Rural women conference draws more than 400

What began a decade ago with 10 women around a table has become a day of 450 women from three states coming together to spend a day celebrating simply being female.

Photo by Jamie Spainhower
Roxana Saberi signs copies of her book, Courage Under Fire.


Posted October 11, 2012

Jamie Spainhower

Adams County Record

What began a decade ago with 10 women around a table has become a day of 450 women from three states coming together to spend a day celebrating simply being female.

Saturday was the 10th Rural Women in America Conference in Bowman, and more than 450 women ages a few months to over 90 participated in the workshops and listened to speakers. Day care was provided for more than four dozen future attendees. And more than 100 bags of personal hygiene items were put together by those present for the “Pay it Forward Project” to be delivered to different shelters.

Along with several workshops, there were two speakers at the conference.

Roxana Saberi, journalist and Fargo native, had been living and working

in Iran for nearly six years when four men forced her from her Tehran home in January 2009.

“My mother is Japanese and my father is Iranian. All my life I wanted to be an overseas reporter,” said Saberi. After graduating from college – on scholarships mostly won in pageants beginning as Miss Fargo and going onto the Miss America. She spent a year studying in England on Rotarian Scholarship and got her first reporting job – in Fargo.

Still wanting to be a foreign correspondent, and becoming more interested in her Iranian heritage, she followed her heart and went to Iran in 2003.

“Friends and family were concerned,” she said. “There was no American Embassy there, things were politically unsettled but I wanted to see for myself behind the images we were seeing on television.”

Saberi learned people are people no matter where you go – and while there were things in the American government the Iranians didn’t agree with, they liked the people.

“I talked to students at the anti-American rallies, and it was part of what they had to do for school,” she said.

She was welcomed into people’s homes as an honored guest. Even when they were very poor, she was given the best food, the best bed the most comfortable pace to sit.

When Saberi was there it was more open. Now not only are print and television journalism censored but “a lot of the internet is filtered. Google has been shut down, along with Gmail (which was opened back up so officials could get email.)”

Women’s rights are still a long way off in thing we wouldn’t think about. A man may have four permanent and unlimited temporary wives, while women may have only one.

“Sometimes becoming a temporary wife, which can last a week or 99 years, is the only way they may have to survive,” she explained. Women may testify in court, however two women’s testimony equals that of one man.

As changes came and the restrictions on journalists became more intense, Saberi decided to stay in Iran and continue writing a book about the people of the country. She traveled around the country two years and visited with a wide variety of the natives of Iran to be able to have a broad picture of the country and those who lived there.

Until the morning when she was arrested.

“I was told I was talking to too many people, and I was a spy,” she said. Placed in a small cell in solitary confinement she was terrified.

“I realized no one knew where I was. I had a blanket and slept on the floor. The lights were never shut off,” she said.

Officials told her if she confessed to her “crimes” and agreed to spy for them, she would be released. Since she was accused of espionage she could be serving 10- 20 years, or given the death penalties. “You truly have no idea what you would do in a situation like that until it happens,” she said.

Saberi made a false confession – planning to run when she got out of prison.

But instead of being released, she was sentenced to eight years in prison and put into the general population.

“I felt awful, and realized my body may be free sometime but my mind would always be behind bars,” she said. So, she recanted her confession. “They said they knew all along I wasn’t a spy.”

Once she was out of solitary, she learned from her cellmates.

“The power of attitude is a great thing,” she said. “There are things that happen that can’t be controlled, but attitude and how you respond to situations can be.”

She learned to find three things to be grateful for every day. And the power of the voice, even just one.

By now her family knew where she was, and were working to get her out of prison. Churches, schoolchildren, and people all around the country were making calls and sending letters to win her freedom. She went on a hunger strike, and found out later there were many that joined her.

“I was so humbled to find out all these people I didn’t even know were trying to help me. I wasn’t alone anymore,” she said. Raising one voice then another and another to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves is empowering.

After 100 days in prison she was released.

She has written her book, Courage Under Fire, and continues to be a voice for those who have none.


Editor’s Note: There will be more stories about the conference in upcoming issues of the The Herald.


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