From the March-April 2018 issue of News & Letters
by Terry Moon
On Dec. 28, 2017, demonstrations broke out in the city of Mashhad, the first of many that swept across Iran for weeks. Women were a vital part of the protests.
The day before, not directly related to the demonstrations and strikes, Vida Movahed, now known as “The girl from Revolution Street,” climbed up on a five-foot-high utility box, took off her hijab and waved it in defiance of compulsory veiling.
Together these actions show, once again, Iranian women’s consistent militant struggle for freedom.
A LONG, VARIED HISTORY OF STRUGGLE
The strikes and protest that called for ending Iran’s Islamic regime involved people in more than 80 cities; over 25 people were killed and up to 5,000 arrested. Yet demonstrations continue to break out throughout the country. Women workers are protesting the same conditions as men, only those conditions affect women more. Layoffs, pay, unemployment, all are worse for women. Employers don’t hire them because, on the books, they have rights to 90 days maternity leave, time out for breastfeeding, weight-lifting restrictions, etc. While they struck and agitated for the same rights as the men, they have never enjoyed even those paltry “rights.”
As the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was being hijacked by Ayatollah Khomeini, women saw the counter-revolution from within the revolution. They came out by the thousands on International Women’s Day 1979 when Khomeini ordered that women wear the chador. They chanted: “At the dawn of freedom, we have no freedom!” and “We didn’t make the Revolution to be relegated back to dog status!” Their demonstration established that the fight against mandatory veiling is not about clothing, it is about freedom.
CREATIVITY UNDER FASCISM
From that time, women’s struggle has been unrelenting, radical, and creative.
That creativity included literature: Azar Nafisi’s 2003 work, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, became a phenomenon, and Persepolis, a 2004 graphic autobiography by Marjane Satrapi, was must reading for any who wanted to understand life in Iran for the next generation and why the struggle was going to continue.
In 2005 White Scarves was formed in defense of women’s right to enter soccer stadiums; in 2006 the Million Signature Campaign was founded. Women collected signatures from women of all classes and sects on petitions to reform the family, workplace and discriminatory laws. Around 2010, Iranian women founded the Committee of Mourning Mothers, whose children had been killed, injured or imprisoned by the government.
As of Feb. 4, 2018, almost 30 people, mostly women, have been arrested over the unveiling protests in Iran. On one day alone, six women took off their veils in public shows of defiance. As one 28-year-old woman said: “I took my scarf off because I’m tired of our government telling me what to do with my body.” She remarked that the three-year-old report recently released by Iran’s president showing that close to half of Iranians opposed the forced veiling laws, “was helpful, but that it did not go far enough. Women are demanding full freedom.”1“Compulsory Veils? Half of Iranians Say ‘No’ to Pillar of Revolution,” by Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times, Feb. 4., 2018.
Another brave woman who took off her scarf in public put it this way: “My argument is not just about removing my scarf. A government that intervenes in the most obvious and fundamental issues of life, like what one wears, is definitely a dictatorial state in other social and political issues as well. The worst kind of dictatorship is that they interfere in the most obvious things in life. Many have opposed the veil, a campaign has been launched, and opposition has been made. But none has been as widespread. This is the most civic and beautiful form of protest.”
These demonstrations have sparked a worldwide reaction as women from Canada to France to several Middle Eastern countries have joined in burning their hijabs, filming the act and posting it online as part of #NoHijabDay, a reaction to #WorldHijabDay and in solidarity with Iranian women.
Raya Dunayevskaya saw that 1979 International Women’s Day demonstration where women railed against forced veiling as that “which may very well have opened Chapter 2 of the Iranian Revolution.” (See “Iran: Unfoldment of, and contradictions in, revolution,” Jan.-Feb. 2018, N&L.) Women’s actions since have proved her right. The struggle continues.
|↑1||“Compulsory Veils? Half of Iranians Say ‘No’ to Pillar of Revolution,” by Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times, Feb. 4., 2018.|