The Fight for Women’s Rights in Iran: The World Responds

Cate Russo, Reporter

Iranian women have been persecuted under national law and have had their rights stolen from them for decades. However, despite violent repression, Iranian women are now using their voices for the sake of their peace and freedom.

Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, was arrested and detained by the Iranian morality police on September 13, 2022, for wearing her traditional headscarf too loosely, and therefore violating the country’s conservative Islamic laws.  Amini died in custody on September 16. The Iranian government has claimed that she died from a heart attack, which her family has disputed by stating she had no former health problems. It is therefore believed that her death was due to a brutal beating by the police.

The Gasht-e Ershad, or the Guidance Patrol, are Iranian morality police that violently enforce the country’s laws demanding women wear hijabs, or headscarves, to cover their hair and loose-fitting clothes to hide their bodies. These restrictive laws are based on the country’s interpretation of Shariah, which is an Islamic law code based on the Quran, and is used as justification in claiming a woman’s chastity is protected by her hijab. The laws represent the ultraconservative Islamic morals of the Islamic Republic in Iran, which rose to power during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and they force women below men in every aspect of life in the country. 

Since September 17, in Iran and globally, people have begun protesting against the government for their basic human rights and to stand in solidarity with Amini. Thousands of Iranian women have burned their hijabs and cut their hair in public, defying authority. Police have met and repressed protesters with violent force, injuring and killing citizens. Iranians from varying backgrounds have grown widely intolerant of the country’s authoritarian dictatorship that asserts power with violence.

As of 2023, several ill-fated protestors who have shown their passion for the movement have been taken into custody and unjustifiably sentenced to death by hanging or execution, all in an effort by the Islamic Republic to crush recent uprisings. 

One of the latest cases of defiance to the hijab law in plain sight is that of Zeinab Kazempour, an engineer who attended an event in Tehran for the purpose of showing her loyalty to Amini by removing her hijab and throwing it on the floor directly in front of a picture of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of Iran and long time supporter of the Islamic Republic. This is only one of the many examples of women letting their hair down, literally and figuratively, as of recently. Fatemeh Shams, an assistant literary professor at the University of Pennsylvania, states, “The core and heart of this movement is really the revolutionary act of these women turning their head scarves into the most effective and most powerful weapon against religious dictatorship and deep layers of misogyny and patriarchy.”

Civil unrest and opposition to the Iranian regime is not new.  Amini’s death was not only a tragedy, but the spark to many peaceful yet passionate protests taking place all over the world. She has become the face of this both feminist and anti-government movement that Iranian citizens have been holding inside of themselves for so long, which has now found its voice.

The news reporting on the protests in Iran is incredibly complicated, but is very accessible to young people, as many teenagers were first made aware of Mahsa Amini’s story through social media platforms such as Tik Tok and Instagram. It is now easier than ever to educate ourselves on the world’s issues, and it is crucial to do so for the sake of vital change.