Voices: ‘Iranian women aren’t sleeping’: This is what it’s like being a woman in Iran right now

I am an Iranian writer who was born after the 1979 revolution. I live in Tehran. Like Mahsa Amini and other women, I have been arrested many times on the street for not wearing a hijab and have suffered the brutal behavior of police.

Since I was six years old, I have been ordered to remain silent and not question the wearing of the hijab in girls’ schools. When I was a child, my mother and aunt were detained in front of my eyes on the street for hijab “offences” and kept in jail for a night.

The murder of Mahsa Amini has shocked us all. And it has made me think about how we got here – and what we need to do now to get out.

After the 1979 revolution in Iran, a radical Shia government came to power, which claims to be able to run society based on the laws of Islam 1,400 years ago. It relies on reactionary Shari’a rulings, some of which involve mandatory restrictions on women. According to the Islamic laws, the woman is considered the man’s land; part of his property. A man can give her commands and prohibitions, just like a pet.

A large number of women who protested in 1979 were killed or imprisoned or fled from Iran. This new regime, with its restrictions on women’s clothing and situation, established from that point that a woman’s body was in fact the property of the “authorities”.

With laws such as stoning and flogging women in public, and other medieval performances, the new regime managed to make it clear that women are to be used to keep the rest of society silent. In other words, by conquering and encroaching on women as property – by punishing her – the regime can show off its power.

Iranian women are protesting against the violation of our rights, but it’s not just restricted to our clothing. Here is what else is at stake:

  • A woman’s testimony in court is counted as half of a man’s. If a witness is needed to prove a crime, two women have to testify so that they have testified as much as one man.

  • Women do not have the right to enter stadiums to watch sports (Sahar Khodayari died in protest at a jail sentence for going to watch a football match).

  • Women do not have the right to dance and sing; or the right to abortion. The punishment for abortion is equal to killing a living human being.

  • A woman cannot be a court judge. A woman cannot divorce her husband – this right belongs to the man only. He can divorce his wife whenever he wants.

  • A woman does not have the right to custody of a child after divorce. The child belongs to the father.

  • A woman does not have the right to leave the country. This right belongs to the father until the age of 18, and after marriage, it belongs to the husband.

  • A woman is forced to wear a full hijab during sport competitions. Many female athletes have been fired from the national team and some of them play for the national team of other countries.

  • Our fathers and brothers have the right to kill us, and because (according to the Islamic Penal Code), fathers and husband are considered guardians, they will not be punished for doing so.

  • And recently, the ban on women eating ice-cream in public spaces was proposed, but not enforced.

In the best of circumstances, a woman’s legal rights are half of a man’s. But the important question remains: how is it fair that a being who is considered half a man when it comes to her everyday rights, can still be seen as a complete person in front of the ballot boxes? A woman is only considered a full person when we are being used to confirm the pillars of power. This is the ultimate hypocrisy. Maybe now the world will understand why women are standing on the frontline of these protests.

Perhaps you’re also wondering why men are protesting with us – I think I can tell you. The fact is that the domination over the female body (as a perfect example of a “subordinate citizen”) has also seen the state’s domination over other parts of Iranian society; including men.

After the 1979 revolution, men saw that while they may have rights towards their wives, daughters and sisters, they did not have many rights for themselves against the power of the government. They are, even now, considered “nothing” against the mighty will of those in charge.

Many men came to the conclusion that every time they took a right from a woman, they legitimised the law of domination over all of those the government views as subordinate. For regardless of gender, we are all inferior in front of the authority of the law. And anyone who questions those in power is considered an “infidel”. The punishment for being an infidel in the eyes of the law is death, whipping or prison.

In this way, fighting against the laws that prohibit women is the first step to fighting for freedom for all people in Iran.

You may also have wondered why some Iranian women continue to wear the hijab in the streets; even if we don’t believe in Islam. Well, that is easy – it is because anyone who declares that they don’t believe in Islam will either be killed or deprived of education and employment. Many who feel this way are forced to emigrate, even if we love our country.

To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

This is what is truly at stake when you see our protests and when you watch footage of us removing the hijab. And it’s important to remember that when you see Iranian women on social media without headscarves – or at a party, while drinking and dancing – it still does not indicate our freedom or liberty. No:,every single Iranian woman who does this, does so in civil protest. We do it at tremendous risk. We do it to fight for freedom.

It is from the heart of living under such suffocation that the slogan “woman, life, freedom” was born. Maybe, after reading this text, you can imagine what a great achievement such a slogan is.

Iranian women have not been sleeping since Mahsa Amini was killed. We have seen that it is the time to announce our awakening. Many people are being killed in the streets of Iran these days. Many women who removed the hijab are in prisons. If you see Iranians in the streets of your city today, please know that we are not without a country – but we have had to flee.

This fragmented diaspora that shouts the name of its homeland in your homeland no longer wants to be treated as a half-being. Our goal is to have the right to our own bodies. This movement is the biggest feminist revolution in the world – and the world stands with us, because it knows that the outcome will be our biggest achievement, together.