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Iran is in revolt and Iranian women are leading the way

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By Humairaa Mayet

Thousands of Iranian women have taken to the streets, protesting against the strict laws enforced on women by the Islamic Republic of Iran. One of these laws, which orders women to wear headscarves at all times, resulted in the death of 22-year-old Masah Amini on September 16.

Protests have been under way since the incident took place more than a week ago, with women calling for justice for Amini and an end to mandatory hijab laws in Iran. These protests have taken not only Iran by storm but are taking place around the world, with women across the globe in solidarity with Amini carrying out protest actions in their countries.

Amini was accosted by police officers who took her into custody after claiming she had not donned her headscarf in the proper manner.

Just hours after being detained, she fell into a coma and died two days later. According to the Iranian police, Amini had a stroke followed by a heart attack.

Witnesses, however, have rejected these claims, stating Amini was severely beaten by police officers. She was dealt fatal blows to the head, which resulted in her death. The chief of police denied these allegations, branding them as “cowardly”.

In reports to the public, the Minister of the Interior of Iran said Amini “had previous physical problems,” but her father explained she was fit and had no health issues. He went on to say the footage presented by the police was edited.

In the footage released by the police, Amini was seen in conversation with a police officer who was pulling at her clothing. Soon after, Amini clutched her head in her hands and collapsed. Thus, no evidence of police brutality was found in the footage, despite Amini’s father clearly stating she was bruised.

Picture Credit: SAFIN HAMED / AFP – Women chant slogans and hold up signs depicting the image of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died while in the custody of Iranian authorities, during a demonstration denouncing her death by Iraqi and Iranian Kurds outside the UN offices in Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, on September 24, 2022.

From Tehran, the capital, to Mashhad, the holiest city in the country, women have emerged chanting, “Woman, Life, Freedom”. Protests have occurred in over 50 cities across Iran. During these protests, women are setting their head-scarves alight.

They are calling for an end to the mandatory headscarf laws while using the slogan, “We don’t want forced hijab”.

These protests have set the country alight and given way to sweeping internet blackouts imposed by the government. As a result of these, the news is getting neither in nor out of Iran, and there are few updates on the protests underway.

Amini is one of many women who have been killed by the Iranian state apparatus for failing to abide by the stringent laws of the Republic.

Picture Credit: Dhananjay yadav/IANS – Bengaluru: Students wearing veil and Hijab arriving to attend classes at a school near Frazer Town, As Karnataka high Court backed a ban on hijabs in classrooms, in Bengaluru on Tuesday March 15, 2022.

Hailing from the city of Saqez in the Kurdish province of northwest Iran, Amini was visiting relatives in Tehran when she was confronted by the morality police. Like many other countries, Iran is one riddled with police brutality, and in this Gulf state, it is the Gasht-e Ershad – the morality police – who are often found guilty of abusing their power.

In 1979, a dictator backed by the US was overthrown during the Islamic Revolution. This changed the political fabric of Iran forever. Ayatollah Ruhol- lah Khomeini seized power in the aftermath of the coup and enforced an array of laws controlling the bodies of women. These laws strictly policed women, dictating how they had to dress and what they had to do.

In the face of all this adversity, women in Iran have continued to fight valiantly against a system which seeks to repress each and every aspect of their being.

Since the Revolution, protests led by women have raged across the country, calling for the liberties of women to be restored. Women have tirelessly fought for the rights to abortion and divorce, which were repealed following the entrance of the first Supreme Leader of Iran.

Above all else, for 43 years, women have fought against the mandatory hijab laws. Protests against being forced to wear head-scarves have ranged from women draping their hijabs loosely in an attempt to show as much hair as possible to full-blown uprisings on the streets of cities.

Seeking to control the bodies of women has been an integral aspect of Iran, post-Revolution. Women are forced to dress in a particular manner, while their male counterparts barely face any restrictions at all.

As the revolt rages on with women at the forefront, one wonders how much longer Iranian women can continue protesting against their oppression and the rampant police brutality which plagues the country before being suppressed in their entirety.

Mayet is a member of the SA Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Coalition and a Master’s candidate at Wits University.