Amini’s death has sparked unrest towards a host of issues long plaguing Iran’s political landscape; the government’s mismanagement of the pandemic, corruption and a collapsing economy are but a few. Despite this, the issue of bodily autonomy remains the driving force behind the movement.
The ongoing demonstrations are proving to be the most demographically diverse in recent Iranian history, many of which have attributed to the use of social media. Women from major cities, and now a growing number from rural provinces, are taking political action.
Notably, men are joining the demonstrations too. The engagement of Iranian men in a social movement led by women that centres on the welfare of women is unprecedented. With a history of women’s issues treated as a secondary demand at best, it marks a change. For some Iranian feminists, it’s a promising sign of progress. For others, it’s long overdue.
Images emerging from the protests in Iran are stirring, visceral and all too familiar. The women bear a striking resemblance to those who protested the cases of Sarah Everard, Breonna Taylor, and Ta’Neasha Chappell – all of which were murdered at the hands of the police. As the Iranian government attempt to control the demonstrations through increasingly violent tactics, many westerners, particularly those within the liberal feminist community, have jumped to condemn the hijab and Islam. This is a shoddy offer of support if anything at all.
It is clear that the problem lies not in the existence of the hijab but in its systemic imposition. The hijab should remain a subject open to critique and discussed amongst Muslim women. But as we have witnessed, institutional violence towards women, particularly minority women like Mahsa Amini, is an international epidemic. These acts of violence are not so much a religious issue as they are an issue of institutionalised power. To focus on the minute details of the hijab is to not only ‘miss the bigger picture’, but to lose sight of the political and personal plight of Iranian women entirely.