It began with a ride on the subway. Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman from the small town of Saqqaz in the Kurdish region of Iran, was visiting family in Tehran when she was arrested by the morality police for improper hair covering.
Her brother, who was with her at the time, appealed to the police explaining that they were strangers in the city. Still, a van removed Mahsa and headed to the Kahrizak detention centre, a place well-known to Iranian women.
Eyewitnesses assert that Mahsa Amini suffered a severe beating, some saying that this occurred in the van on the way to the detention centre, others reporting that they heard shouting before an ambulance arrived. When her family arrived, they were told that she was in a coma. Two days later, one day after an image of her lying unconscious in a hospital bed with blood dripping from her ears was posted online and went viral, Mahsa died.
Everyone in Iran was paying attention. Women across the country took to the streets and videos emerged, of women burning their headscarves, dancing in the streets in plain sight of security forces, and chanting Women, Life, Freedom. And while at that moment, they were protesting the mandatory hijab law, the protestors soon began calling for the abolishment of the morality police.
The women’s movement in Iran gains in strength
While this movement may seem to have sprung from nowhere, it is built on a strong foundation of grassroots activism and organisation. From the moment the mandatory hijab law was enacted in 1981, Iranian women resisted. And while a husband can still prevent a woman from gaining an education or working outside the home, women make up more than 50% of college students. They are represented at every level of Iranian society.
Perhaps it is because of this strength that the Iranian government treats the women’s movement as a threat and claims that grass-roots activists are working against the state. This strength also explains the anger and resentment simmering under the surface of Iranian society and how the death of one woman may just have sparked a revolution.
Edinburgh joins the worldwide Global Day of Solidarity
1 October dawned cool, crisp, and sunny in Edinburgh, where a group of over 500 people gathered outside the Scottish Parliament to express solidarity with the people of Iran in their fight against oppression. Edinburgh joined more than 200 other cities around the world in support of Iranians, led by women who began the protests by burning their headscarves and cutting their hair who are now calling for regime change in Iran.
While the mood of the rally was not joyful, it was energetic. There were chants, songs, poems, and drums led by various organisers and participants in the gathered crowd. One of the event organisers, Hossein Radmard, said that the aim was “to show our solidarity with people inside Iran … to raise awareness and request for our voice to be heard by Western governments … People inside Iran do need our help, but they are the ones that will make decisions for their destiny.” When asked what he wanted to see from the UK and Scottish governments, he added, “ultimately, what we want is to show by action, not just by words, how they will be treating the oppressive regime in Tehran … but just showing solidarity, statements, as such, would be a very good sight.”
Homa, another participant, added that “officials and those who are in government have the possibility to raise our voices on their international platform and to discuss our issues … This is huge. It is going to make such a difference to the world, and they [the British media] are not taking it seriously. They must be kicked to listen.”
Furthermore, in a letter to the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly, the Scottish Greens have called for the UK government to take action.
Maggie Chapman MSP said:
“All politicians and governments need to show meaningful solidarity with Iranian women who are protesting against a brutal, repressive and misogynistic regime. The lack of coverage of the protests also raises important questions for our national broadcasters, particularly the BBC which has recently announced plans to close its Persian radio broadcasts. Human rights are non-negotiable and must be the cornerstone of our foreign policy. The treatment of women by the Iranian state has been consistently appalling. When women’s rights are on the line, other rights will be attacked and targeted too. And I extend my solidarity to all those women who are putting their bodies on the line to fight against the oppressive regime in Iran.”
What you can do to help
Event organisers are asking people across Scotland to contact their representatives and request they take the following actions:
- Condemn the Islamic Republic’s violent behaviour and summon the ambassador.
- Ask social media companies to help circumvent censorship and support an infrastructure to allow free access to the internet in Iran.
- Deny visas to all Islamic Republic officials to enter the UK.
- Enact Magnitsky Sanctions against key actors and members of the IRGC and the regime responsible for these crackdowns.
- Ask national broadcasters such as the BBC to increase their coverage of events in Iran.
If you are interested in writing to your elected representative, you can find their contact information here.
What comes next for the women of Iran?
While it is impossible to know whether these protests will lead to a regime change, one of the event’s key speakers, Edinburgh University’s Professor Nacim Pak-Shiraz expressed hope and commitment for a better future:
“Women have always been at the forefront of change in Iran … Ultimately it will be the women who will change it, just like all the other changes that happened, including the Constitutional Revolution in 1905. It goes way, way back. They have been very involved, but finally, [women are] getting the recognition.”
Here’s wishing the women of Iran success in forging a brighter future.
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