Iran is witnessing nationwide protests over strict hijab laws, that were sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman after she was allegedly assaulted by the country’s morality police. Despite the newly imposed restrictions on phone and internet usage in Iran, videos from various incidences of public unrest continue to find their way to social media. The one thing that stands out in these videos is that Iranian men are standing shoulder to shoulder with women in these protests.
The deceased young woman, Mahsa Amini, had been arrested by Iran’s morality police on September 13 over allegations of wearing a hijab improperly. The morality police allegedly told Amini’s brother that she was being taken to their headquarters for an “educational and orientation” class. Hours later, Amini’s family was notified that she had been taken to a hospital as she had suffered a cardiac seizure. However, witnesses came forward and accused the morality police of physically assaulting the young woman. Amini passed away on September 16.
The manner of her death and the allegations against Iran’s morality police became a tipping point for women in the country. Soon, women took to the streets, cutting their hair and burning their hijabs as a mark of protest against the country’s oppressive hijab law which came into effect in 1981. But they were not alone. Men too are a part of the widespread outrage against hijab law, morality police and eventually, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has retaliated with a severe crackdown. According to news reports, 31 civilians have lost their lives so far in clashes between the general public and Iran’s security forces.
Protests in Iran: Men stand by the side of women
The retaliation hasn’t dampened the spirits of protestors. In a recent video doing rounds on the Internet, we see a man get off his bike, head towards a group of protestors and slap a woman in the group. He then walks back with his head held high and chest puffed. But as soon as he gets back to his vehicle, he is surrounded by women and men who drag him away from his bike and assault him. The anger and rage of protestors is crystal clear in this video. One can debate the perils of mob mentality, but it is clear that the public is simply done with the current regime’s oppressive dictates.
Unbelievable scenes. Something has shifted. https://t.co/FB7BBDG0Bq
— RichaChadha (@RichaChadha) September 22, 2022
Suggested Reading: Who Was Mahsa Amini? Iranians Protest Over Woman’s Death In Police Custody
However, there is more to the picture than meets the eye. The protests are not just about the oppression of women with strict policing of their clothes and implementation of the headscarf mandate. According to a report by The New York Times, the unrest has also been stoked by a brewing economic crisis in the country coupled with reports of corruption, inflation and financial mismanagement. The restrictions on how people dress, the way they socialise and their eating and drinking habits have impacted everyone in Iranian society, irrespective of their gender.
Having said that, it is clear from the sight of men cheering on as women burn their hijabs and cut their hair that this is, beyond everything else, a fight for women’s rights. Men are fighting for their wives, daughters, sisters, colleagues and even for women they don’t know because they can see how oppression has put their lives at risk. A young woman like Amini could be visiting the capital city of Tehran with her family one day, and end up in a coma just hours later, all because the morality police decided that her hijab was inappropriate.
Men and women who understand the idea of equality and empowerment know that this fight is not about whether or not women should wear a headscarf, but about women having the agency to make that decision for themselves. These protests are against the forceful implementation of oppressive laws that rob women of their independence and gloss over violence and assault with words like education and orientation.
One can only hope that more and more men see through the ruse of imposing dictates in the name of preserving religion or culture, and advocate choice and agency. After all, this struggle may be brewing in Iran but the problem that sparked it is universal. Women all over the world are fighting for their rights. They will wipe their blood, sweat and tears and continue to resist oppression. But they will benefit greatly from the support of men. In this case, we do not need men to take the lead. We need them to cheer and root for women. To help women get back on their feet when they fall. And to stop an abuser in their tracks, when they think they can get away with publicly slapping a woman in the name of preserving the fabric of culture.
Views expressed are the author’s own.