“Woman. Life. Freedom.” This is the chant that has been heard around the world as Iranian women lead an unprecedented revolution for freedom in their country. The nationwide protests were triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in the custody of the morality police after she was arrested for not properly wearing a hijab. The protests have been centered around high schools and universities, with the average age of protestors who have been arrested being just 15. Scenes of schoolgirls ripping off their headscarves, yelling “death to the dictator” flood Western media. The Iranian government has responded with a brutal and violent state crackdown and the death toll amongst the protestors has risen to at least 201, including 23 minors.
Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, any progress that Iranian women had made in securing their rights has been reversed. Women were at the forefront of the revolution to overthrow the shah, exemplifying a long history of feminist resistance in Iran. However, the revolution led to the establishment of the Islamic theocracy and, to the disbelief of the women revolutionaries, the ayatollah quickly began a prolonged attack on women’s rights.
A few of the restrictions that have since been placed on women in Iran include:
- Women cannot travel, work, go to school, or even leave the house without the permission of their husband or father.
- A woman’s life is valued at one-half the value of a man’s life.
- The testimony of one man is equal to the testimony of two women.
- Daughters get half the inheritance that sons get.
- A woman does not have the right to divorce her husband.
- A man can divorce his wife any time he wishes, even without her knowledge.
- Men are allowed to marry four “permanent” wives and as many temporary wives as they want.
- Children belong to their father as soon as they are born.
- The age of criminal responsibility is set at fifteen for boys, but only nine for girls.
- The law sanctions the marriage of girls at the age of thirteen, but gives fathers the right to sell their daughters at the age of nine.
- Women who do not wear a hijab can be imprisoned for up to two months and may be required to pay fines of up to 500,000 rials.
- Women are responsible for fulfilling their husbands’ sexual needs. Failure to do so can lead to a wife losing her right to spousal support.
Unfortunately, this list goes on. Amini’s death was the last straw for Iranian women; they now feel that no one is safe from the government’s violence. Amini was not a political activist and was not intentionally making a statement with her hijab. She could have been anyone’s mother, sister, or daughter. The Islamic republic has continued to minimize the scale of the protests, calling them “scattered riots.” After decades of failed lobbying for reforms, a new generation of activists has accepted that the only way forward is with an overthrow of the regime and the establishment of a democratic and secular government. Barriers of fear have been broken down and the protestors are bolder than ever.
As Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian political activist, attorney, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, told CNN, “Women will open the gate to democracy in Iran.”