Women in Iran are staging a mass protest of astonishing power, conviction and fury. Some sociologists say it may well be the first mass counter-revolution led by women, and no wonder. The central demand of the protest has involved women’s rights in the nation, and their courage has captured the imagination of the world. The images and videos are striking, with women taking to the streets, daring arrest and shouting what has emerged as the unifying slogan of the movement: “Woman. Life. Freedom.”
The spark of the protests began in mid-September, when a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini was detained in Tehran, reportedly because her headscarf wasn’t being worn properly. The so-called “morality police” took her into custody. Several hours later, she was in a coma. Three days later, she was dead.
Since then demonstrators have defied the government, taking to the streets en mass and great risk to their own freedom and, at times, their lives. The average age of a protestor who’s been arrested is fifteen.
The burning of the hijab has been central to the protests, with women in Tehran chanting “we don’t want forced hijab.” The morality police enforcement of things like the forced hijab, regulation of mixed gender gatherings and a ban on alcohol has fluctuated over the years, but the current president, Ebrahim Raisi, has advocated for stricter laws. Human rights groups have taken notice, warning that the police are getting increasingly violent in their enforcement.
The protests have also provoked an outpouring of anger and sympathy from artists inside and outside of Iran.
— Alex Shams (@alexshams_) September 19, 2022
An Iranian revolution in 1979 overthrew a U.S.-backed dictator whose corruption had pushed the people well past their breaking point. A diverse coalition of ideologies led that revolution, but the government that emerged from the revolution made many of the laws that are being protested by women today.
The protests are also indicative of broader social unrest, with Iran reeling from U.S. sanctions over the Iranian military program and the economy still suffering from pandemic-era shockwaves.
What’s next is anyone’s guess. As the crackdown against leaders and organizers escalates, the revolution faces extreme pressure. But the social change sparked by the counter-revolution seems unlikely to go backwards.