The Current

Amid violent protests in Iran, women throwing off headscarves have nothing to lose, says protester

Protests have erupted in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini, who died after being arrested by Iran's morality police, for not adequately covering her hair.

Protests erupt after women dies in custody of Iran's morality police, over hair covering

A newspaper with a picture of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Iran's morality police. (Majid Asgaripour/WANA/Reuters)

Some women in Iran are refusing to wear hair coverings in public, as part of widespread protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was detained by the country's morality police for not adequately covering her hair.

"When we are going outside, it doesn't matter if we are protesting or not, we are not wearing hijab anymore," said one protester, who the CBC is not naming over fears for her safety.

"We say that it doesn't matter if you wear it or not, if they want to kill us, they will. If they want to arrest us, they will," she told The Current's guest host Duncan McCue.

"So let me [be] myself. I want to live the way that I want."

Amini was arrested last week for allegedly wearing the hijab improperly, showing too much of her hair. She fell into a coma and died while in the custody of Iran's morality police, who enforce strict rules requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes in public.

Iranian authorities deny any wrongdoing, saying Amini died of a heart attack; while her family said she was in good health, and that she suffered bruises to her legs in custody. Reports from an Iranian news service based in London said CT scans showed a skull fracture caused by severe blows. The UN Human Rights Office has demanded an investigation into her death.

WATCH | Death of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini sparks worldwide protests

In-custody death of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini sparks worldwide protests

1 year ago
Duration 2:07
Featured VideoThe death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was in the custody of Iran's morality police, has sparked protests in Iran and around the world. The United Nations is now calling for Iran to launch a probe into her death.

Protests have engulfed the country for four days, with women burning their headscarves in the street. At least three people have been killed, amid reports from human rights group Hengaw that security forces opened fire on protesters.

The protester who spoke to The Current said she has been arrested many times by the morality police, including once for wearing boots that she was told would "excite the men by looking at your legs — so it is a crime."

She said the morality police enforce rules around more than just clothing.

"If I start laughing with a group of girls, you know, or running in the street or riding bicycles … this morality police has the right to come and arrest us," she said.

She said protesters "are hoping that if the world hears us and they support us, something will change."

"I have nothing to lose any more in this country; we have to do something. And that's why everyone [is] in the street right now."

The Current contacted the permanent mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the United Nations for comment, but did not hear back.

People light a fire during a protest in Tehran, Iran, over the death of Mahsa Amini, on Wednesday. (West Asia News Agency/Reuters)

'Being a woman is a risk in Iran'

As a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, Amini's death has struck a chord with Iranians, said journalist and activist Masih Alinejad.

Both the men and women of Iran "feel it could have happened to their daughters, to their sisters," she said. "That's why we are all not just sad, we are furious."

Some women have begun to post videos of their interactions with morality police on social media, she said, despite the risk of arrest or reprisal from authorities. 

But simply "being a woman is a risk in Iran," she said. "When you go out, you risk your life."

WATCH | Iranian protests over Mahsa Amini's death see at least 3 killed

Iranian protests over Mahsa Amini's death see at least 3 killed

1 year ago
Duration 3:39
Featured VideoProtests in Iran erupted 4 days ago after a young woman, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, died in police custody after allegedly wearing her hijab improperly.

She said Amini's death has become "a symbol of resistance against religious dictatorship in Iran," of which the "compulsory hijab is the most visible symbol of oppression."

Shahrzad Mojab, acting head of the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto, said the regime is also guilty of "suppressing many other rights of Iranian citizens — men and women."

That includes rights around freedom of expression and of association, as well as "all the rights of women in terms of of controlling their body, their sexuality, their rights to to their reproductive rights, their rights to abortion," she said. 

She described Iran as an apartheid regime divided along lines of gender, that uses apparatus such as the morality police to enforce the regime.

"It's very hard to predict" how these protests will play out, she said. "But what is important is that people are not backing off, which is an incredible daring and sacrificing act for the people of Iran."

She said the international community must engage the regime over the issues faced by Iranians, rather than narrowly focusing on issues like Iran's nuclear capability.

She said the international community must engage the regime, and recognize that the public anger stems not only from women's rights, but from issues such as the country's economy, poverty and the handling of the pandemic.

"Every day there are pensioners on the streets — teachers, writers, students are on the streets, but they don't make it to the international news," she said.

With files from The Associated Press. Audio produced by Samira Mohyeddin.

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