Iranian women who dare to demonstrate bareheaded by brandishing their veils, burning them or chanting the word “Freedom” despite repression across their country: women are “front and center” in demonstrations in Iran, supported in their revolt by their compatriots in the diaspora.
Demonstrations with several deaths erupted in Iran after the authorities announced on September 16 the death of Mahsa Amini, 22 and from the Kurdistan region (northwest), after her arrest for “wearing inappropriate clothes” by the vice police, responsible for enforcing the strict dress code in the Islamic Republic.
Activists said the young woman had been fatally shot in the head, a claim denied by officials who announced an investigation.
“She went to Tehran to visit her family; I said to my mother, it could quite simply be me, or my sister, or my cousins…”, protests to AFP Sara *, 48 years, teacher in France. “She’s a girl who wasn’t even an activist, just a normal girl like me… that’s the difference this time around, it touches and shocks everyone.”
According to Azadeh Kian, professor of sociology at Paris Cité University and specialist in Iran, “what is unprecedented in these demonstrations is that we find women at the front of the stage”.
“Women participated in the 2009 movement”, she recalls, but she points out that since 2017 “the main demands of the protest movements were the economic crisis, unemployment, political foreclosure etc… But this time , we hear protests not only against the general situation of the country but also for women’s rights: this is an important change”.
In many videos posted on social media, you can see many women present in the gatherings, taking off their veils, showing their hair and waving their veils in the air angrily, chanting slogans like “Woman, life, freedom”.
Women, especially in Iranian Kurdistan, have also “burnt their veils to burn the ideological foundations of the Islamic regime”, notes Ms. Kian.
A few women also cut their hair in protest, posting the videos on the internet.
“My friends and I are very sad and we suffer for all the women in Iran,” Narges Mirnezhad, 37, an Iranian artist living in Strasbourg (northeastern France), told AFP.
She regrets that several of her friends have been imprisoned since Tuesday evening after taking part in demonstrations.
“Many girls” burned their veils at Tehran University on Wednesday, she reports.
With excitement, Sara says she was “very scared” when she herself was arrested by the morality police when she was in her thirties during a vacation in Iran. She says she was detained in the same center in Tehran where Mahsa Amini was detained when she fell into a coma.
– “Instant cooker” –
Sara had been criticized for “not wearing socks” and having “too short” pants.
In Iran, women must cover their hair and the morality police also forbid them to wear short coats above the knee, tight pants, jeans with holes or brightly colored outfits.
Taken in a minibus to the detention center in Tehran, Sara was directed to a basement where the women were held in custody. “I was terrified, because I had heard rumors of violence; I held on crying to a post of the stairs, screaming”.
Her mother will eventually be able to pick her up around midnight that day and will have to leave her ID, which she will collect after Sara completes a several-hour “behavioral correction” course.
“For 43 years (and the Islamic Revolution of 1979), there has been an accumulation of repression, it’s like a pressure cooker and there it exploded and I hope it will continue,” says Sara.
The women present these days in the demonstrations are, according to her, rather “young people in their twenties, who are not afraid and have so much hope…”. “The veil is the weapon, the definition of this regime; women are saying that they no longer want it”.
Across the Atlantic, Fereshteh*, 44, responded to AFP on Wednesday as she demonstrated outside the United Nations Assembly in New York “to support Iranians in Iran who are fighting for their rights,” forcing the voice to drown out the brouhaha.
Women in Iran “set their veils on fire in front of the police, which is so bad when you’re dealing with murderers…you’re risking your life; it means they’re tired of this crazy diet,” she says.
Azadeh*, 63, demonstrated on Tuesday in Geneva in front of the UN headquarters.
“We have an anger that we can’t really control…”, she reacts, very moved, thinking “of her family back home” in Iran.
“The veil should not be compulsory, we must be free!”, she protests. “The Iranians are very angry, they have dared to say that they are fed up” with the actions of the morality police and the repression.
(* names changed for security reasons).