Continued Protests In Iran Give Hope For Women’s Rights Victories

Widespread protest has been sparked by the death of Jina (Mahsa) Amini, who had been detained by Iran’s morality police. The unit, which enforces the country’s conservative dress code, took Amini to a police “education and advice center,” where she experienced a heart attack and fell into a coma, according to The Washington Post. The protests which erupted after her death on September 16th have since spread to every part of Iran and cover many issues including the economy and corruption, creating what The New York Times calls the largest anti-government protests in the country since 2009.

The Iranian government has reacted with militarized violence, arresting protest leaders and journalists, blocking the internet, and causing at least 41 deaths among protestors and police officers, The Washington Post says. Reuters says state media reported that Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi said the country must “deal decisively with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquility.”

U.S. president Joe Biden has expressed support for the protestors. ​​“Today, we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights,” he said in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly. AP News also reports that the U.S. has backed its words with actions, easing sanctions so tech businesses can counter the internet blockade and imposing sanctions on the morality police itself.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson accused the U.S. of using the protests to their advantage. “Washington is always trying to weaken Iran’s stability and security although it has been unsuccessful,” the spokesperson said.

The violent actions taken by Iranian security are abhorrent, and go against the basic rights of freedom of expression and opinion that should be afforded to all humans. The U.S. response, however, is promising. Not only are leaders supporting these Iranian citizens fighting for the recognition of their rights, concrete actions are being taken to assist them.

Relations between the U.S. and Iranian governments have been tumultuous for decades, beginning with the U.S.- and British-aided coup in 1953, which re-instated a shah unpopular among Iranian citizens. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Council on Foreign Relations explains, the U.S. severed ties with Iran, and since then the two countries have gone through various phases of seeing each other as enemies and allies.

During the shah’s reign, women experienced increasing freedom, but after the revolution, the Islamic Republic tightened restrictions once again, Kelly Shannon explains. Recently, however, citizens have been pushing at the boundaries of these restrictions, with former presidents allowing more flexibility, and the women’s rights movement has pushed against discriminatory laws. The election of Raisi, who The New York Times describes as an “ultraconservative,” as president has once again led to stricter regulations for women in public.

While seeing these protests and government responses to them may highlight the tensions between Iran and the West, it is important to remember what is at stake here. These protests are not just a tool for countries to use in their negotiations, like those surrounding the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal. The citizens of Iran, participating in these protests, women especially, are risking their own safety in a bid to secure their human rights. We would do well to support them, whether that be through political statements or concrete actions.