Unfortunately, Iran is known in the Western world mainly through demonisation led by the US. The only things depicted of Iran are related to the conflict with Iraq and US, and the economic restrictions that the West hold on the country. The reality is that Western people are very poorly informed bout the reality of life in Iran and most information we receive is ideologically biased toward our own vision of modernity. It is therefore important to keep in mind that the discussion of this post is not about religion or wearing the veil but about an oppressed people starting a revolution against its government.
Iran has a long history of political protests and changes. In 1905, a reformist movement aiming to develop a constitutional democracy led to a Constitutional Revolution, however European countries (mainly Britain, France and Russia) opposed the revolution and supported the Shah (Emperor of Persia) by sending weapons. This permitted them to keep their access to resources in Persia and have an influence on the policies as the Shah would obey Russia to keep its protection. The revolution succeeded in the sense that the government had to offer some rights to its citizen to appease the tension but no representative order was established.
However, the new system was not able to modernise due to the pressure of European powers which led to the rise of Radical Political Islamic ideology that wished to go back to traditional Islam as opposition to Westernisation. This movement emerged due to the cultural humiliation of Iran perpetrated by European governments. Hence, in 1979, the Iranian Islamic Revolution took place criticising the influence of the West in the Middle East. The political system established after the revolution, therefore, rooted itself in fundamentalism, claiming that the Qu’ran should not be interpreted but rather should be applied exactly to society.
This political system is still in place today, women face discrimination in law and practice, including concerning marriage, divorce, employment, inheritance and political office. Discriminatory compulsory veiling laws lead to daily harassment, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and denial of access to education, employment and public spaces for women refusing to wear the veil. Strict social codes, invoked in the name of tradition and religion, are used to justify the denial of the human rights of women.
If you have been recently active on social media, you probably heard about the ongoing protests in Iran, challenging the political system. The murder of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman arrested by morality police for wearing her hijab in an “improper” way, triggered the riots on September 16th. Mahsa Amini’s arrest was one of the hundreds of cases of women being put behind bars for not adhering to the strict public dress code imposed by the Iranian government.
Today, Iranian women are protesting, cutting their hair and burning their hijab, running great risks to be heard by the government and the international system. The murder of Mahsa Amini awoke the citizens tired of oppression. Not only women are protesting but men are supporting them, screaming “Death to the President” in the streets. To reduce the global outrage over this situation, the government has presently blocked internet connection for its residents in areas where riots have occurred.
Iran’s government oppresses not just women but also Kurds. Iran’s Kurds, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims, experience religious discrimination. Kurdish and others have been marginalized and are frequently denied work in the public and private sectors. They face discrimination in the housing market as well as in their access to education. Kurdish women suffer a double difficulty in establishing equal rights: as Kurds living in a marginalized minority and as women in a culture predominantly dominated by patriarchal traditions. They are susceptible to discriminatory legislation in both cases.
Feminists all around the world need to support Iranian women and the Iranian people. As shown in the past, trusting the western government to intervene is not enough. The proof is that Emmanuel Macron recently met Ebrahim Raïssi to discuss the idea that Iran stops its nuclear research if the US and Europe lift their economical sanctions on the country. In other words, Europe and the US, supported by the United Nation are offering Iran to lift their sanctions if Iran abandons the possibility to acquire the nuclear bomb. In other words, the international system closes its eyes to the situation in Iran to serve its personal profit.
Citizens of Iran are fighting patriarchy, they are fighting for freedom. In the same fight as French Muslim women to wear the veil, Iranian women are fighting not to wear it. Women all around the world are fighting for the right to dispose of their bodies without being dictated by men what or not to do, wear or say.
If the international system does not react, it legitimates Iran’s oppressive measures. It legitimates the oppression of women in favour of access to resources. It proves, sadly, once again, that material profit prevails over human rights.
You can support the people of Iran by signing the petition of Amnesty International calling for a response from the International System: