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18th October 2022

Rise up: An Iranian feminist’s insight

Trigger Warning: Discusses violence. Iran has been flung into conflict once again thanks to the oppressive regime. Hear what’s actually going on from Iranian feminist Laleh, and what you can do to help.
Rise up: An Iranian feminist’s insight
Photo: Ramin Labisheh @ Unsplash

In the last month, Iran’s men and women have risen up and revolted against the regime. Thousands have taken to the streets after the death of 22-year-old Masha Amini for breaching the country’s dress code. Amini was taken in by Iran’s morality police, beaten, and died as a result. Despite the wave of accusations, the Iranian government denies all responsibility, adding fuel to the fire.

Since then, social media has been flooded with filmed protests and Western commentary. As someone who avoids Instagram woke posts, I wanted to know what exactly was happening in Iran, and what it meant for those living there. So, I spoke to Laleh*, a young Iranian protestor, who until recently lived amongst the chaos. Without holding back, Laleh revealed what life is like in Iran, and what needs to change.

Iran has had a long history of internal conflict. Throughout our conversation, Laleh mentions several incidents of civilian uprisings and protests against Iran’s constantly corrupt government. One recurring theme was the use of religion and female oppression.

“The government feed off people being depressed and miserable basically. They don’t want people to get to this stage of anger, and no one really stood up.”

Laleh explained that up until the Islamic Republic was formed, Iran was led by a Shah (monarch) and a president. Eventually, the nationalisation of oil finished the old royal regime off, with the torture of civilians leading to the First Revolution.

The Islamic Republic utilised the bloodshed of the old regime and the Iraq War to produce a referendum in 1979.  Iranians voted in droves, with the Islamic Republic gaining 99% of the vote.  “People didn’t know what they were saying yes to, nothing was laid out,” Laleh revealed, with people desperate to get rid of the monarchy.

Fast forward to the 21st century and little has changed. The new government is made up of a Supreme Leader and Ayatollahs (wealthy elite/ religious leaders). Despite a new regime, corruption is rampant, with religion still people used to oppress the masses.

“I have no future and I am fearless.”

“It’s all about power and politics. [The Government] uses religion to maintain power; it’s not about religion. Ayatollahs are socially unaware, politically unaware and scientifically unaware. They know nothing about the world. They [Ayatollahs] feed off people being suppressed, they feed off people being uneducated.”

But that was just part of daily life it seemed. When asked how much Islam influenced day-to-day life, Laleh explained how she’d been brought up.

“It was pretty normal. You go to shops, you go to uni – everything’s just happening.”

“I grew up not knowing a lot about anything. [I was taught] I’m the second gender, I’m the weaker gender, and I’m not as good as men. Eventually, when I got to high school, I was reading stuff and got to the point where I was like, ‘hey, this isn’t religion.’ What they’re [the regime] is literally the opposite [to the Quaran]. When you actually read the Quaran, there are like 14 verses about the hijab, and the Ayatollahs really run with that. It’s suggested [not enforced in the Quaran.]”

The morality police play a crucial part in enforcing these ideals. I’d never heard of them before and was surprised at Laleh’s explanation. Casually, she explained, “If you’re not dressed by code, they will capture you. They’ll take you to the police station and nothing normally happens. You sign something saying ‘I won’t do this again’. If it’s your third or fourth time, I don’t know what would happen. It’s not a crime – I’ve been captured. I just called my Dad and he got me out. If no one comes to get you out, it’s really scary. Some of them are so brutal for no reason.”

That’s exactly what happened to Masha Amini. Whilst out in a new city enjoying herself, she was captured and dragged to Vozara Detention Center for wearing an “improper” hijab, reportedly violating that nation’s dress code. Three days after being captured, Amini died. The regime stated the death was due to natural causes, however outside reports claim Amini was beaten brutally. Allegedly the morality police beat her over the head with a baton, and slammed her head against a vehicle, causing her to later collapse at the station. All over a hijab…

The hijab plays a significant role in all of this. Often used as a sign of modesty, purity and religion, it’s utilised as a form of oppression.

“The hijab for them [the morality police] is a symbol of the regime maintaining power. It’s not a religious thing at all. For women, it represents that you don’t have control over your body. ‘Remember who’s in charge.'”

As one Iranian writer stated, “In reality, the Morality Police are a manifestation of the pressure the Islamic Republic applies to women.”

Online, there are countless videos of women being thrown to the ground, stripped in front of men, and having their hijabs ripped from their heads. But, this isn’t new. Hijabs and female degradation has been a weapon utilised by the regime since the Shah. The only difference now? Everyone’s watching.

One thing I noticed in these videos was the heavy male presence. Occasionally you’d see a woman in the sea of men marching, mainly if there was a hijab to be ceremonially burnt. Otherwise, it was mostly men attacking officers, flipping over cars, and setting the night alight. But, in a country where women are second class, why do men care?

“Masha came from a good family. Her brother was there when they took her. I think what that did to people was thinking, ‘I have a sister, I have a mum, I love somebody’. It could be anyone, it could be any of us. One of the journalists took a photo of her [Masha] in the hospital – we don’t normally get to see that side of what actually happens. You just hear about it. When you actually see it, then you’re like, ‘this could be me or my family.'”

“People are fantasising about it. They’ve seen what it could be and they’re not going to go back to normal life”

Laleh passionately told an anecdote that put the movement into perspective for her: “I went to one of the protests; we were at uni. They trapped us inside. The men literally formed a big circle around the girls and got us out. That was my moment of thinking men are actually amazing.”

“For the longest time, they’ve been brainwashing us that men and women are separate. This was one of the reasons I hated men so much. But, when the protest started, I saw men actually cared. Like, why are you risking your life for this? It did start as a protest about the hijab but, it’s about so much more. That’s why men right now are so involved.”

Men aren’t the only ones throwing themselves at the movement. Like the generation before them, Gen Z are storming through the streets of Iran, screaming for change.

As videos began to circulate across Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram, it spurred Iran’s Gen Z to be the first to take action. “I don’t know what up with Gen Z,” Laleh laughs, “but they’re amazing! They’re not scared at all.”

But why? Well, in their eyes, there’s nothing to lose and all to gain. Especially among Iran’s girls.

“Economically, they’re [Gen Z] going to do bad. The education system was really bad. They know there’s nothing to look forward to. The best uni in Iran was raided and they took the students. I know that even if I got there, I’m still not safe. It’s a whole thing of ‘I have no future and I am fearless.'”

Thanks to social media, news spread like wildfire, as did the nation’s anger. After years of oppression, violence, and corruption, Iranians rose up united.

So, what is the point of this revolution? Is it against the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollahs, the regime, or the hijab?

“It’s not even about the Supreme leader,” Laleh told me bluntly, “it’s about the whole regime. We don’t care about the Supreme Leader, he’s almost dead. We want the whole regime out.”

Laleh is confident in the movement and hopeful for its success. “For the first time, people can see too. People are fantasizing about it. They’ve seen what it could be and they’re not going back to normal life.”

Ultimately, as Laleh puts it, “It’s either going to end in a lot of bloodshed or they will leave.”

The best way to help end the oppression? Several ways:

Donate to Iranian charities supporting the cause.

Educate yourself beyond Instagram and Western news sources.

Write to your MP, urging them to evict Iranian elites (related to Ayatollahs) from London.

Alternatively, reach out to UoM’s FemSoc to see how you can help. In a statement about their recent Iran Revolution panel, the society said:

“This session was really important to provide students with more information on what has been happening in Iran over the past weeks. As a predominantly white space, sessions like this are extremely valuable, especially as students here have no concept of what it is like to be living under an authoritarian regime. Although it is sometimes uncomfortable and difficult, informative sessions like these expose what is happening in other parts of the world, and help our society to engage with intersectional feminist struggle, while also providing information and resources on different ways to help. The three speakers were amazing and provided a lot of insight, we couldn’t have run such a powerful talk without them as they brought different perspectives often not heard in westernized news and media platforms. We hope to run more sessions similar to this in the future, as the Feminist Collective will always want to broaden awareness and speak out against oppressive forms of power.”


*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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