Iran’s Mahsa Amini and the world of feminism | By Maliha Mughal


Iran’s Mahsa Amini and the world of feminism

IRANIAN women have endured decades of abuse, stifling and loss of rights through the enforcement of strict rules.

After losing the option to choose whether to wear a hijab or not in 1979 due to the implementation of Sharia law (the legal system of Islam), women in the nation have frequently been the victim of violence regarding dress codes.

Women’s rights activists concentrated on getting back some of their lost freedoms in the 1990s.

Many women engaged in audacious acts of disobedience at this time to draw attention to the challenges they endured.

In today’s Iran, the authorities consider the women’s rights movement as something that solely concerns the West.

Mahsa Amini, 22, who was detained by Iran’s “morality police” for failing to properly wear the hijab, which has been mandatory for women since the 1979 revolution, passed away on 16 September 2022.

She was accused of violating the hijab’s 1979 mandate. Eyewitnesses claimed that she was beaten by the police despite the police’s claim that she died of a heart attack.

Since her passing, Iran has experienced a dramatic upsurge in anti-establishment protests.

Numerous demonstrations staged by women against the repressive monitoring of women’s lives and bodies by the Iranian regime have been held in the streets after Amini’s murder.

Protesters and their worldwide backers have been shouting “Zan, Zindagi, Azadi” (translated as “women, life, freedom”) on the streets and initiated trends related to the freedom of women and women empowerment on different platforms of social media.

The Iranian Government forcefully retaliated against the demonstrators in reaction to their valiant resistance, cutting off internet connection and sending in armed riot police, which led to scores of fatalities.

The first feminist movement in Iran began on March 8, 1979, International Women’s Day, one month after the 1979 revolution.

Women protested in the streets against the ongoing hijab debate and demanded their fundamental freedoms.

Of fact, the Islamic Republic initially moved backward before forging ahead several paces away.

The protest persisted over the years in various forms that were less clear to the global population until the millennial generation and the Gen Z generation arrived, making these demonstrations more blatant and prominent.

Compared to other protests in Iran, the 2017 post-revolutionary women’s demonstrations were quite different since they explicitly attacked the Islamic Republic’s fundamental principles and the supreme leader, denouncing him as a dictator and criticizing the theocracy the Islamic Republic had established.

The slogans evolved in 2017 to call for fundamental reforms to the government’s organizational structure, and ultimately a change in the regime.

Of course, given everything that has happened and the awful killing of Mahsa in 2022, many are now asking for a revolution – the so-called Iranian women’s revolution, or feminist revolution.

The outrage from across the world offers Iranian women on the streets support and a sense of belonging.

It also aims to make the Islamic Republic think about how far this strict interpretation of Islam should go because it is now beginning to damage its ties with other countries.

Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights attorney who lives in exile and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, has urged the international community to recall its ambassadors to Iran considering recent events. As a result, the Islamic Republic will be forced to consider its alternatives.

It is necessary to understand the most recent demonstrations following Mahsa’s death considering Iran’s broader movement for minority and women’s rights as well as the prolonged history of widespread disapproval of the oppressive regime’s methods. A feminist movement is underway.

In this movement and on the ground, there is a discussion about intersectional feminism, Third World Women, and solidarity with the Global South.

Instigated by a patriarchal system by any other name, women are burning the emblems of their subjugation that have been strangling them for more than 40 years.

They share the same rage and are adamant in their demands. This transformation can only be approached and understood through a paradigm change.

We must and need not confine this movement to Western liberal conceptions. The terms like inequality, discrimination and justice need to be explained in this era.

A person who is marginalized in one region of the world or one political setting enjoys a great deal of privilege in another location or setting.

The complexities of privilege and influence in Iran cannot be understood solely through a Western, even intersectional perspective unless that intersectionality also considers the context of vectors of power and privilege beyond gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation, religion, and capacity.

The remembrance of Mahsa Amini will be significant in the long-running struggle for women’s rights in Iran.

They must also be understood considering other women’s fights for justice and liberation from similar types of oppression, creating room for supportive, inclusive and liberatory transnational feminism.

—The writer is currently working as Research Associate at Institute of Peace and Contemporary Affairs, Islamabad.