While many of her colleagues have mastered the art of biting their tongues and waiting their turn, Representative Leila Beaufoy rose to political stardom by coughing up blood. Never one to shy away from uncomfortable truths, it’s no surprise that Beaufoy took her oath of office on a leather-bound notebook containing the names of every political prisoner in Lehvant’s history. This move sparked outrage from her fellow party members in the Union for Collective Progress (UCP), as her list included names of those imprisoned under President Kamran, who founded the UCP and served as the first President of Lehvant for nearly four decades. It was the first of many instances where the young Representative would be critiqued for not falling in line.
When confronted by her colleagues at the first caucus meeting of the year, for a fleeting moment, she showed all the vulnerability of a young woman being told she doesn’t belong. Her response on the caucus floor is one that set the tone for how Representative Beaufoy would come to respond to every controversy – briefly, eloquently, and never more than once. In her armor of red lipstick and thick-rimmed glasses, Beaufoy simply told her colleagues, “This is a body that is obsessed with legacy – it guides our every decision, and rarely contributes to the common good. When I look back on my time in public service, it will be the names on this list and my success or failure in preventing new additions to it that will determine whether I think that I measured up as a member of Parliament,”.
Stepping into Leila Boufoy’s office, it’s hard to believe it exists in the classical French baroque-styled People’s Assembly building. Traditional Lehvantian rugs cover the floors of the entry hall into her personal office. Even at first glance, her office looks like she packed up her college dorm and brought it with her. She soon tells me, that is exactly what she did. The walls are littered with rally signs, campaign posters, and protest art that once hung in her dorm room at Institut d’études politiques de Jezaire, with the only difference being that she now has them framed. Beaufoy, unlike the majority of her colleagues, could not imagine herself in this position until the very moment she was sworn in.
The Union for Collective Progress has a long tradition of promoting civil primaries among candidates recruited by the party. In an effort to engage younger voters in districts leaning toward the government, the party began exploring the possibility of running students and priming them to become caucus leaders in the future. A career politician who hasn’t lived in Shiraz, where Beaufoy is from, would have made the mistake of discounting her for her sharp rhetoric and the fact that she is more interested in post-colonial cultural resistance than pensions reform. It was the glowing letters of support she received from her Constituent Assembly that convinced party leadership to support her in her district, one they had no expectations of winning.
The first thing Beaufoy needed to do as a candidate was announce that she was running in the first place. The question of where to announce it shouldn’t have been a controversial one, with the party’s district office being the obvious choice. Beaufoy, however, insisted that the announcement be made in a coffee house she frequented. In a move that seemed nonsensical at first, Lehvant was introduced to Leila Boufoy the way her community sees her, rather than the pretentious child her opponents would later caricaturize her as. As she made her announcement speech, Leila – or “Lei”, as her neighbors affectionately called her – was accompanied by friends, family, and people in her town who spoke of the way she touched the lives of so many in her community.
Leila’s family moved to Shiraz when she was 10 years old to find work. Leila soon began an apprenticeship with her local market to support her family – which is a fancy way of saying she made deliveries after school, she tells me. Farid Safavi, a close family friend who knew Leila as a child, recalls Beaufoy standing out as a sensitive child who spoke to flowers, fed stray cats, and asked customers if they’d like to hear a poem or a joke while making deliveries.
Observing her time at the People’s Assembly thus far, it seems as though her sensitivity has become overshadowed by her cynicism, though Beaufoy rejects the idea that her office has hardened her. Instead, commentators suggest that her signature issue of preventing femicide in Lehvant doesn’t give her space to exert joy and optimism. During her first year in office, a mass stabbing at her high school alma mater Dubois School, a small women’s college in Jezaire, pushed the issue along with Beaufoy into the limelight. Becoming the legislative face of an issue at the forefront of our national discourse is unexpected for a freshman representative, but she has proven to be a capable thought leader.
Last week, after an academic murdered by her ex-husband made the news, Leila Beaufoy started her speech on the floor of the People’s Assembly by saying “If I’m next, hug my mom and burn this city down”, a phrase that has since become a rallying cry for the women’s movement. Her remarks also made her the target of outrage from her colleagues across the aisle, with Representative Soheil Atlasi posting a photo of Beaufoy being burned at the stake. “There are times when I wish another issue had found me”, she says, “But my office will not protect me from men who wish to do us [women] harm. I am reminded of that everyday, and I have a moral responsibility to try to change that.”
Though Beaufoy has yet to respond to rumors about whether she plans to run for Senate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, when asked about if she thinks it’s possible to inject optimism into her position, she says, simply, “ I’ve tried to be a joyful feminist, but I was very angry.”