Why are people protesting in Iran by cutting their hair and burning hijabs? Are we witnessing the beginning of an Iranian revolution led by women claiming their freedom not to wear the hijab? Mass protests have spread across the country and authorities have responded with violence and force. The protests erupted following the death of an Iranian 22-year-old girl, Masha Amini.
Masha was a young woman from a small Kurdish town situated in the west of Iran, on September 13th she was visiting Teheran with her family when, while getting off the subway, she got suddenly stopped by the morality police. In Iran this happens hundreds of times a day, authorities can stop women in the street to inspect that their clothing attire respects the “proper Islamic dress code”. Masha was detained because she was accused of violating the proper dress code as she was wearing her hijab too loosely, this action is in fact considered a crime in Iranian law. Three days after the arrest, she was found dead while in custody and her family stated that she has been beaten into a coma by the Iranian morality police. The government responded to the accusation stating that Masha died of natural causes and that she suffered heart failure, however, her family denied that she had any prior health issues and declared that the government is trying to cover up what happened. From the moment of her death the protests broke out, a lot of women identify themselves with Masha, thinking “this could have been me”. Many women have in fact witnessed the violence of the morality police that harass women on the street, punish, humiliate and detain them for no reason. What started as a response to the unjustified death of Masha, has transformed step by step into a bigger movement calling for the end of laws and a system that oppress women and ethnic minorities in Iran and protest the control of the country by an unelected minority.
Iran does not have a separation between religion and the government. It is in fact a theocracy, a form of government where a religious leader rules, in the name of a higher power, assisted by a small group of religious officials. The people of Iran long for political freedom, which supersedes every other demand. Iran has become increasingly isolated and marginalized regionally and internationally, this isolation has placed a lot of pressure on its citizens. Iranians are not welcome in many countries, which speaks to the unpopularity of the country’s current politics in international circles. However, Iranians cannot achieve real change through elections if the supreme leader and his religious officials hold ultimate political power, and even when politicians that want to change the system emerge, they are blocked and disqualified from running in the first place like the Guardian Council did during the presidential election of 2021.
Protesters and human rights groups have called on the international community to hold the Iranian government responsible for its actions. Meanwhile, the protests have spread all over the country and the government is fighting back with brutality and violence. Over 41 people, including children, have already been killed, although human rights organizations say that number is much higher and numerous protesters were arrested. As images of the unrest became viral online, the government shut down the Internet. In fact, like other totalitarian states, Iran has very strict censorship rules including controlling what its people can view on the internet.
In a country where removing the hijab is a punishable crime, the protestors deserve international support and solidarity. To wear a hijab or not should be a personal choice and for many Muslim women and girls around the world, it simply is not. We do not know how far the violence is going to go on for, but this time, because of the size of the protests, we will hopefully see a positive change in women’s rights and freedoms in Iran.