Protests in Iran signal push for women’s rights

Image courtesy of Iran Protests via Wikimedia Commons.

On Sept. 16, 2022, a 22-year-old Iranian woman died in police custody. Mahsa Amini’s name has been in headlines worldwide as the past few weeks have seen anti-government protests breaking out in the capital of Tehran, sparking a major show of opposition against the oppressive Islamic Republic. Amini’s arrest by the morality police—the guidance patrol that enforces strict dress codes for women—has led to widespread anger targeted at the lack of women’s rights in Iran. 

Dissent has always been an intrinsic part of Iranian history. Today’s indignation is reminiscent of the 1979 revolution, the 2009 protests over Iranian presidential elections and the 2019 indignation over rising fuel prices. However, for the very first time, the movement’s principal source of discontent is neither economic nor political. Instead, opposition to the government finds its roots in the collective acknowledgement of women as the primary victims of years of repression—reflected through the adoption of “Women, Life, Freedom” as the movement’s resounding slogan—marking a turning point for the future of Iran and its fight for equality. Wall Street Journal indicates how oil workers have gone on strike, clerical forces are calling for the end of the Republic and businesses have closed down in defiance. Different factions of society have united on the objective of justice for women. The women themselves, according to BBC,  form the very forefront of the movement, openly cutting their hair on the streets of Saqque, burning their hijabs at rallies in Ahvaz and releasing brazen videos condemning the Islamic republic. The discontent we see today is a culmination of decades of mistreatment—of compulsory veiling, of the lowering of the minimum age of marriage, of denied access to education—and brutal, resounding punishment if or when laws are not followed, per IranWire and Radio Free Europe. Present-day protests clearly show a shift in the values of Iranian society, one that will have resonating effects for years to come. 

Significantly, those taking such extreme actions and openly confronting the government are members of the younger generation. Protests within Iran are composed primarily of young Iranians who have grown up with the advent of social media and, subsequently, have formed ideals outside of those perpetuated by the Republic. As a result, the movement we see today is, in some ways, largely self-proclaimed—it does not have a leader and it does not have a political group or figure that it adheres to. Rather, it is self-organized but still capable of taking cohesive steps to act as a force of change. The values and objectives of this younger generation fundamentally contrast with those of the Republic—their ideologies are detached from those that define oppressive Iranian society. Additional attempts made to censor the internet and prevent access to the outside world have been largely unsuccessful, as according to The New York Times, videos are still circulating on social media showing young high school girls “tearing up” photos of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and defiantly walking outside without hijabs. 

This growing power is perceived to be a threat by the Republic. According to The New Yorker, on Sept. 30,  16-year-old blogger Sarina Esmailzadeh was beaten to death with a baton at a rally in Karaj after having previously posted a YouTube video titled “I always think, why did I have to be born in Iran?” 17-year-old Nika Shakarami was chased by security forces—10 days later, her family was called to “retrieve her body from a detention center in Tehran.” Government claims that both girls died by suicide have been met with outrage, as the two have now become “new” faces of the movement alongside Mahsa Amini. By punishing dissenters in order to maintain a repressive regime, the Republic has only contributed to the citizens’ need to attain reform. Rather than being silenced, the voices of the people have only grown louder. 

Notably, these acts of disobedience are not constrained solely to Iran. A major reason why the protests can be regarded as imperative in consolidating reform is due to the fact that the plight of Iranian women and the violent treatment of Mahsa Amini, among countless others, has reached global recognition. Reuters observes how protests have gradually spread to Western countries, with relentless participation from youth. From signs stating that “Hijab is a choice not a force” in Greece to rallies in Rome, people worldwide feel the need to revolt. On Oct. 22, nearly 80,000 people joined a march in the German capital, Berlin, to showcase their solidarity with protestors in Iran, proving to be the largest campaign against the Islamic Republic held abroad. It’s clear that the resistance is much broader in scope, with its growing influence indicative of its dynamic nature. 

For more than 100 years, Iranians have been fighting to attain basic human rights—for freedom and for equality. Ever since the advent of the Islamic Republic, all it has faced is resistance from its people. It may be that present-day protests will finally allow Iranians to forge the pathway to reform. Young people spearheaded this movement, defined by unity across all classes, religions and ethnicities—and the feelings of anger and grievance do not seem as though they will ever fade, as people all over the world take to the streets and demand immediate action and change.

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