The state of Women in Iran

Did you know that letting your hair blow in the wind is a crime in Iran?

Mahsa Amini, 22, who was jailed for violating the dress code and died as a result of the brutality she suffered after being detained, is the subject of on-going protests in Iran. The 22-year-old was taken into custody by Iran’s punitive “morality police” earlier this month in Tehran, the nation’s capital, for allegedly violating the state’s attire regulations for women. She reportedly suffered a stroke while in detention and passed away on September 16 in a hospital, three days after going into a coma. However, witnesses allege that she was beaten to death by the arresting officers.

Since Mahsa Amini’s burial on September 17, the anti-government protests have extended to over 80 Iranian cities and towns. Her death sparked immediate uprisings against the morality police and the hijab law, which swiftly turned into the most significant threat to Iran’s Shia Muslim religious establishment in recent memory. In various videos circulating online, women burn their headscarves whilst yelling “Women, life, freedom”. As of Monday, the 26th of September 2022, 76 protesters have been killed and at least four of them were children. According to data gathered by Iran Human Rights from the victims of police abuse and after viewing video footage, security personnel have been employing excessive force and live ammunition to put down peaceful rallies in recent days, which is a blatant and serious breach of international law. Although the exact number of demonstrators detained during the brutal crackdowns around Iran is unknown, hundreds are thought to have been incarcerated. Torture and other cruel treatment have been used in the past to coerce false confessions. Furthermore, in recent days, numerous campaigners and human rights advocates have been detained.

Various videos of women burning their hijabs and cutting their hair have been circulating online whilst slogans against the establishment are the norm. Pictures of wounded civilians as well as dead bodies are also available. As the demonstrations continue, the Iranian regime has decided to repeat itself one more time. In 2019, Iranian officials have demanded the complete shutdown of the internet. Following their old censorship tactics, officials in Iran have often cut off mobile internet connections and interfered with the operations of WhatsApp and Instagram, two of the most widely used social media platforms there. Consequently, these great internet outages since November 2019 are causing people to worry about more atrocities.

Sadly, the discrimination of women in Iran is not new. In accordance to the report of United against Nuclear Iran, 2022, Iran is conducting a war on women. Iranian women experience systematic discrimination and are treated as second-class citizens. Tehran condones violence against women and sexual exploitation of children, harasses, imprisons, fines, and flogs women for offenses like going out in public without covering their bodies or hair, forcibly separates men and women, disproportionately punishes women in the legal system, cracks down on pro-rights women’s activists, denies women political and economic opportunities, and favors men in inheritance and family law.

To exemplify, domestic violence is not a crime under Iranian law and criminal penalties for murder and domestic violence or honor killings are lighter than the penalties for other acts of murder, since they are seen as private family matters. In Iran, girls can legally wed as young as 13 (whereas the legal age for boys is 15), or even younger if a judge and their respective fathers or grandfathers agree. This has led the United Nations to express concern about the increasing number of marriages of girls 10 or younger. As for the forced coverings, these infringe the human right to freedom of expression. The judicial punishment is disproportionate, since for a number of offenses, such as adultery, women are subjected to higher penalties than men. Most people who receive death by stoning for adultery are females. Women’s rights activists are seen as a threat by the regime. They are frequently persecuted, questioned, imprisoned and occasionally charged of crimes related to national security, such as espionage, and working with foreign powers to oust the regime. Women and men are segregated in public transportation, public weddings, academically and in school. Last but not least, women are restricted politically, culturally and economically since they cannot serve in leadership positions or as judges, the ability to join the workforce is controlled by the husband and inheritance law favours men over women.

The aforementioned laws dictate that women’s rights in Iran have drastically regressed. This regression has occurred during the past 40 years. But how is this possible in such a short period of time especially when Iran was taking steps towards gender equality from the early to late 20th century? Since the 1920s and up until the Iranian revolution in 1979, women had some basic human rights such as the right to education and by the late 1970s, hundreds of women had seats in municipal councils, and a number of them served in Iran’s parliament. Women made up a sizeable portion of the labor force and were thus respected.

Iran’s political shift to an Islamic Republic on April 1st by Khomeini also altered the previous positive situation that concerned women. Family law rights have been reduced and rigorous restrictions and penalties governing Islamic attire have been imposed. Since 1979, many of the elite with Western education fled the nation as a result of the militias’ and the clerics’ relentless efforts to stifle Western cultural influence. Ultimately, the Family Protection Act, which extended additional protections and rights to women in marriage, was revoked, and revolutionary groups based in mosques known as komtehs (Persian: “committees”) began to patrol the streets and enforce Islamic dress and behaviour rules.

Since the regime’s inception, Iran’s women have endured oppression at the hands of the country’s strict Islamic laws. They now have the motivation to lead the protests following the passing of Mahsa Amini. They demand equal rights and the abolition of the ultraconservative ecclesiastical system that represses them. The regime’s weak point is now visible because of their need to censor the web. According to activists, this enraged response has been made possible by years of quiet organizing. But for their demands to be heard, they need more than the United Nations’ condemnation of the violent crackdown.


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