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Hero of 2022: Iranian Women

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They have been at the forefront of the months-long protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini.

The images have become iconic. A woman sitting on top of a utility box pulls her hair above her head and begins to cut it as a crowd cheers her on. Another spinning around a bonfire, her long hair loose moving with her, throws her hijab into the flames. Teenage girls without their mandatory head cover, a cornerstone of the Islamic Republic of Iran, pack a school hallway and chant “death to the dictator.” Students smash and rip an image of the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei before putting their hands together and announcing “Don’t let fear in, we stand united.” 

The women and girls of Iran have been at the forefront of the months-long protests that have shaken the country. On September 13, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was known as Jina, was arrested by Iran’s morality police outside a metro station in Tehran. Her alleged crime? Improperly wearing a hijab. Three days later, after going into a coma, Amini died at a hospital. Authorities denied she had been beaten while detained and claimed she suffered a heart attack. Her family has maintained she had no previous health conditions and accused the government of trying to cover up her death, likely caused by a blow to the head.

The women-led anti-government demonstrations first erupted at Amini’s funeral in her hometown of Saqqez and have since expanded to other parts of the country. In some of the most conservative regions women dressed in chador, a black full-body garment, could be seen chanting “whether with hijab or without it, onwards to revolution.” Thus far, more than 1,600 protests have been recorded countrywide between mid-September and early December in face of the government’s violent crackdown. As many as 18,000 demonstrators have been arrested, including several minors who are being sent to psychiatric centers for “reform and training. Close to 500 people have been killed, with a 23-year-old man publicly hanged. Women have been targeted in particularly violent ways, according to doctors interviewed by the Guardian who reported treating them for wounds in the face, breasts, and genitals. 

The movement has also garnered the support of men. In a song titled “Baraye,” or for the sake of,” which has become the unofficial anthem of the protests, singer Shervin Hajipour, who was arrested during protests and later released on bail, writes: 

It isn’t unprecedented for women in Iran, who TIME magazine recently named their “Heroes of the Year,” to lead demonstrations and to defy the hardline dress code despite the risk of punishment for a criminal offense. But Amini’s death struck a nerve among Iranian people and the diaspora. The grieving outcry over the loss of this life quickly took the shape of a broader intergenerational movement repudiating an oppressively patriarchal regime and calling for freedom and equal opportunities for women.

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