Sparked by the brutal murder of Mahsa Amini, in the past months, Iran has been swept by popular protests demanding that women’s rights be respected in the country, and calling for the abolishing of the “Morality Police”, officially known as “the Guidance Control”. E&M‘s author Rana (not real name) brings you an Iranian perspective on the events, hoping to spread awareness about the significance of these events.
A brief summary
It’s January 2023. 4 months have passed since the first protests regarding women’s rights took place all over Iran. What is going on there now? Have things changed? There are rumors every now and then regarding new regulations, but the government has not made any official speeches regarding them; thus, it should be assumed that all is the same. But I shall not be too hasty to spoil the answer to this question; let’s take a closer look at the recent events and their consequences. We will then have plenty of time to decide what to make of it.
As a short summary, in September 2022, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was beaten to death by the Morality Police in Tehran, Iran, for not wearing a proper hijab*. After that, people all over Iran have been protesting against the current regulations and standing for women’s rights. They have also shown their objection by deliberately taking off their scarves and venturing into the streets without covering their hair. Media has fully covered the political aspects of this and whatever phenomena happened after, so I will take the chance to have a deeper look at its social aspects and the current situation.
The story of a journey
January 2023 – A male acquaintance of mine is taking the metro from somewhere in the north of Tehran (capital of Iran) to an address mid-south. He is running to catch it before it leaves, so he ends up entering the last cabin which is intended for women. (In Iran, women’s cabins are different from men, and it is – or at least it was – forbidden for men to enter them). He observes many women without a scarf. This trend became popular almost a few days after the start of protests and seems it has lingered in some areas. He also sees that nobody objects to his presence in the women’s cabin. To his astonishment, many men are inside the women’s cabin this time, which was scarcely seen before. Apparently, there is no one to arrest these people, no morality police, no one. Ever since the mentioned phenomenon, less restriction has been applied to these women with not the expected coverage. This is only the observation on entrance though. The closer they get to the south of the capital, the less the number of women without scarves. At his destination, they have almost vanished.
I see myself obliged to give a bit of explanation in this regard: Iran’s capital city, Tehran, or the Greater Tehran, has a population of almost 16,000,000 people. This is in a country with a population of almost 87,000,000 people, estimated in 2022. There are a number of districts in Tehran that are inhabited by wealthier, and sometimes less conservative people. Yet, most of the parts are inhabited by traditional people. We can extend the example of Tehran to other big cities of Iran as well; except for some small parts, the ambiance is still quite traditional (read: conservative). And for the rest of the smaller cities or rural areas, it is completely traditional.
Being traditional/conservative doesn’t necessarily mean practicing one’s religion, but it often means upholding patriarchy, which has been rooted so deeply in the minds and souls of almost every member of the whole society in Iran
Being traditional/conservative doesn’t necessarily mean practicing one’s religion, but it often means upholding patriarchy, which has been rooted so deeply in the minds and souls of almost every member of the whole society in Iran. Society is the bigger scale of the family; the traditional family, with the already built-in morality police of its own. Men in a traditional Iranian family are the morality police who are fanatic about “their” women, as if they are their property, and “will not let them act in a way that they get harassed”. For example, in their view, women are subject to harassment if they have not covered themselves properly and a stranger looks at them in a peculiar way. In such cases, the woman is the one to blame, since she ought to act “properly”, so the men would respect her and not cross boundaries. But this is not only about the hijab, but it is also about a patriarchal system, which sees itself as entitled to control everything it has the power to, and in this system, women are a means to men’s satisfaction, therefore, they are controlled and dictated on what is required by men. The phrase “Morality Police” is sometimes used, as if they are some Martians. Seeing men do this in most Iranian families already, is it still strange to have one to control this bigger family?
Let’s go back to our initial story now.
Are these women reluctant to continue their lives without covering their hair in public, meaning, are they traditional/religious/precautious/or anything else themselves? Or are they just acting as the traditional patriarchal society expects them to do?
When he exits the metro, he sees no more of those scarfless women he was able to observe more often at departure. This raises a fundamental question in my head: Are these women reluctant to continue their lives without covering their hair in public, meaning, are they traditional/religious/precautious/or anything else themselves? Or are they just acting as the traditional patriarchal society expects them to do? I would not argue here for those who practice their religion by also covering their hair, but I can speak of those, who do not completely cover their hair and their scarf stays somewhere on the middle of the head; which means, it is there, but it has not been chosen to be. Are these women even aware of their right to choose their apparel, or do they just accept what men choose for them as proper? Are the issues only regarding this or have women been dictated in every aspect of their lives, what to do and what not to do? And my most important question which I urge every reader to think about thoroughly and deeply, is: are these women even aware of those aspects they have control over, and those over which they don’t?
Starting 4 months ago, a significant number of women protested to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the compulsory hijab all over the country. It can be observed ever since, and every now and then, that some other issues, related to controlling women, have been pointed out as well. I had the pleasure to hear out an argument where an Iranian woman was comparing women’s current duties and those of the past, where women had to take care of house tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, taking care of the babies, and so on. As mentioned correctly by her, these roles are still among the roles of Iranian women/mothers/sisters/partners; though she has to work outside the home as well, as only the man’s income will not be sufficient to support the family. Now considering this situation, is it still only the woman’s role to take care of house chores, or it will make more sense to divide them between the two partners in order to not burn one candle at both ends and let the other one roam and order to his pleasure?
This, along with other examples, which enlighten us as to how women have been suppressed under the control of this system, is only a drop in the ocean which have been discovered so far. Every day brings a new example that had been so blindly accepted as if it’s the gospel truth and just one after another, its unfairness is revealed.
But the issue is not limited to these examples. It can be hardly claimed that neither women nor men know to what extent they have these inequalities carved in their brains. We are born and raised with them, and it seems every day we find a new aspect of them, but we can never reach the point of mastering the knowledge.
The irony of the patriarchal system, to the reader’s astonishment, is that it targets itself as well. In other words, men are also suffering from this mindset, this system, although it may not seem as visible as the women’s and differ in scale and nature.
The irony of the patriarchal system, to the reader’s astonishment, is that it targets itself as well. In other words, men are also suffering from this mindset, this system, although it may not seem as visible as the women’s and differ in scale and nature. I will try to bring that under focus later.
As the bottom line, I will go back to answer our earlier question; what is going on now, and what has changed? Considering all the past events, which I would argue are not limited only to these 4 months, but also go back to sometime before then, sparked to culminate by Mahsa Amini’s death, people, not only women, start to realize what rights their women counterparts should have respected. It seems something has just started; we are taking the first steps on a long road. Rome was not built in a day, so rights cannot be granted and respected in such a short duration either. This is just the beginning of a new era for Iranian women. Call it Morality Police or any other organ established by patriarchy; if the infrastructures change so fundamentally that the society no longer needs or wants such organs inside it, will they not automatically disappear?
*hijab: head covering worn by Muslim women
Photo by Rana