Protests have erupted across the country after Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman arrested by the country’s vice squad, collapsed in custody and later died on September 16. Amini’s father and brother have both pronounced with claims that Amini was beaten in the police van before he was taken to Vozara detention center, although Iranian authorities said the cause of death was a heart attack.
As the incident drew global attention, some have publicly contradicted the Iranian authorities. dr Houssein Karampour, a senior doctor in Hormozgan province of Iran, recently wrote a letter to the President of the Iranian Medical Council, stating that Amini’s symptoms were more consistent with a head injury than a heart attack. “It is consistent with injuries related to a head injury and bleeding,” Karampour’s letter said.
Former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Mohammed Bagher Bakitaraccused the Iranian government of covering up and the police officers of irresponsibility.
After Amini’s death, protests against Iran’s modesty laws erupted both inside Iran and internationally. Demonstrations in Bellevue, Washington and downtown Seattle have sparked conversations about physical autonomy and how it should be recognized as a global issue; not a problem isolated specifically in the Middle East or Iran.
Sital Kalantry, Associate Professor of Law at Seattle University, specializes in feminist theory and international law. Kalantry referred to the international threat to women’s rights. She pointed Restrictions and bans on religious headgear in Germany and Franceand how laws relating to what women wear and do with their bodies suppress a woman’s freedom and work to diminish women’s individuality.
“In America, we have women facing forced pregnancies under near-total bans, and we have women in Iran dealing with forced hijabs. Regardless of what women do with their bodies, it’s being enforced, and that’s a form of oppression,” Kalantry said. “Women should be free to wear whatever they want without fear of government prosecution.”
Throughout the protests, many questions have arisen about how governance escalated to such extreme levels and whether things were always like this. Onur Bakiner, associate professor of political science at Seattle U, researches and teaches on human rights issues in the Middle East. Bakiner shared the history of the laws and customs for women who appear “modest” and conservative, beginning in the early days of the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
“The specific ban requires women to cover their hair and wear modest clothing in public. This ban was supposed to be enforced in the early days of the Iranian revolution, but women’s mobilization against it was delayed. It was introduced in 1980 for public sector employees and in 1983 for all women. It’s been in effect ever since – but different governments decide to what extent they enforce it,” Bakiner said.
Professor Bakiner recognizes forced head covering as a human rights violation, but Iran’s constitution may not.
“The constitution guarantees the legal equality of women and men. In addition, Article 21 promises to guarantee women’s rights in all respects “in accordance with Islamic criteria”. However, the content of this article makes it clear that women are primarily seen as mothers and caregivers. Therefore, bodily autonomy is not recognized as a fundamental right,” Bakiner said.
Protests are taking place around the world to honor Amini, with local Iranian women speaking out in a variety of ways, struggling with their harsh realities and demanding change.
Nova Robinson, associate history professor specializing in Middle Eastern history and international governance, described how political unrest can lead to change when citizens demand it of government.
“When a government’s brutality reaches a tipping point, change can be granted, but not without a fight,” Robinson said.
The protests following Amini’s death have raised awareness of gender inequality around the world and stimulated important conversations about women’s rights.