Open Letter: A First-Person Account of the Women's Rights Protests in Iran

Open Letter: A First-Person Account of the Women's Rights Protests in Iran

Liz here, editorial director at Girlboss. This past summer, I met M [name redacted], a mountain guide from Iran. M runs her own business doing what she loves—climbing—and is one of the most fearless and inspiring individuals I’ve spoken to. She’s just one of the countless women in Iran who are bravely fighting for their equal place in society, where they can make their own income, and set the course of their own lives—on their terms. 

The Girlboss team offered our platform for M to share an open letter. “It’s important that the voice of the story isn’t centered on one person,” she says.

We've kept her name and details anonymous (“My name is not important,” she told me, “but I can avoid confrontation with the government, not that I’m afraid of getting arrested.”)

We’re honored to share her words.

To be a voice for such a wide variety of women from inside Iran feels like a huge responsibility. Women’s movements towards life and freedom, from the outcry following the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for wearing the wrong dress code, to the post-Roe protests happening in the US, are like a broken, open wound. Today in Iran, protests are happening all over the country. For the first time in four decades, Kurdish women removed their head scarves at Amini’s funeral as a group act of protest. They chanted, “Killing for a veil, ‘till when such a repression?”

There’s dissatisfaction with a lot of aspects of social life in Iran: the failing economy, the lack of personal freedoms (of speech, of political assembly) and human rights violations have united all parts of Iran. “Women, life, freedom” is the rallying cry of this movement.

A common question is, “Has society always tolerated a dress code for women?” The answer was never a simple, “Yes.”

The hijab law was forced unto women from the early months of Iran’s revolution in the late ’70s. Less than a month after the revolution, on March 8, 1979 (International Women’s Day), a group of as many as 8,000 protesters—mainly women—gathered at the University of Tehran to confront what they saw as the backwards movement of women’s rights. These voices were quickly silenced by political violence at the hands of religious leaders.

The country’s entire legal structure turned against women. In many ways, the Hijab law is just the most obvious way of control. But there are many others: no right to divorce or abortion, no right to the custody of your own child after they turn seven, the right to only half of the inheritance allowed to male siblings, no ability to get a motorcycle license, no solo performances as a female singer—the list goes on.

Looking at the statistics of women’s participation in government and political positions, or even regular job opportunities, clearly shows the amount of discrimination half of the population receives. And this is despite women holding the highest rank in the percentage of higher education.

There was always a clichéd portrayal of Iranian women in western media: Oppressed, non-modern, traditional and with almost zero control over their social and personal lives.

The truth is that Iranian women have held their heads up against all the odds, and the reason you see them so bravely fighting for their rights is that they never fully submitted to the oppression of the system. There is a long way to go, but no turning back. The wind of change is carried on the shoulders of women.

The system is brutally violent, but the road is clear: Freedom, justice and bodily autonomy.

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