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Tuesday March 21st

OPINION: The Iranian hijab protests – A world stage for women’s rights

<p><strong>(Photo courtesy of Flickr/ </strong><a href="" target=""><strong>“Mahsa Amini Protest 1”</strong></a><strong> by Garry Knight)</strong></p>

(Photo courtesy of Flickr/ “Mahsa Amini Protest 1” by Garry Knight)

By Chase Eisenberg

Her name was Mahsa Amini. She was a 22-year-old Iranian woman from northwest Iran who was arrested by the nation’s so-called “morality police” for improperly wearing her hijab

A hijab is a scarf worn by Muslim women that covers their hair, neck and shoulders. In most places, hijabs are optional: Some wear one for religious or cultural purposes, while many choose not to wear one at all. In some corners of the world, such as Iran, women are required by law to wear this garment. 

Although the exact course of events remains unknown, Amini died in the hospital on Friday, Sept. 16. Her family claims that her death is the result of the morality police’s abuse following her arrest. The Iranian government dismissed this claim and attributed her death to a heart attack, which her family and protesters refuse to believe. 

Less than a day after her death, thousands of Iranians stormed the streets of at least 40 cities around the world. These women-led Iranian groups are demanding justice for Amini, along with an end to the law that forces women to wear a hijab and the violent punishments they receive for not properly doing so. 

These protests have been fueled by issues that have been brewing in Iran for years, ranging from political corruption to societal oppression. Protesters have locked arms, attacked regime symbols and started fires in the streets. Women are removing their hijabs in protest, with many then publicly burning them and cutting their hair. According to reports, hundreds of protesters have been arrested or injured and several have died, but their passion and fury show no signs of cessation. 

To make matters worse, the Iranian government has restricted mobile and social networks to hide these protests from the rest of the world. Iranians are doing all they can to spread the message despite the difficulties imposed upon them, and the world is listening. 

Protesters have taken to the streets of the United States, particularly in Los Angeles, the city where I was born and raised and which still remains my permanent address. Los Angeles is home to roughly 500,000 people of Iranian ancestry, making it the biggest community of Iranians outside of Iran. Californians have been holding protests and candlelight vigils in the wake of Amini’s death, demanding change from 7,000 miles away. 

As a fellow Angeleno and woman with an extended family that consists of Iranians living in America and Iran, these protests are near to me and have ignited a fire of anger within my heart. It is my opinion that a woman should have the freedom to wear whatever she desires, and the improper wearing of an article of clothing does not justify the death of a young woman, especially at the hands of the government. 

One of my close cousins has had family put under house arrest in Iran for protesting. Her fiance’s family lives in apartments across from Evin Prison, which went up in flames this past weekend. She is suffering knowing that her family is in danger, and there is unfortunately little she can do to help or reach them with the nationwide blackouts. 

She has been attending protests in Los Angeles, spreading the news through social media platforms, and doing what she can to increase awareness and protect her family. To her, this movement means that her family can hopefully have a better life by having the freedom to make their own choices regarding their bodies and exist in a society that welcomes and respects women. She was very brave to share her story with me, as are all Iranians trying to shed light upon this horrible situation, many at the risk of their own safety. 

My heart aches for her and her family, who I see as my family too. There are thousands of Iranian Americans going through similar situations, watching fearfully and helplessly as they see what is happening to their family back in Iran. 

Religious oppression deserves no place in our world. It is beyond immoral for the Iranian government to impose its religion on its citizens to the extent that those who disobey the religious rules are harshly punished and murdered. This religious law is a facet of control for the government over its female citizens and a way to exert its power over women by forcing them to comply or risk death.

As Americans, we still have improvements to make within our own society regarding women's rights. However, having extended family members who are from and in a country where women are being killed for wrongly wearing their clothes has been eye-opening. It has made me realize how fortunate American women are to have the freedom we have, and we must not take it for granted. Instead, we must use the power we have fought so hard for to amplify the voices of the Iranian women who are being silenced by their own government. 

As Americans, we owe it to women in Iran to educate ourselves on their struggles and to support them in any way we can. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Therefore, we should all be a part of this fight for women’s rights in Iran. 

Mahsa Amini did not deserve to die. Let us join together, men and women, so that her death is not in vain. Let us continue the ripple that Amini’s death began, not stopping until our voices have been heard. Let us turn our sadness and anger into demands for change so that every woman has the freedom and the safety to leave her home dressed as she pleases and return to her family alive.


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