One year on: the women of Iran continue their fight

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The anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death has the Iranian government gripping its nation in a chokehold. The return of the morality police. The expunging of influential voices. The radical reform of penal procedures. Iranian governing bodies have gone to extreme measures to ensure their tightly woven regime stays neatly in place as we approach the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death.


16 September marked a year since the young Kurdish girl suffered fatality under custody of the morality police; through one small act of civil disobedience, she unknowingly ignited a movement that has besieged Iran ever since – making herself a figurehead for women’s rights. Mahsa was arrested for being in public without wearing her hijab, which by law, has been mandatory in Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979. While a hijab-less future to some may have seemed unthinkable, an age of hope was set into motion by the heart-rending story of one 22-year-old woman.


Since the death of Mahsa Amini we have borne witness to mass protests, ritualistic hijab burnings and social media campaigns, all accompanied by a rally cry that continues to reverberate across the globe: “Women. Life. Freedom.” By chorusing just three words, women are reclaiming their autonomy; they are challenging a nation whose legislation inscribes what many consider to be a gender apartheid.

Amini’s death has served as a political historical landmark


Though this clamour has not come at a small price: as the protests grew, so did the clampdowns. According to a local humanitarian group, under the hands of officials there has been close to 500 deaths, 71 of which were minors. Yet the movement shows no sign of slowing down. “Iranians will die”, the protestors chant, “but they won’t suffer humiliation”.


Anticipating the anniversary, Iran has hammered down; they appear to be doing everything within their power to diffuse any rekindled motivation amongst activists. Amini’s uncle – Safa Aeli – has been followed, searched without warrant, and incarcerated. Perhaps the timing is only coincidence, however the Iranian judiciary have refused comment for a variety of western press outlets, leaving the public with nothing more but speculation. Is the prospect a competent deterrence?


Amini’s death has served as a political historical landmark; globally people talk as though she is the instigator of a new wave of feminist revolution. This so-called revolution seems to be equally strongheaded as the officials, despite the imposed threat. “Many women told me they wouldn’t mind dying for their rights. The struggle has to go on. I have never heard feminists elsewhere speak this way” reports American feminist Kate Millet.

Influential voices have offered their forces across Iran, but any display of support has been shushed by the regime


The Morality Police – Gasht-e Ershad – were forced to lower their high hand following the incident with Amini, thus their street presence became sparser. However, as the prospect of protests glimmers once more, a bill has been issued for the re-establishment of guidance patrols.


Nonetheless, many of the demonstrators will be unphased by such a bill, claiming that despite the patrol numbers decreasing de dicto, in reality the number of eyes on them stayed the exact same. Security cameras were quick to be installed in their place, photographing any individual not bearing a headscarf. “They were never gone” a woman from Rasht reports, “I felt indifferent to the news that ‘morality police’ have been reinstated. Western media insists on telling us Iranians that Gasht-e-Irshad was abolished, but I don’t know a single friend of mine who believed that”.


Where will legislative powers draw the line? Criminal punishments for women are becoming harsher, and prison time is intended to be drastically longer if caught without wearing a veil. What is more, Iran has announced that artificial intelligence will be introduced in order to analyse all collected data, allowing the officials to determine exactly who is defying the rule of the hijab. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some think that this has gone too far: Tara Sephri Far of Human Rights Watch exclaims that “the threshold of what constitutes an offense that gets one arrested has gone to an unexpected level”.

The women of Iran will continue to take to the streets to make their own voices heard


Regardless, as Sadegh Rahimi, deputy head of the judiciary has assured us, “the judicial system will deal with these people decisively”. In light of the anniversary, it seems as though they have been true to their word.


It is not just women who fight for their rights. Influential voices have offered their forces across Iran, but any display of support has been shushed by the regime. Look to universities: 15 academics have been dismissed for their opinions, only to be replaced with Islamic teachers. Look to the music industry: Medhi Yarrachi, an Iranian singer, had a song declared illegal because it contested “morals and norms of an Islamic society”. Look to the journalism sector: a confounding 71 journalists have been arrested in the past year since the uprisals began. Will the administrations continue to silence individuals until their whole country is mute?


Parts of Iran’s governing body blame western media for the fuelling of the uprisals, saying that the US schemed an overthrow of the regime, yet the western world stands alongside Iranian women in their bout for equality. In the presence of the UN economic and Social Council, Ambassador Barbara Woodward stated that “the UK will vote in favour of the resolution to remove Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women” and that “we cannot sit by and allow the violence that led to the arrest and death of Mahsa Amini to continue with impunity”. The diplomatic disputes will continue – and while they do, the women of Iran will continue to take to the streets to make their own voices heard.

Image credit: Taymaz Valley via Wikimedia Commons

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