The UAE mourns as Mariam Behnam, an ardent supporter, and fighter, for women’s rights passes away at the age of 94.
An true inspiration to all women of all ages and all backgrounds, Mariam Behnam, who sadly passed away Thursday (December 4) afternoon was a diplomat, author, public speaker and champion for women’s rights – all attributes that led her not only to be named as the winner of the Artist award at the Emirates Woman Woman Of The Year 2010, but also the overall winner of the prestigious event.
Mariam was born in Iran on February 25, 1921, the year of the big earthquake that hit her hometown, Bandar Lingah, making her a survivor from day one. She fled Iran in 1978, during the revolution, and briefly lived in India and Pakistan before eventually moving to Dubai, a place which she would call home for over 30 years. Ever since her arrival to the UAE she started work as a writer submitting articles to Gulf News, as well as writing several novels including the popular Zelzelah: A Woman Before Her Time – published by Motivate Publishing. The book, which translated aptly means earthquake (her nickname was Zelzelah Bibi), tells the extraordinary story of her unconventional life, starting in the 1920s with her childhood in Iran.
Ever since she was child Mariam was different, so much so that her grandmother took her to the doctors to check if anything was wrong. Of course, nothing was wrong. Mariam was an individualist, a characteristic that went on to define her.
Mariam challenged social norms, she fought for women’s rights at a time when standing up for what you believed in could have serious repercussions. She acted as a voice for the minority and and offered a symbol of hope to repressed girls and women worldwide.
A woman who broke boundaries, she was the first female to earn the post of cultural consul from the Iranian government; she was a senior advisor for the Dubai International Women’s Club; she was a motivational speaker, helping to empower women; and, as well as writing novels, she published poetry in Farsi, Urdu and English. She was a real icon for all women to look up to.
She once said in an interview with The National: “I realised what I wanted in life. I dreamt about it, I planned for it, and I spent all my effort to achieve it. The one thing I hate is wasting time. There needs to be a revolution in women’s thoughts.”
“What women say is law at home,” she added. “How can you expect to ignore them? Besides, what do men do when they sit together? They talk about women.”
While other inspiring women like Malala Yousafzai are still fighting for education for women, Mariam had been fighting for years. The author once revealed that education for girls (when she was young) ended at sixth grade. “There were no colleges for women,” she said, “but the boys went to university.”
One of our favourite, and most powerful, quotes from Mariam has to be: “Educate a man and you educate one person, but educate a woman and you educate a generation.”
Mariam was survived by her four children Eisa, Mariam, Shanaz and Shirin as well as grandchildren and great grandchildren. Shanaz, a broadcast journalist, revealed how her mother encouraged her to pursue her career, regardless of what society dictated. Speaking of how her mother also influenced others, she said: “The messages that I have been flooded with have all said, ‘We have lost a mother.’ So she wasn’t just a mother to me or to my sisters, or my children, her grandchildren, or her great grandchildren. She was a mother to many people.”
While she has been laid to rest, Mariam Behnam’s incredible legacy will live on forever. Let’s remember her the best way we can, by standing up for what we believe in, as she said: “You have to be aware of your value. Always remember that you are important.”