If there is one thing that I think the death of Mahsa Amini has proven and re-proven, it is that in Iran, women’s freedom has reached a whole new level of insignificance in the eyes of those in power. This, however, should highlight the increasing importance of protest and standing in solidarity with those who show up in the face of injustice.
Mahsa Amini was a 22-year-old woman who died a couple of weeks ago in Tehran, Iran’s capital. The “morality” police accused her of wearing her hijab too loosely, which violated the dress code, so she was apprehended and taken to a re-education center, where, according to the authorities, she suffered a heart attack. At the hospital, she ended up in a coma and later suffered a second heart attack, passing away as a result. Many Iranians have refused to believe the authorities’ account, arguing that she was killed while in the custody of the police while others claimed that the police severely beat her.
Anger, fear, and sadness are not enough words to describe the emotions millions of Iranian women must be feeling. When I first read about Amini’s death, I couldn’t help but think how vulnerable a woman’s life can be to the society around her. But if I were to be honest, the news didn’t take me completely by surprise. While it made me furious at the situation, I also felt a sense of helplessness. This was not the first time I had read about a woman’s rights being violated in Iran, especially for a reason like dressing “inappropriately.” I find that such news provokes not only a sense of helplessness, but, unfortunately, now also a sense of everydayness.
But that hasn’t stopped women in Tehran and most of Iran’s 31 provinces from protesting the morality police and the strict hijab rules. Most have gone to the extent of cutting their hair and even burning their hijabs. Beyond Iran, Swedish politician Abir Al-Sahlani cut her hair while addressing the European parliament to show solidarity with Iranian women. This shows us that it doesn’t matter what country you come from or what system you support, because by standing in solidarity with and protesting alongside Iranian women, you are not only fighting for the rights of the women in Iran, but for the rights of every person who has ever felt violated by any system of power.
Cases like Mahsa’s push me to think about myself as a 20-year-old woman living in the 21st century. I should have the freedom to go to college and choose a career of my choice. I should have the freedom to dress as I please without facing any severe consequences. I should have the freedom to speak up whenever, wherever, and to whoever I feel necessary to defend my rights, and just by being a woman in today’s world, I should also have the freedom to live a life with dignity. And if I, in one corner of the world, deserve to have this freedom, so does another girl or a woman in another corner of the world. While I can imagine that it cannot be easy to put ourselves in the same shoes as the women in Iran, it doesn’t mean that we come to terms with what is happening to them. What they are facing is a burdening force of injustice, authority, inequality, and ignorance. We must listen and remain in solidarity with those on the frontlines of this fight.