Women’s Rights Crisis in Iran

Protests Take Place Across Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini

A woman in Iran was recently killed after members of the morality police detained her. She died three days later in the hospital after falling into a coma. The 22 year old woman’s name was Mahsa Amini. 

Amini was detained for wearing her hijab incorrectly. Authorities have disputed the claims of murder but Mahsa’s family and others have said she was beaten and this caused her death.

“Based on objective observations, interviews with witnesses, reports from relevant agencies, and other investigations, there was no beating involved,”Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on the state broadcasting network, according to Iran Front Page.

Iran has very strict rules regarding modesty and that enforcement is both by the government and other organizations. 

“There is an unclear line between the two (morality police and government). Some are more affiliated with central authorities or local authorities, some are just kind of vigilantes that are kind of winked at by the state, so certainly there is no desire by the state to restrain the morality police,” Professor of Political Science, Dr. Thomas Ambrosio said. 

Religion is what drives the strict regulations in Iran. 

“The government in Iran is at its core a theocracy, which means it rules by and through religion. Islamic religion and religious codes form the very foundation for its entire political structure. The real leader is an Islamic Cleric, its laws are based upon Islam and the notion of a seperation between church and state does not exist,” Ambrosio said. 

Dr. Ambrosio also pointed out the importance of the area and the fact that Amini was a Kurdish woman.

“The fact that it started in the Kurdish area is interesting because even though we think of Iran as sort of one country, it is multi-ethnic and as a result this could increase those ethnic tensions in Iran,” Ambrosio said. 

The death of Amini has sparked a feminist movement of protests across the country and drawn attention from all over the world. 

“So, we had the death of this woman Mahsa Amini, who is a Kurdish woman and that becomes part of the story here. Iran is a multi-ethnic country so the fact that she is Kurdish is a little bit important here,” said Ambrosio. “She was detained by morality police and the government disputes how she died, nonetheless this started protests in the Kurdish area of Iran and at its beginning, and this is something that protests tend to go through as they tend to evolve very quickly, it was about this issue and protesting the restrictions that have been on the country in terms of morality and religious codes from 1979, but then it is kind of sparked from there.”

The protests have escalated to the protestors calling out leaders demanding accountability.

“Not only has it spread geographically into known Kurdish areas but also the demands got greater to a point now that some are yelling to the death of the dictator, and not meaning the president because the president is really not the president,” said Ambrosio. “The president is kind of an administrator for the Ayatollah, who is the actual leader of the country, so there is some cause for popular revolution.”

As for the regime’s response to these protests, Abrosio says there has been violence on both sides, but the regime is strong and has a lot of supporters.

“The regime is going to start cracking down harder. This is kind of the first [protest] that has taken on a real feminist air to it. It is rooted in women’s rights, so that creates, not just something unique, but also something that the government can use to mobilize its supporters, because almost all of its fundamentalist supporters [have] one of their strict tenets as gender control,” said Ambrosio. “By seeing these more feminist protests for women’s rights it is kind of easy for them to mobilize their population, ‘oh you see how western ideas is corrupting our society and we need to resist this,’ so the government has been able to mobilize a lot of its supporters as well.”

The protests have now become focused on womens’ rights and women in the country are under strict regulations and have been for a while.

“Women’s hair has to be covered at all times, and there is segregation between the sexes in terms of education but women are allowed to work,” said Ambrosio. “You know women have to be covered, not fully covered, but extremely modestly dressed, they have to wear a cover but it’s a lot better there than it is with the Taliban in Afghanistan, but it’s clear that women are second class citizens in Iran.” 

As far as outside influence Ambrosio does not see other countries stepping in, specifically the United States.

“No one is going to step in. We did not step in when there were larger protests under Obama, we didn’t step in when there were larger protests about economic problems,” said Ambrosio. “We are not gonna step in. We will complain, we will shine a spotlight on it, but at its core we really can’t do anything ultimately. Iran is a relatively powerful country and if we aren’t going to intervene with their nuclear program, which we care far more about, certainly we wouldn’t intervene for this.”

The United Nations has commented on the issue but no action has taken place. 

“Mahsa Amini’s tragic death and allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent competent authority, that ensures, in particular, that her family has access to justice and truth,” acting U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif said.

There was a booth on campus set up in the Memorial Union to spread awareness about the situation and urge students to act.

Students of NDSU set up a table to share awarness of Masha Amini’s death and the womens’ rights issue.
Photo Courtesy | Abigail Faulkner

Ambrosio shared that although the regime seems strong, these protests are not likely to be the last.

“I think that this shows that even though the regime seems very stable, has governed Iran for 43 years, if my math is right, there is still an undercurrent of dissatisfaction,” said Ambrosio. “We will continuously have these outbursts of dissatisfaction of protests based upon different issues and it is very very likely the government will be able to manage this and they will manage it violently, but you never know when a revolution will happen and that is one of the strange things about revolutions, that no one sees them coming.”

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