(CNN) -- Like thousands of other Iranian women, Parisa took to Tehran's streets this week, her heart brimming with hope. "Change," said the placards around her.
The young Iranian woman eyed the crowd and pondered the possibility that the rest of her life might be different from her mother's. She could see glimmers of a future free from discrimination -- and all the symbols of it, including the head-covering the government requires her to wear every day.
Women, regarded as second-class citizens under Iranian law, have been noticeably front and center of the massive demonstrations that have unfolded since the presidential election a week ago. Iranians are protesting what they consider a fraudulent vote count favoring hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but for many women like Parisa, the demonstrations are just as much about taking Iran one step closer to democracy.
"Women have become primary agents of change in Iran," said Nayereh Tohidi, chairwoman of the Gender and Women's Studies Department at California State University, Northridge.