Protests in Iran: Why the country’s women are rebelling

Podcast: the detail

Can this wave of women-led protests end 40 years of oppression?

The protests happening in Iran are the largest the country has seen in years.

And they are run by women – publicly cutting their hair and burning their hijabs.

Thousands of people take to the streets in mass protests against the oppressive Iranian regime, following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September.

Amini was detained by the so-called ‘morality police’ after she was caught in public wearing her veil incorrectly – a deliberate decision by Amini to show her hair in defiance of conservative standards for women’s dress enforced in Iran.

“It’s a sign that Iranian civil society is still very much alive despite the oppression of the past 40 years,” said Negar Partow, senior lecturer in security studies at Massey University.

The protests were not without consequence. More than a hundred protesters, including journalists covering the events, were killed and the internet was shut down across the country in an effort to prevent civilians from spreading information and organizing together.

Partow says there have been many protests of a similar scale in Iran in recent years. After the 2009 presidential election, millions of people took to the streets to protest what they saw as a fraudulent outcome with the return of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a landslide victory.

“The uniqueness of this [protest]it’s that this is particularly a women’s uprising, led by women, and it’s about gender-based violence,” Partow says.

“The hijab in Iran is not just an imposed rule. It is actually one of the constitutive or idealistic laws of the Islamic Republic.”

Partow grew up in Iran and was a young girl when the 1979 revolution – which installed the current Islamic Republic government – took place.

Dr. Negar Partow. Photo: Supplied/RNZ

She explains how Iran was once a secular and progressive nation that emulated western liberal culture.

“All the legal advantages that women gained in the 1960s and 1950s, they lost them overnight.

“At the beginning of the revolution, it was about equality and gender equality, but as soon as the revolution succeeded, they lost all their rights. They lost custody of their children, they lost lost the right to study in many cases, then they put in place a constitutional law to say that the hijab is the idealistic symbol of the revolution.

“So it’s not just important for Muslim women, or imposed on Muslim women, but it’s comprehensive. So whatever religion you have in Iran, you have to wear the hijab,” she says. .

Despite this, there have always been women who resisted. Partow explains that Iran has created an economy around monitoring hijab observance through the employment of military and police forces.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has developed three forms of security forces to ensure compliance: volunteer forces, which are paid by the government specifically to conduct “moral policing” of women wearing the hijab in public; the Revolutionary Guards, responsible for protecting the values ​​of the revolution, including the wearing of the hijab; and the police, for whom breaking hijab regulations is a criminal offence.

“For people like me, who were raised in non-religious families, previous generations, like my mother and my aunt, continued to live quite secular lives in private.

“They would sometimes put on a fashion show for us, to show how they would walk before the revolution. And in a way, they continued to pass on those values ​​of democracy and gender equality to the next generation.”

Partow tells The detail how the Islamic Republic has controlled sex and sexuality and shares his thoughts on whether the current protests will be enough to bring down the regime.

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