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  • Mayar Abdelsaid

Women lighting the spark of hope in Iran

From the young woman who throws her headscarf into the flames in Ispahan, to the elderly woman without a veil yelling in the streets of Kerman "Death to Ayatollah Khamenei", the women's uprising is raging today. Society demands justice. Mahsa Amini, 22, died on September 16 in a Tehran hospital after three days in a coma and two hours in a morality police station for "poorly wearing her headscarf in public."

The demonstrations took over fifty cities, particularly the cities of Iranian Kurdistan where the Amini family comes from, and the hijab has been burning between society and the police for almost two weeks. Everywhere on social media, scissors are displayed and hair falls in homage to Mahsa but most importantly as a symbol of rebellion. A rebellion that condemns the obligation of the veil: a practice ingrained in the regime's DNA. Indeed, over the last four decades, this Islamic regime has developed an increasingly strict moral code that implicitly equates women with objects of sin.

In today’s Iran, a woman who removes her veil is not challenging religion, but rather a political symbol that has been imposed on her.

On Twitter, a new image has become ubiquitous: a woman standing on the roof of a car, her veil removed and burning on the end of a stick, surrounded by men cheering and protecting her. This is not the first time that Iranians have challenged the regime's power; three years ago, the government’s repression killed nearly 1,500 people as the price of fuel soared, causing the underprivileged circles of the periphery to riot. And yet today, the entire country is rising up, and women, particularly young women, are at the forefront of this protest scene.

Images of fearless youth subverting police departments have spread to more than 80 Iranian cities. People are enraged and for the first time, they are reacting to the repression by counterattacking law enforcement, which has unfortunately led to ruthless repressive violence given that if President Raissi concedes to the veil issue, he concedes to the regime's very identity. And indeed, Iranian security forces orchestrated suppressive actions in an elite Tehran university last Monday.

For the very first time, the most chanted slogan by protesters is "Woman, Life, Freedom": three words apprehended by the Mollah, the religious leader of Iran. Men are following suit; they are on the streets adhering to the female leadership. Consequently, in light of this feminine uprising, a man’s regime, whose ideological foundation is precisely patriarchal domination, finds itself in a total psychoanalytical misunderstanding.

Iran is currently living a unanimous mourning. President Raissi even addressed the victim's family, stating, "Your daughter is like my own daughter and I have the feeling that this incident affected one of my relatives.". However, if we scrutinize the facts, we see that there have been delaying strategies in place. Videos posted on social media clearly show that a deadly crackdown has been taking place for the past two weeks.

An account relayed by BBC journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh announced that the internet had been cut in the capital of Iranian Kurdistan shortly after the protests began. This is a classic tactic used by the regime to inhibit grassroots protest movements by preventing national coordination.

These repressive acts are merely the tip of the iceberg, the Guidance Patrol has constantly targeted unveiled or “badly veiled” women. In July, a lady who had been assaulted in similar circumstances to Mahsa while in police custody had to be brought to the hospital for internal bleeding before professing her regrets for defying the moral police on national television. Or, four years prior, thousands of women recorded themselves dancing while keeping their faces covered as a gesture of solidarity following the arrest of a teenage Instagram influencer.

Looking at the general background situation, a severe economic crisis brought on by growing inflation, rising unemployment, as well as corruption, is only serving to exacerbate the Iranians' resentment. Added to this is the political system's lockdown, as, since Raissi's nomination, all three powers have been held by ultra-conservatives, preventing the formation of any political parties or independent unions that inspire protests. The harsh punishment for the improper wearing of the compulsory veil, contested by Iranian women for forty years, was the last straw in an unprecedented general frustration.

More than 3 million Iranian women today have access to higher education, even within the scientific fields: the majority of doctorands in Iran are female. Yet, they still have very limited access to the labor market not because of the economic crisis but rather due to political efforts to prevent women from emancipating themselves from authority, empowering themselves at work, and losing sight of their traditional roles as mothers and spouses at home. After all, a well-educated mother can better support her husband and educate her children.

It is apparent that Iran suffers from a severe mismatch between its relatively modern society and its archaic, oppressive institutions. This gap is widening more and more, particularly with the ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raissi who declined on September 22 in New York to conduct an interview with an Iranian-British journalist because she refused to dress in a veil.

The major question that arises in today’s Iran’s political circumstances is if the current regime is reformable or not. And if not, is there really a reliable political alternative?

On one hand, a minority still defends Raissi's dictatorship and exhibits obsessive tendencies by proclaiming that the Iranian-Iraqi War martyrs shed their blood for this veil. On the other hand, the regime is weak on both economic and political basis, and despite appearances, these current uprisings continue to destabilize it. Thus, we can still claim that this feminine movement symbolizes a step forward in the realm of freedom and reform.

The current situation in Iran is the product of a patriarchal culture that targets women over even the most insignificant things, such as how they dress. So, from Iran soaring against the imposition of the veil by mullahs to secular India or even France concerned about the hijab in schools, the plight that women are experiencing globally does not lie in wearing the scarf in itself, but rather the lack of freedom to choose whether to wear it or not.

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