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Iran: Analyzing gendered oppression through an intersectional lens 

On Sept. 16, protests in Iran broke out after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Amini was arrested and brutally beaten on the head by the so-called “morality police” — authorities that enforce religious based laws — for wearing her hijab too loosely: an illegal offense in Iran. Amini later died after being in police custody for three days. While the government is attempting to frame her cause of death on preexisting health conditions, her family contradicts this claim. Soon after her death, protests broke out across the country. Human rights advocates and Iranian activists have been engaging in demonstrations to protest the murder of Mahsa Amini and the compulsory enforcement of hijabs. The demonstrations include publicly cutting hair, burning hijabs and chanting phrases such as “death to the dictator” as a way to call out and resist the oppressive governmental system. In response, the “morality police” have been attempting to shut down protests through the use of brute force resulting in injured and in some instances dead citizens. In addition to this, the government is attempting to shut down the internet in order to control the spread of information both nationally and internationally. As this movement continues to grow, everyone must pay attention to the threat this poses toward human rights.

In 1979, the Iranian Revolution shifted Iran’s system of government from a dynasty to a theocratic republic: a form of government in which the supreme authoritative figure is recognized as being divinely guided to create religious based laws. Essentially, the Supreme Leader is not elected by the people but has the power and authority of being in charge of all governmental affairs. One of these laws included the strict mandatory dress of women. An article describing the significance of the hijab describes how this law was based on an interpretation drawn from the Quran, the religious text of Islam, although it is not directly stated within the scripture. The National Iranian Council Research Director Assal Rad explained how the protests are not against the religion at large but instead focus on the enforcement of the hijab and the lack of freedom Iranian women possess.

The mandated wearing of the hijab does not uphold a religious culture. It instead oppresses women by taking away their natural born right to bodily integrity and the freedom to choose. The enforcement of the hijab upon women in Iran is strictly meant to control women. Not only does it take away their right to choose, but it infringes on their rights as a person. When looking at all aspects of identity with women in Iran, we are able to notice how different power structures overlap and intersect to determine who is worthy of certain rights and freedoms.

This phenomenon can be explained through the concept of intersectionality, a term first coined by scholar Kimberle Crenshaw to examine how different aspects of identity dictate how an individual experiences the world. The Iranian system of government oppresses women and minorities by restricting access to basic human rights such as education, the right to leave Iran without permission from your husband and the freedom of choice around religion and dress. The Iranian Republic determines what rights citizens deserve based on their gender, thus inducing the oppression, control and violence against women.

The death of Mahsa Amini has sparked a new revolution: women are putting their lives on the line to challenge the system of government that perpetuates inequality. The enforcement of the hijab and brutal violence against women is a threat to human rights everywhere, for oppressive systems are embedded in institutions. An intersectional analysis is essential when understanding oppression, for it brings to light the multifaceted aspects of people’s identities that withhold individuals from being treated as an equal human being. With increasing governmental control over internet access in Iran, the spread of information both nationally and internationally is being limited to silence the voices of people in Iran.

It is essential that everyone continues to talk and raise awareness about the injustices taking place in Iran in order to hold the Iranian government accountable for their actions. While the oppression of women in Iran may not directly affect you, it is essential to fight for the human rights of all individuals despite their gender, race, sexuality, class or religion. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” While the government continues to try and silence the women in Iran, it is crucial for everyone to use their voice to speak out against the oppression of women in Iran. Confronting this injustice will allow the movement to continue on and gain momentum. We must acknowledge the dignity of every person in order for basic human rights to be upheld, prioritized and respected.

Grace Sullivan is a first-year at Notre Dame studying global affairs with a minor in gender studies. In her column I.M.P.A.C.T (Intersectionality Makes Political Activist Change Transpire), she is passionate about looking at global social justice issues through an intersectional feminist lens. Outside of The Observer, she enjoys hiking, painting and being a plant mom. She can be reached at gsulli22@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.