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Why Are the Women Protesting In Iran?

The protests championed by feminism in Iran have shaken the Ayatollah's regime. What are the Iranians asking for?

women in iran

Photo: Fatemah Bahram (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

LatinAmerican Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández

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Leer en español: Feminismo en Irán: ¿Qué están pidiendo las mujeres?

Currently, Iran is experiencing one of the largest protests in recent years. Fueled by the repression of women, thousands of protesters have challenged the Ayatollah's ultra-conservative regime.

Why are women protesting?

The demonstrations in Iran began due to the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old girl, who died at the hands of the Iranian morality police, after she was arrested for not following the dress code. Thousands of women have found in Amini a connection to the repression and abuse they suffer from the same institution and from the male chauvinist system in Iran.

What are women asking for?

Summarizing all the discontent of the protesters in a couple of reasons is not fair, but their complaints are related to a macho, ultra-conservative and misogynistic culture. Today, Iranian women are not only protesting changes in dress codes, they are also fighting for rights, jobs and to be heard.

Read also: Women in Iran threaten the Ayatollah's regime. The end of the Islamic revolution?

A struggle that is being symbolized by the wearing of veils has a much larger feminist undertone. Today women in Iran seek greater protection from the state, changes in dress codes, better treatment by the morality police, access to employment, and greater rights and equality.

Veil and dress code:

In Iran, the use of the veil, long-sleeved shirt and pants (or jeans) is mandatory for women. Whether on the street or in their own vehicle, if women don't wear the right clothes according to strict rules, they can be fined or harassed by the police or by any man.

In addition, if the shirt does not meet certain parameters or the veil is not properly placed, they are also approached by the authorities. If they refuse to comply with the rules, they can be arrested.

Security:

Persian women, as in Latin America, receive all kinds of street harassment. A macho culture exists that allows various men to approach them with impunity and make them feel uncomfortable and insecure.

Equality:

Similarly, women today also ask for equality before the law. A few years ago, the death of a man in an accident represented a compensation payment to the family, but if the one who dies is a woman, half was paid. This lasted until 2019, when the Supreme Court ordered the change. Since 2008, the payment of this compensation was the same, but only in cases of traffic accidents. Also, the men can ask for a divorce, unlike women who do not have the same right.

Jobs:

Although in Iran, women represent the majority of university applicants and the population is highly educated, access to jobs is limited. Female unemployment rates tend to double those of men. 

This is how women lived before the Islamic revolution

Iran was once one of the most liberal countries in the Islamic world. Photos are still available that show what life was like in the Persian country before the Islamic revolution of 1979. Women walking the streets without dress codes, without veils and their hair uncovered, with long or short sleeves, with skirts, etc.

There was also no gender segregation. Schools and universities were attended by men and women alike. There were discos and places of entertainment. Women had the same political rights as men, etc. It was considered one of the most “western” countries in the entire region.

Why did all this change?

Iran was a monarchy, where the Shah was the highest hierarch. He was the last of the Kayar dynasty, of Turkish origin and who was in power from 1785 to 1925. Ahmad Shah Qajar was the last representative of the Qajar dynasty. After a coup d'état, the Pahlavi dynasty arrived, headed by Reza Pahlavi. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was deposed in 1979 by the faithful to Ayatollah Khomeini (religious leader).

The ayatollah's faithful were tired of the Westernization of the country, the exile of Khomeini and the unpopularity of the Shah. The mobilizations resulted in the overthrow of the monarch and the victory of the revolution, framed with the return of Khomeini. From that moment, Iran became an Islamic Republic.

With the arrival of the Ayatollah's regime, Iran imposed ultra-conservative laws on a population that had already tasted liberal honey. This is why today Iranians in public must maintain a position attached to the Sharia (Islamic laws), but in private, many in the big cities live a liberal life.