Unrest in Iran: Why Iranian women are burning headscarves and cutting their hair off
In the last few weeks, you may have seen powerful images of women taking to the streets in Iran setting fire to their headscarves or cutting their hair off.
The civil unrest was triggered when a woman named Mahsa Amini died in police custody after she allegedly failed to meet the country’s strict dress code that requires women to wear a headscarf and cover their hair in a certain way.
The incident fuelled the anger that had built up over decades of strict laws imposed against women under the country’s Islamic regime.
This is Iran today. A woman proudly burning the most visible symbol of religious dictatorship; compulsory hijab.
Hijab police killed #MahsaAmini but now there are millions of Mahsa in Iran who are shouting NO to Forced hijab NO to gender apartheid regime.#مهسا_امینی pic.twitter.com/9tzd9IRwgB
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 19, 2022
As unrest continues into its eleventh day in Iran, the death toll of demonstrators rises amid police crackdown.
These protests have also spread to Canada, with tens of thousands rallying in Vancouver over the weekend in solidarity with the people of Iran.
Here are the key things you should know about the protests.
Trigger: The death of Mahsa Amini
Amini was just 22 years old when she died in an Iranian hospital on September 16 after spending three days in a coma, reported the BBC.
Earlier that week, Amini had been travelling with her family from Kurdistan to Iran’s capital city Tehran, when she was detained by the Guidance Patrol — the federal morality police — for not covering her hair properly.
Witnesses reported seeing Amini be beaten in the police van, an accusation that was swiftly shut down by the police.
Amini’s family was told that she had been taken to hospital hours after her arrest.
Police would later say that Amini died from a heart attack, reported The Guardian. Her family rejects this, insisting that she was healthy leading up to her death.
Iranian women have rallied around her death, denouncing the country’s mandatory dress code and the severe punishment doled out by the regime’s so-called morality police.
The Guidance Patrol and strict dress codes
The women of Iran have lived under certain oppressive governmental rules for decades.
Iranian authorities implemented a mandatory dress code after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It requires all women to wear a headscarf and loose clothing that hides their figures in public.
The morality police, formally known as the “Gasht-e-Ershad” (Guidance Patrol), is in charge of enforcing the dress code.
While the Iranian government’s interpretation of Islamic Sharia Law requires both men and women to dress modestly, in reality, mainly women are targeted by the morality police.
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The police have the authority to decide whether a woman is showing too much hair, wearing clothing that’s too revealing, or wearing too much makeup.
Those who are detained by the Guidance Patrol are sometimes taken to the police station for a so-called re-education session where they are lectured on Islamic values.
Punishment for violating the dress code includes not only detention, but fines, or even flogging, according to the BBC.
While the ongoing unrest is working to free Iranian women from the binds of the dress code, social enterprise ON Canada Project points out that it’s important not to vilify all Muslims or Iranians.
“What is going on in Iran isn’t an excuse to be Islamophobic. People should have the right to wear or not wear a religious symbol,” the organization wrote in an Instagram explainer.
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Women have been leading protests on the streets of Iran every day since Amini’s death.
Many have thrown their headscarves into bonfires and cut their hair in solidarity with Amini.
This is the real #Iran. Compulsory hejab is not part of our culture. #IranProtests #Mahsa_Amini #مهسا_امینی pic.twitter.com/3bLS5pTtzf
— Alireza Nader علیرضا نادر (@AlirezaNader) September 20, 2022
Many have also lost their lives in the fight against the regime.
According to Iran Human Rights, an organization based out of Norway, at least 76 protesters have been killed by security forces as of Monday.
The organization also says that it has obtained videos and death certificates that “confirm live ammunition is being directly fired at protesters.”
Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad has shared the names, faces, and stories of many of the women who have died in protest.
Ghazale Chelavi took to the streets to protest the killing of #MahsaAmini by hijab police in Iran but she herself got killed by security forces. Her friend told me that she got shot in the head in Amol city. She was 32 Yr old mountaineer full of life. Her family are shocked. pic.twitter.com/CF4JZCWYke
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 23, 2022
On TikTok, Iranians plea with people to continue to spread the news of what’s happening in their home country while they are left in the dark due to internet blackouts.
“My whole family’s out there fighting for their basic human rights and I haven’t heard back from them in four days because they do not have any internet access,” explained one woman on TikTok. “There are a lot of Iranians who are experiencing the exact same thing.”
@hell_yeaaaa you can find good informative posts to share from my ig stories 💔 #mahsaamini ♬ original sound – I stand with Mahsa Amini ❤️
The Canadian government has responded to all this by imposing sanctions on “dozens of individuals and entities – including Iran’s so-called morality police.”
“To the women in Iran who are protesting and to those who are supporting you — we stand with you,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a press conference on Monday.
Following the tragic death of Mahsa Amini, the Iranian regime has been cracking down brutally on protesters, particularly women. In response, we’ll sanction dozens of individuals and entities – including Iran’s so-called “morality police.” pic.twitter.com/fr8ZAPWAUM
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) September 27, 2022