The huge wave of protests in Iran following Amini’s death represents a historic moment, not only in Iran but for the world. People have taken to the streets shouting slogans against the compulsory hijab, denouncing Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and the way of life under the Islamic republic.
Although the current uprising may seem unprecedented, it is in fact part of a longstanding resistance movement by women in Iran. This is not the first time when a woman has been assaulted in Iran for not wearing a hijab properly. But something seems to have reached a crescendo. The regression of Iranian society in general and how the living standard has systematically diminished for Iranian women has been disheartening. Pictures and videos from before the Islamic revolution in Iran depict women dressing freely with the scenes today in complete contrast.
- At the end of the 19th-century landowners, merchants, intellectuals and Shia clerics had a significant influence on Iranian society. They came together in the constitutional revolution but failed to overthrow the Qajar regime. However, this revolution led to the rise of General Reza Khan. In 1925, with the help of the UK, he came into power and established a constitutional monarchy. Reza Shah was heavily influenced by the UK and USA. Years after reigning in Iran, he introduced a lot of social, economic, and political reforms. He replaced Islamic laws with the western laws of modern times. He put a ban on Islamic clothing, separation of the sexes, and veiling of women’s faces with hijab or burqa.
- Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was the son of Reza Shah. He overtook the throne in 1941. He was also greatly influenced by western culture. He supported equal rights for women and took many important decisions to improve their condition. In 1967, Iran’s personal law was also reformed in which women got equal rights.
- Shiite religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini opposed these policies of Shah. He was arrested two times and sent into exile for 15 years. Away from the public view, Khomeini preached the idea of the Islamic Republic, sharia law, and the idea of an Islamic government through books and cassettes. In 1978, under his leadership, two million people gathered at Shahyad Chowk, in Tehran to protest against Shah. Interestingly, women in large numbers also took an active part in this revolution.
- In 1979, fearing execution, Shah Reza Pahlavi fled the country and Iran became the Islamic Republic. Khomeini was made the Supreme Leader of Iran and the country became a Shia stronghold of the Islamic world. Women’s rights were plundered at the onset of the Khomeini regime.
- In 1981, the use of cosmetic products was banned, and wearing the hijab became mandatory. Religious police began removing women’s lipstick with razor blades. The Islamic government abolished the reforms of the Family Protection Law of 1967 and the age of marriage for girls was reduced from 18 years to 9 years.
The resistance is also being seen as a punishment for the hundreds of women who participated in the revolution in 1979, following which the hijab became compulsory two years later in 1981. It can also be seen as a link in a chain of protests that together have the potential to bring about a fundamental change in Iran. They are focused on two main demands: dignity and freedom. Both have been absent from life in Iran, and have found a prominent presence in almost all slogans, particularly “Woman, Life, Freedom–Zan, Zendagi, Azadi”.
One thing is clear: The demand for radical change in Iran today is significant, and Iranian women are at the forefront of demanding a transformation. But with the strong support this time of men, political and ethnic minorities and other voices from the world, they may be leading their country closer to a freer society.