Over the last month, the world has watched Iranian women, primarily between 16 and 17-years old, remove their headscarves, put on ponytails, and stand in front of police and military officers belonging to one of the most brutal and oppressive regimes in the world.
The killing of a 22-year-old woman who was arrested by the morality police (allegedly because of her improper Hijab) while in police custody brought many Iranians to the streets. Iranian women, being at the forefront of these demonstrations, have gathered to express their anger at their government, an unchanging regime that has deprived them of their basic and fundamental rights.
It is not the first time that Iranian women have stood up against the regime for their basic human rights, nor will it be the last. Moments, like after the 1979 revolution, when people are united in chanting Women, Life, and Freedom are very rare. The current wave of protests is one of these rare moments when Iranian women’s demands are on center stage. These women’s voices are heard, and their bravery is seen.
Since the first time Tahirih Qurratu’l-ayn unveiled her face in 1852, Iranian women have been fighting for the basic human right of choosing what to wear. They have been fighting for Freedom of choice.
Every Iranian regime throughout the previous century has utilized women and their bodies as a tool. These governments never regarded women as autonomous human beings with the ability to advocate for their own needs and rights.
The Great Reza Shah implemented mandatory “unveiling” in 1935 as part of his effort to modernize Iran in the same way that Ataturk did in Turkey. According to this law, Iranian women were not permitted to wear headscarves in public areas such as schools and universities. He believed that the hijab was an obstacle to development. This law was applied in the most crude and brutal manner possible. As a result of that mandatory unveiling, many women from conservative and traditional families were confined to their homes. Growing up in Iran, my grandmother always talked about her fear of going out as a teenager. She feared that a police officer would tear and cut her veil.
Following the 1979 revolution, the Islamic government misused women in a variety of ways. The government used extremely radical interpretations of Islam to impose mandatory veiling on women and penalizing unveiling. The Iranian government also reshaped Iranian society. Based on so-called Islamic law, resulting in many family and employment laws being changed in ways that harmed women.
As a result of these changes, I shared in my grandmother’s fear. However, unlike my grandmother, who had a fear of unveiling, I feared mandatory veiling. As a woman born and raised after the 1979 revolution in a very conservative family, I always wanted to choose my own path in life. I was fearful that my family would realize that I do not practice proper veiling and that I would be caught by the morality police because of improper veiling.
Over the last 43 years, women have fought in two arenas: private and public. They have had to confront many traditional and restrictive rules and customs imposed on them – both by their families and by society. According to these customs, a good girl is someone who wears a “Hijab,” does not laugh in public, does not mix with men, will make a good future wife, etc cetera. The list goes on.
Because of all of this, women have also been fighting against the government’s restrictive rules. Although the current protests against mandatory veiling are led by Gen Z women, they are standing on the shoulders of a long list of women who have challenged the status quo before them.
Examples of Iranian women who have been committed to fighting for their rights are as follows:
The women who protested on March 8, 1979 against mandatory veiling.
Homa Darabi – a woman who set herself on fire in public to oppose compulsory veiling in 1994.
The female activities that led the One million signatures campaign with the goal of law reforms in 2006.(All were arrested)
Vida Movahed, known as “Girl of Enghelab Street”, who stood unveiled on an electricity box in in the winter of 2017 in the Enghelab Street, also known as Revolution Street, while crowd staring at her, with a white headscarf on a stick which she waved to the crowd as a flag.
Vida Movahed, known as “Girl of Enghelab Street.
Sarina Esmailzadeh, a 16-year-old girl killed by security forces during the current protest, uploaded a video on her YouTube channel that reflects what a typical, normal girl wants. Sarina states that, “As a teenager living in Iran, we need joy and fun, we need good spirit, good vibes, and good energy” she continues “at this moment our discussion becomes dark? Why? Because in order to have all of these, you need to have freedom, but many Iranian families are taking this freedom from their girls as we are living in Iran and our country is not safe and secure for women. On a country level also, there are many restrictions for women such as mandatory Hijab. It is a very basic discussion but as women, we are deprived of going to the stadium.”
Freedom, freedom, freedom. It’s the only thing those girls on the streets want.
 Foundation, E.I., Welcome to encyclopaedia iranica, RSS. Available at: https://iranicaonline.org/articles/feminist-movements-iii (Accessed: October 19, 2022).
 In 1979, Iranian women protested mandatory veiling - setting the stage for today | CBC Radio (2022) CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada. Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/iran-women-protests-1979-revolution-1.6605982 (Accessed: October 19, 2022).
 On the Issues Magazine: Fall 1994: Sister, Fear has no place here by Phyllis Chesler. Available at: https://www.ontheissuesmagazine.com/1994fall/tehran.php (Accessed: October 19, 2022).
 Tavaana (2019) One Million signatures: The Battle for Gender Equality in Iran, Tavaana. Available at: https://tavaana.org/en/en/content/one-million-signatures-battle-gender-equality-iran (Accessed: October 19, 2022).
 شخمی جات جوانان ایرانی! (2022, May 22). [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpRnvFZ3vTU&feature=youtu.be
Photograph: European PressPhoto Agency (Anna Foster & Jewan Abdi/BBC) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-63227240
Photograph: Hengameh Golestan (Sian Cain/Guardian) https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/sep/03/hengameh-golestans-best-photograph-iranian-women-rebel-against-the-1979-hijab-law
Photograph: Abaca Press/Sipa USA via AP (Robin Wright(The New Yorker) https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/hijab-protests-expose-irans-core-divide