All women deserve the right to live in freedom


As protests erupt in Iran, it's more important than ever to assert women's fundamental rights

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Image by Taymaz Valley

By Nadia Sayed

The death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died in police custody in Iran, has ignited a fire within the hearts of millions of women across the globe. Amini’s death is just one example of the heinous acts committed by the legal enforcement group in Iran, known as ‘the Morality Police.’ Holding an oppressive reign over the Islamic Republic, the Morality Police have implemented an extreme theocratic rule for decades. Only now, enraged by Amini’s death, have women felt brave enough to fight for reclamation of their freedom. The results have led to an unprecedented rebellion against the political powers of Iran.

As a woman, I have never felt forced to bite my tongue in fear that my words might pose a threat to my life. I have never felt unable to express my religious beliefs for fear that my choices may lead to retribution. As a result, I am guilty of taking my liberty for granted – as many of us are. That is, until injustices take place, like Mahsa Amini’s murder, reminding us of the horrific reality that deprives women of fundamental human rights in countries including Iran.

Whilst almost all of the world, despite secular countries such as France or Switzerland, permit women to choose how they symbolise their religious faith, in Iran, this freedom of choice has been stolen and refusing to wear the hijab is forbidden, making it a punishable crime. Thus, Amini’s ‘allegedly’ improper wearing of the hijab, a head-covering which indicates women’s religious faith in Islam, led to her premature death. This has exacerbated the infringement of women’s rights within the state of Iran, which has seen Iranian women being forced to abide by wearing the hijab in accordance with legislation, or consequentially face retribution.

Specific details regarding Amini’s death have been contorted by Iranian authorities. Despite the otherwise healthy 22-year-old dying in the custody of the Iranian police, state reports have argued that Amini’s death was simply down to a heart attack. However, her family released statements indicating that Amini received bruising to her body, revealing the true brutality which led to her death – at the hands of Morality Police, or Gasht-e Ershad. The ‘Gasht-e Ershad’, which literally translates to 'guidance patrols', are a subsection of the police that deal specifically with ensuring that Iran’s Islamic ideals are adhered to, including through the policing of ‘proper’ attire.

With Tuesday 15 November marking sixty days since Amini’s death, Iranians have continued to expostulate outrage towards the brutal regimentation of Iranian women, propelling masses of protesters.

Thousands of university students collaborated in protests, including students at the University of Tehran, the city where Amini’s death took place. During these protests, female students took to removing their headscarves in an audacious act of objection towards the marginalisation of women, despite the threat to their lives in doing so.

Protests have also occurred outside the domestic sphere of Iran, with tens of thousands of people marching in solidarity with Iranians in Berlin. Men and women took to the streets of the German capital, waving the Iranian flag and signs reading “Women, Life, Freedom.” Support for Iranian protesters following Amini’s death has also led to an influx of people taking to social media, whereas response from mainstream media has been rather limited in comparison.

Activist Malala Yousafzai took to Twitter to post a video which expressed her solidarity with Iranian women. Within her video, Malala stated that “No state, entity or individual has the right to decide what a woman should do with her body and what she should wear and how she should dress.”

Tik-Tok is another tool that has been integral to spreading awareness of Mahsa Amini’s death. The video-focused platform has been utilised by women posting videos of themselves cutting their hair, accompanied by Tom Odell’s evocative song ‘Another Love.’ Both the song and the act express the harmonious and united front which women across the world are taking in support of Iranian women.

People have also taken to Instagram to articulate their frustration towards the leadership within Iran. Users of the platform have shown their support by posting images of Amini and demanding the urgency for action towards the patriarchal, political system of Iran.

Priyanka Chopra was one of the many celebrities who used their public platform. Taking to Instagram, the actress and model instructed people to “stay informed and be vocal” so that Iranian women’s “voices can no longer be forced to stay silent.”

A multitude of these posts have been accompanied by the hashtags #WomanLifeFreedom #MahsaAmini #IranProtests, capturing the attention of thousands of social media users. This has been vital in combating the Iranian government’s attempts to impose mass censorship over Iranian citizens, including cutting off their access to the internet.

The censorship of Iranian protestors has also been enacted through violence. Authorities have opened fire at protestors and, according to the Iranian Human Rights Association, “at least 253 people, including 34 children and 19 women, have been killed in the ongoing nationwide protests [as of 15 November].” Therefore, the continued utilisation of social media platforms is integral to ensuring women’s voices are liberated from the chains of oppression, which regulate society in Iran.

Whether it’s protesting physically or through digital media, showing solidarity with Iranians is vital right now. Iranians need our support more than ever; they need our voices as theirs have been brutally silenced, and they need to see our solidarity if they are to ever succeed in overthrowing the state and its despotic subjugation of women and their bodies.

All women deserve to live without fear. All women deserve the right to freedom.