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Mahsa Amini’s Death Sparks Global Protests for Women's Rights

By Laetitia Sanai

London, United Kingdom

Iranian women studying at Tehran University in 1977, before the Islamic Revolution. (A. Abbas / Magnum Photos)

In a talk to the UN General Assembly on September 22nd, Ebrahim Raisi, 8th President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, declared a pledge to fight and eliminate injustice, rejecting the so-called “double standards of governments” regarding human rights. These words were spoken with such conviction to the assembly, and would have been impactful, had they not been entirely subverted by the millions of people taking to the streets of Iran to burn their hijabs, chanting ‘Death to the Dictator’ in an active confrontation of the pervasive, deep-rooted oppression of human rights under his Islamic regime. The death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s ‘Morality Police’ on September 16th instigated a worldwide rebellion—one targeting the essence of ideological misogyny which upholds the very framework of the Islamic Republic. But what does this mean for women in Iran? When will the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini recognize the catastrophic consequences of his theocratic republic on the women of society?

On September 13th, 22 year old Mahsa Amini was arrested under the claim that her hijab, a mandatory garment for all women under the Islamic regime, was not adequately worn. Three days later, she died in custody of the ‘Morality Police.’ The enforcement of the hijab in Iran, following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, has since become a symbol of the universal discrimination faced by women in Iran in every aspect of life—manifested by the inhibition of female empowerment through the judicial system. In August, global headlines documented the unprecedented admission of a group of women to spectate a League match in Tehran’s Azadi stadium—a prospect not even vaguely feasible under the authority ban of women to view sports matches in stadiums implemented over 40 years ago. Iranian women are deprived of almost every aspect of autonomy and operate under the power of their husbands for aspects of marriage, divorce, travel and childcare. Women’s oppression in Iran has become a characteristic symbol of the authority exerted by the Islamic regime, which uses religious theocracy as the basis for its political power threshold.

With actual figures proving difficult to identify following internet blackouts in Iran, it has been reported that over 75 deaths have been recorded resulting from government action against the protests, with hundreds arrested by the authorities over what Raisi claims to be “acts of chaos.” Women not only in Iran, but across the world, have been cutting their hair and removing and burning their hijabs in solidarity with Iranian women.

A woman sets her headscarf alight during protests in central Tehran. (SalamPix / Abaca / Sipa USA)

The catastrophic consequences of women’s persecution, and nation-wide oppression, is sadly not exclusive to Amini’s case.

In 2014, six people were arrested in Tehran, three of them women, for breaking two of Iran’s most categorically oppressive laws—dancing with a member of the opposite sex, and appearing without a headscarf. The dancers subsequently received 3 year suspended prison sentences, and 91 lashings.

In 2009, approximately 80 people were massacred following uprisings after widely-claimed election fraud following far-right Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being re-elected for a second term as President, despite the a wider voter turnout than the previous elections. Ahmadinejad’s previous term involved the funding of anti-Israeli terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and the development of a nuclear weapons program, both of which intensified US sanctions on Iran, causing significantly damaging economic outcomes. The killing of protester Neda Agha-Soltan was caught on camera and spread worldwide, rapidly becoming a symbol of the fight for democracy in Iran.

Despite previous President Hassan Rouhani’s centrist reform, improving international relations and freedom of access to information, as well as appointing female spokespersons in the foreign ministry, Iran remains a place where women are consistently prosecuted, constrained, and reminded of their universal inferiority. Many are claiming there is a hope for reform; the magnitude of rebellion surrounding the death of Mahsa Amini spread worldwide, encouraging both men and women to challenge the autocratic dominance of the Ayatollah and President. However, in a state of such concentrated and integrated oppressive policy, it is hard to predict whether significant changes will be made, particularly with regards to Raisi’s hard-line implementation of rules and regulations which have been in place since the very beginning—the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in which the Shia Islamic extremist revolutionaries overthrew the Shah of Iran. Some could even point at the failures of past uprisings to consolidate significant political change, and argue that the only feasible proposition is one of worldwide action; it is time individuals and governments began to recognize the reality of women’s lives in Iran, and pressure the Iranian regime for substantial reform to fuel the advancement of human rights worldwide.


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