Why Canadians are protesting for women’s rights in Iran

Story by CBC Kids News • 2022-09-28 18:37

Women shouldn’t be forced to wear hijabs, say protesters


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For the past 12 days, protesters in Iran have been demonstrating in the streets.

And in Canadian cities such as Ottawa, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia, people are joining in.

Why? It all has to do with the recent death of a woman from Iran: Mahsa Amini.

Earlier this month, 22-year-old Amini died after being detained by Iran’s morality police — allegedly for not wearing her hijab properly.

A hijab is a head covering some Muslim women may wear as part of their religious faith.

In Iran, religious laws say girls nine and older must wear a hijab.

However, younger girls are also required to wear the headscarf as part of their school uniform and face pressure to wear one in public.

Following Amini’s death, many are demanding an end to conservative laws under an Islamic republic, including the ones around dress codes.

Iran is a country in Western Asia home to more than 83 million people. (Graphic design by Philip Street/CBC)

Why is this happening?

Under Iranian law, all women over a certain age (usually defined as women past puberty) must wear a head covering and loose clothing in public. 

These restrictions have been in place since shortly after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, but citizens say that enforcement of these laws by morality police have stepped up significantly following the election of a new president last year, Ebrahim Raisi.

Protesters gather in Tehran, the capital of Iran, on Sept. 21, 2022, during a protest for Mahsa Amini, days after she died in police custody. (Image credit: Getty Images)

The morality police are squads that enforce these religious dress codes. They say they arrested Amini on Sept. 16 for “unsuitable attire.”

It’s not uncommon for women to be arrested for this in Iran.

Three days later, Amini died in hospital. Her family said she had bruises all over her body and a photo of her in a coma showed her bleeding from her right ear.

Following her death, police denied mistreating her and claimed she died of a heart attack. The country’s authorities say they are investigating.

What are protesters saying?

Protests in Iran started on Sept. 17 and have spread to all of the country’s 31 provinces.

According to Iranian state media, at least 41 people have been killed during the protests so far, although the BBC has reported that number is 76.

Thousands of people rallied in Vancouver on Sept. 25 in solidarity with protesters in Iran over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. (Image credit: Janella Hamilton/CBC)

Many protesters say they are not only against the laws that restrict the freedoms of women, but also the new president’s handling of inflation and other economic matters that have left Iranians poorer.

Women have played a prominent role in the protests, waving and burning their veils. Some have even publicly cut their hair.

Hair has become a symbol of this fight because Amini’s hair was supposedly sticking out of her hijab.

Raisi has referred to the protests as a “riot.”

A motorcycle burns during a protest in Tehran over the death of Mahsa Amini. (Image credit: West Asia News Agency/Reuters)

Protests have since flared up around the world, in places like the United States, Greece, Germany and Canada.

Canada’s response

On Sept. 26, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared a message of solidarity with Iranian protesters and their supporters.

“We join our voices — the voices of all Canadians — to the millions of people around the world demanding that the Iranian government listen to its people, end their repression of freedom and rights, and let women and all Iranian people live their lives and express themselves peacefully,” he said.

He also announced that Canada will place sanctions on “dozens” of Iranian individuals and entities, including morality police.

Sanctions are penalties that take many forms, but can involve, for example, freezing the foreign bank accounts of individuals so that they can’t spend their money in a specific country.

However, Trudeau didn’t say who exactly would be sanctioned or when.

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With files from John Paul Tasker/CBC, CBC News, The Canadian Press and Reuters

CLARIFICATION: In an earlier version of this story, we said that hijabs are required by law from the age of seven onward. In fact, laws in Iran say that a hijab is required from the age of nine. There are other public pressures that encourage the wearing of hijabs at younger ages.

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