The most recent mass protests in Iran, which began on 16th September 2022 after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa (Jina) Amini in the custody of Tehran’s morality police, have gradually progressed to one of the biggest since demonstrations over fuel prices in 2019 and 2020, referred to in Iran as Bloody November. The protests have persisted in the face of violent attacks from state security forces and garnered support from around the world, including the US and Europe.
Mahsa Amini was detained for allegedly violating headscarf rules by not wearing her hijab properly. Her family testified that Amini had been severely beaten but the government and the police have refuted those claims with the backing of Iran’s Forensic Organisation which said her death was due to an “underlying disease”.
Since then there have been protesters on the streets of Tehran, many of whom are aggrieved young women who demonstrated their pain by burning their hijabs and some cutting their hair. Authorities have tried to shut them down with tear gas and bullets yet this has only further united protesters.
The fight for women’s rights and choice when it comes to wearing the hijab dates as far back as 1979 when the Islamic Republic came into power and 2005 when the Tehran police began cracking down on hijab violations and arresting women who dared to protest against it.
The death of Amini has renewed and refuelled the anger of Iranians as this has clearly been a consistent occurrence over many years. According to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, upholding the rules on the wearing of the hijab as well as other practices will prevent the collapse of the regime. The question remains – how do women not covering their hair drive any society into corruption and turmoil? If anything, this only reinforces the worrisome and archaic belief that blames assault on how women dress.
The transition from a dictatorship to a democratic government seems impossible with violence and brutality being the Islamic Republic’s natural reaction to any form of opposition. Still, the protests are a necessary move to stop injustice and abuse of women’s rights in Iran and the Middle East. In the words of Iranian-born actress and ambassador for Amnesty International UK, Nazanin Boniadi, “unfortunately, our politics, our ideologies, our religion, whatever it is, inform who we should help and who we shouldn’t help. I’m begging people not to let their politics or ideologies determine what they do for the people of Iran because human rights are human rights, and this is something we should all agree on.”