How Mahsa Amini’s death may have started a revolution in Iran

For the last century, Iran went from monarchy to Islamic Republic. It has known several phases of religious oppression and since its Islamic Revolution in 1979, a regression of women’s rights occurred that continues to this day. In the last decades there have been protests in Iran with lasting impact, although a revolution remained improbable. After the death of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last month, thousands of women around the world cut their hair while other men and women demonstrated as a protest to the so called “morality police”. Who are allegedly the cause of her death, since she didn’t follow the country’s dress code for women. What caused so many protests in Iran and could Amini’s death be the start of a new revolution?

An Islamic regime

In 1920, a progress toward gender equality began in Iran. Women were allowed to enroll for University, and women gained the right to vote. From 1941 Iran was ruled by Shah Mohammed Reza, a pro-Western King who strived for the development of Iran. However, his intentions were not loved by all Iranian people, due to his dictatorial power, the activities of the secret police, and political corruption. In 1978, the people were fed up with the shah regime, and the Islamic Revolution happened in the year after that. Thousands of young religious Iranians started protesting, with success. After lots of violence on the streets, the monarchy of Iran changed into the Islamic Republic of Iran, in which the Koran became a guidance for legislation. From this moment on, the country is ruled by a Supreme Leader, a Council of Guardians, a president, and a parliament. In addition, Iran calls itself a democracy, which is debatable since the Supreme Leader, or the Council can veto any decision of the parliament. In 1989, a new Supreme Leader came to power, which was a more conservative man. This resulted in people being more strictly controlled by the morality police. I hear you say, morality police? Yes, this exists. The morality police make sure all residents of Iran comply the Koran’s teachings. If not, they will be arrested and will receive a warning or will be abused. This mostly includes the rights of women, activities such as dancing or singing, and LGBTQ+ discrimination, which we will elaborate on in next parts.

Discrimination

Women’s rights are critically restricted in Iran. Women must cover themselves by wearing a hijab or chador compulsorily. Men and women should sit separately in public transport. That women have fewer rights than men also express itself in marriage. The man is the boss and women are not allowed to request marriage. In case of divorce, the woman no longer has custody of the children. About half of the students in Iran are women, and they are even overrepresented in certain male subjects, such as engineering. It does remain difficult for women to advance into the labor market, and in addition, some universities see the intelligent woman as a threat. In 2012, some universities banned women in studies such as chemistry, engineering, education, and accounting. Despite accounting for more than half of university students, women account for only 15.2% of the Iranian labor force.

Not only women but also homosexuals are discriminated against. As a homosexual, you can be imprisoned, tortured, or even face the death penalty for this. However, it is legal to have a sex realignment surgery performed. Sometimes homosexuals are forced to do so to avoid persecution. Iran, along with Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan, is one of “only” seven countries with laws allowing executions for homosexual behavior on a mutual consent basis. The Iranian government maintains that most of these people have been charged with involuntary homosexual conduct or rape.

A Silent Revolution

Throughout the years, many activists have taken to the streets to protest both women’s rights and other freedom causes. The first major protest was in 1999, where Iranian youth demonstrated against freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader turned his back on the students and security forces putted the protests to an end. After these students’ demonstrations, 70 students vanished, which is known as the Kuye Daneshgah disaster.

Since the youth lost faith in their Supreme Leader’s support, they turned to the president for change. During the elections in 2009, many people voted on Hossein Mousavi as president, who stood for the increase in personal freedoms and wanted to confront the corruption. Unfortunately, the result of the votes turned out better for his opponent Ahmadinejad. Rumor has it that the results were rigged, and people started protesting again, the protests were less friendly this time and were considered as the most violent protests after the Islamic Revolution. However, the government once again put an end to the demonstrations.

Ten quiet years passed. The Iranians had become more afraid of the dictatorial power of their Supreme Leader and concluded that the political corruption was the reason the protests were pointless. At one night in 2019, the gas prices tripled without any warning and as a result, furious people plundered the streets. Again, the security forces didn’t show the protestants any mercy. On top of that, the government shut down the internet for a couple of days. Therefore, it has been challenging to record and report the scandals that were happening, including the total number of killed people. According to the Human Rights Watch, the Iranian government avoided any form of responsibility one year after the crackdown and has continued to harass the families of those killed during the protest.

Amini’s bad hijab

There are currently many protests going on in Iran since the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16th, 2022. Amini got arrested three days before for wearing the hijab inappropriately, also known as “bad hijab”. She was hospitalized in a coma after being detained by the Irshad patrols known as the ‘morality police’ in Tehran on September 13. Amini’s death resulted in a series of protests. Some female demonstrators removed their hijab and set it on fire, or publicly cut their hair as acts of protest. According to Iran Human Rights, security forces battling protesters around the country killed at least 201 individuals by October 2022. In response to these protests, the Iranian authorities implemented regional Internet shutdowns beginning around September 19th. As the protests grew, a widespread Internet blackout was imposed, along with nationwide restrictions on social media. This prevented Iranian women from making themselves heard to the rest of the world. To ensure that this problem is not forgotten, protests have started around the world where women are cutting off their hair and gathered outside to demonstrate.

Regarding the protests in the past decades, the people from Iran also speak of the Silent Revolution. Slowly but surely, the nation is evolving as it progressively challenges the regime’s laws more and more. The ongoing protest is the longest-running and most persistent in the Islamic regime’s history with a duration of almost a month. The protests were limited to the evenings for the first two weeks, but right now the regime is facing a constant street war. Not only have young adults and college students joined the fight, but high school kids are also supporting it.

By putting together the history of the protests, it becomes clearer that what is happening in Iran right now, is not just another demonstration. The awareness of oppression in Iran has increased over the last decades. The majority of Iranian people is striving for equality and freedom of speech. It is still a question if Iran is going into a new revolution. We can only hope that the many deaths their freedom of speech are going to be worth it. Would you be able to cut a piece of your hair in the support of women’s rights?

If you would like to know more about Iran and its norms and values, go watch the series Our Man In Tehran!

 

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