The Women, Life, Freedom movement in Iran is encouraging as we fight for women’s bodily autonomy here in the US

How do we organize together in social movements with longevity? Our collective strategies, our power analyses, and our direct action can bring about lasting social change, or it can be a spark that fizzles out. On rare occasions, we find inspiration in surprising places. One of those is presenting itself right now: In Iran, women, youth and their allies of all genders and ages have been waging an anti-patriarchal, pro-democracy struggle since September. 

As we fight for women’s bodily autonomy here in the U.S., we can find inspiration in Iran.

The Islamic Republic is a patriarchal regime that is enforcing “female modesty” through the mandatory covering of women’s hair and bodies. Women can be arrested by “morality police” for simply showing their hair in public. Even worse, they can face state-sanctioned rape, torture, imprisonment and even murder. 

This happened to Mahsa Jina Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian who was visiting Tehran and wearing her head scarf loosely. She was arrested and sent to a re-education camp. Several days later, she died in police custody after being brutally beaten. Mahsa Amini’s death set off widespread protests which continue today. Young women have been removing head coverings mandated by the conservative regime and cutting off their ponytails in public. In their classrooms, girls in uniform can be seen giving the middle finger to the framed photograph of the supreme leader of Iran.

For more than seven months now, the Iranian people have resisted peacefully. Middle schoolers have taken control of their schools; high school girls have mobilized protests in their neighborhoods; college students have organized walkouts and boycotts on their campuses. Iranian oil workers went on strike in solidarity with youth-led protests. A song, “Baraye” by Iranian singer/songwriter Shervin Hajipour, won a Grammy Award.

The Islamic Republic has responded with extreme violence. They have beaten girls to death in their schools and even used mass poisoning, which has escalated, as punishment. They have imprisoned almost 20,000 Iranians for their participation in the movement. They have executed at least four protesters. Stories of gang rape in prison are being verified by Amnesty International. 

Indeed, this is one of the most dramatic women’s movements in history, gaining global attention. What can we stand to learn from the women of Iran? 

The Women, Life, Freedom movement has at least three powerful lessons for us: 1. Everyone can come together around a deep injustice that is taking place. What we cannot abide can bind us to one another. 2. We must overcome our cynicism and believe that change is possible, against all odds. 3. Each person needs to find ways to contribute to the movement for women’s freedom. 

There is so much we can each do to help sustain the #WomenLifeFreedom movement. 

We can educate ourselves, read articles about the bold and courageous people of Iran, engage in conversation with loved ones, and lean into our curiosity. Consider the risks and sacrifices that thousands and thousands of people in Iran are taking to enable change. Doing so may help you realize that radical alternatives to patriarchy are possible in every nation. If you aren’t yet participating in the U.S. movement to assert women’s bodily autonomy, gather inspiration from the young people risking their lives in Iran and the workers who stand in solidarity with them, defending their expressions of dissent.

As Shirin Ebadi, women’s rights activist and Nobel peace prize winner, speaking about the fight to protect abortion, told us on Friday, April 7 when we hosted her at CU Boulder, “Oppression of people and violation of human rights are like a virus,” Ebadi said. “So, we can’t just decide to be silent about it, because it is contagious. If it happens in one society, it can take over. And it can take over all over the world.” 

Shawhin Roudbari and Sabrina Sideris are both educators at CU Boulder. 

This opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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