of the most obvious expressions of his intention was his misogynistic metaphor about rape. In a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Moscow on February 8, he attacked President Volodymyr Zelensky for refusing to concede to Russian government-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Putin said: “Like it or not, my beauty, you have to put up with it.” This line was drawn from a Russian rock band’s song from the 1990s which referred to raping a dead woman.

Unlike some other imperialist powers who have tried to put a humanitarian or feminist cover on their brutal invasions, Putin finds no need to hide the intentions of Russian imperialism.

Unlike some other imperialist powers who have tried to put a humanitarian or feminist cover on their brutal invasions, Putin finds no need to hide the intentions of Russian imperialism. In fact, it is precisely Putin’s open adherence to misogyny, white supremacy and authoritarianism that makes him attractive to leaders and people around the world who espouse these views, whether Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen or Jair Bolsonaro or those who participated in the January 6, 2021 coup attempt in Washington D.C.

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But the Ukrainian people are not just objects of Putin and Russian imperialism’s violence. They are also actively resisting subjects with a long history. Ukrainian women are an active part of the resistance.

I cannot help but compare Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to Russia’s imperialist invasion of Syria in 2015. In September 2015, after it had become clear that the popular uprising in Syria against the brutal and authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad was winning, Russia launched a series of massive aerial attacks on the parts of the country where the moderate and progressive segments of the Arab opposition were holding out. Those aerial attacks destroyed or severely damaged much of the old and historic city of Aleppo, and many other parts of the country. They made millions homeless. The Syrian regime and its backer, the Iranian army and its militia groups on the ground, continued their ground assault and killed and maimed several hundred thousand innocent Syrians, all in the name of attacking ISIS. Millions of the homeless Syrians — individuals and families– walked from Syria to Europe as refugees.

We cannot let the Syria scenario continue in Ukraine. Given the direct connection which Putin himself has drawn between his invasion of Ukraine and his support of rape and misogyny, it is incumbent upon global feminist activists who are opposed to gender violence to stand up and speak out against this invasion.

If #Me Too activists can use social media to speak out against individual men who rape or sexually assault or harass women, surely we should be able to adopt Ukraine as our cause and defend the innocent people of Ukraine against rape. In doing so, we are not only defending Ukrainians but all victims of gender violence around the world.

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I also hope the sympathy being shown globally toward Ukrainian refugees will extend itself to understanding the plight of Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi, Sudanese, Haitian, Venezuelan, Myanmar and many other African refugees who have fled invasions and authoritarian regimes.

Frieda Afary
Iranian Progressives in Translation