In Iran, it’s not just about the veil

Unless you live in a cave, you must have heard about the massive protests and public defiance against the authorities happening in Iran. It all started with the murder of young Iranian Kurdish Mahsa Amini by the police for having a few hair visible despite her veil mid-September. Massive protests ensued, but it’s more than just about the veil.

At first yes, women took the streets to protest and ask for justice in front of an unfair death. Women and the youth, feeling suffocated that a power that has been crushing hopes and dreams for decades. Women defying power is not unusual in Iran, where many protests and social movements around the veil have been happening for years, especially with the constant rise of repression against women. This year, many decrees and new punishments were set in place about women’s clothing and the faith police has repressed more violently than ever. And instead of calming down after Amini’s death, they have doubled in violence, killing many protesters and making some women « disappear ».

On The New York Times, on September 28, 2022

Men have followed the women onto the streets but for wider reasons. Years of US-led economic sanctions, combined with corruption and power abuse, have led to a drastic impoverishment of the Iranian population. The constant of tightening of the religious authorities over its population, mixed to the economical situation, is enough for the population to unite around one death and just make a block against the government, simply asking for change, but a drastic one! It happened already in 2019 and, although the movement wasn’t as massive and spread, it was received with violence and death. Protestors don’t hesitate this time to name the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the source of their problems, chanting for his death in some cases.

From Human Rights Watch, on November 17, 2020

You could wonder why the regime is doubling down in violence when it could « fix » the situation by giving a bit of leeway. It’s important to consider the Iranian power as relying on religion, and therefore on the submission of women, which the country has pushed on since its creation. The hijab law has been put in place in 1981, after the Islamic Revolution, and laws regulating women’s bodies became part of the Iranian political identity. Backing down on this would be like admitting defeat, and showing the realities behind women’s oppression, which is pure and simple dictatorship in the name of religion. The veil has become this giant symbol impossible to change unless a real political change happens, which seems unlikely.

Illustration by Marco Melgrati

With the rise of poverty and the lack of jobs, Iranians are appearing to play the card « We have nothing to lose anyway » and keep on pressuring their authorities in the streets, seemingly not backing down despite the level of brutality the movement is received with. Lawyers, activists and journalists are targeted through night raids’ arrests, borders being closed, Internet and social media shut down. It is very hard to remain optimistic for the Iranian population, but it certainly deserves more freedom, opportunities and democracy.

Right now, it is important to keep on following, making sure information keeps circulating, and also that we don’t print our own Western beliefs onto what’s going on there. It’s their fight, they have a voice, our role is just to relay it.

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