Women! Life! Freedom! Women in Iran, one year later

Lina AbiRafeh
4 min readSep 19, 2023
Poster in solidarity with women in Iran

We’ve just marked one year since the murder of Mahsa Amini in Iran. By now we know her name. If not, we should.

She was the fire that ignited Iran’s latest feminist revolution. Amini was 22, killed by the so-called Morality Police for improperly wearing her hijab, the head covering mandated by so-called cultural and religious interpretation.

(Not so different from the religious interpretations and legal restrictions that deny American women rights to their own body, for example. Let’s be clear: this fight isn’t just about “other women, over there.” It’s all around us. Just because our heads aren’t covered doesn’t mean our eyes aren’t covered…)

Anyway… Iran.

This garment has become the symbol of oppression in Iran and a way to justify discrimination against women. And yet, shouldn’t all women have the choice whether or not to cover? Ideally yes, but…

The Morality Police arrested Amini on September 13 for wearing her headscarf too loosely. She was severely beaten in police custody and subsequently died from her injuries three days later.

The next day brave women took to the streets, burning their hijabs, openly defining religious clerics, and cutting their hair — a feminist revolution.

Mahsa Amini’s murder triggered a wave of demonstrations that rapidly spread from her hometown of Saqqez, culminating in one of Iran’s largest and longest-lasting protest movements since the Islamic Republic’s inception in 1979.

Since this tragedy, Iran has experienced a profound transformation. Amini’s passing ignited mass protests, marking a bold act of rebellion that was nearly unthinkable a year prior. Young women across Iran rallied, collectively removing their headscarves in support of Amini. This emerged as not only a demand for women’s rights but also evolved into a broader call for the overthrow of the entrenched regime.

The regime responded with a harsh crackdown, resulting in hundreds of protesters killed and numerous arrests. The resonance of Amini’s tragedy reached beyond Iran’s borders, with solidarity rallies held by exiled Iranians around the world.

Her death sparked a feminist call to action:

Women! Life! Freedom!

Zan! Zandegi! Azadi!

زن، زندگی ، آزادی

Despite a brutal crackdown by authorities, the spirit of dissent endures, with women finding new avenues to challenge established norms. Now around 20% of women throughout the nation openly flout the requirement to wear a hijab in public spaces, signifying a seismic shift in societal attitudes. This represents a significant departure from the past, as echoed by a 20-year-old music student in Tehran who marvels at the newfound courage and audacity she and others now possess: “”Things have changed so much since last year. I still can’t believe the things I now have the courage to do. We’ve become so much bolder and braver.”

And that’s when I heard from an Iranian woman named Maryam, and others like her, asking me to be with Iranian women and help the world hear their voices. And so a blog was born. To amplify Iranian women’s voices. As a start.

One Iranian woman said that “people are hopeful that something might change,” but that they remain “sad and angry.”

She continued: “We want to live a normal life just like any other human being. It’s very simple.”

And another asked the world to “Wish us freedom.”

Despite the regime’s efforts to tighten control, women continue to challenge the compulsory hijab, viewing it as a symbol of systemic oppression. The regime’s response has been a mixture of intensified surveillance, arrests, and the imposition of stricter penalties for non-compliance. However, this resistance represents a significant cultural shift, challenging long-standing norms imposed since the 1980s.

While the protests haven’t yet led to a full-scale revolution, they have fundamentally altered the social and political landscape in Iran. The protests extend beyond the anti-hijab movement, and reflect a society that, despite severe repression, continues to resist an oppressive regime. The lack of a centralized organization remains a challenge, but the underlying issues that drive protests persist, suggesting that the spirit of resistance endures in Iran.

This is a fight for freedom, for rights, for choice, for bodily integrity, for autonomy. That is what feminism stands for. No one, no country, nowhere should ever tell women what to do with their own bodies and their own lives, including how to dress, and whether to cover or not. NO COUNTRY.

So what can we do now? It’s been a year, but this cause is not forgotten. We can continue to listen to — and amplify — Iranian voices. They are not silent — but they are silenced.

Follow some of these Iranian journalists, academics, activists:

Golshifteh Farahani

Soraya Lennie

Assal Rad

Negar Mortazavi

Masih Alinejad

Read what they say, share their voices, and support their cause.

More than that, stand with women in Iran — and everywhere — who fight against patriarchy and for long-overdue rights and freedoms. We deserve no less.

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Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights expert, author, speaker, aid worker, feminist activist with 25 years of experience in 20 countries worldwide - and lots of stories!