The War on Women: Iran’s Fight for Freedom
Written by Jeslyn Wang on January 11, 2023
Featured Art by Shahzaad Raja
“I have always thought that if women’s hair posed so many problems, God would certainly have made us bald.”
This quote, taken from Marjane Satrapi’s critically acclaimed graphic novel Persepolis, reflects the sentiment of younger Satrapi as she’s forced to navigate the complex prism of childhood while simultaneously growing up in the heart of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Her novel details how, within the span of one night, womens’ basic freedoms were stripped away – from mandating the wearing of a veil to plummeting the age of marriage from 18 to the unfathomable age of 9.
While Satrapi’s book immortalizes the oppression that both her and her entire country had tirelessly faced, that is not to say those very experiences ended decades ago.
Even over 40 years after the Islamic Republic’s installation, history seems to have maintained its course. For over two months now, the unremitting protests for human rights in Iran have even swept across the global stage. Sparked on September 13th, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was detained by Iran’s Morality police for violating the government’s stringently mandated hijab law.
While women have increasingly challenged these repressive requirements, whether appearing in public without veils or refusing to wear the required loose-fitting robes, their efforts are incredibly precarious as the Morality police arbitrarily enforce the rules whenever they please. Their tactics span from monetary fines to violently dragging women into vans to take them to “re-education” facilities.
Mahsa Amini, in particular, fell victim to these discriminatory laws. Three days after being detained, security forces reportedly beat her until she fell into a coma. Days after, social media widely circulated news of the severity of Amini’s death. Pictures and videos displayed her unconscious on a hospital bed laden with bruises covering her face and blood dripping from her ears.
Sparking widespread outrage, burgeoning waves of protests have erupted within Iran’s borders and around the world – UCLA included. Thousands of Iranian women have unabashedly removed and torched their headscarves in vehement defiance, while countless men and youth alike join in solidarity and take to the streets in peaceful protest. Powerful chants proclaiming “Women. Life. Freedom” reverberate through every corner of the world with visceral intensity, as protestors paint their hands red and raise their fists in honor of Amini herself.
Since the movement first began, over 18,000 innocent Iranians have been arrested in nearly 130 cities, with the death toll now rising to 451 people – many of which are children. Even as the militia and riot police resort to live ammunition and brutal violence to combat the unrest, their response is futile against the millions of voices refusing to be silenced.
What began as indignation over morality rules quickly widened into long-standing grievances decades in the making, whether political corruption or economic detriments. Among the many speaking out against these injustices is Satrapi herself.
“What I have lived, the youth is living now,” Satrapi says.
For her, the parallels between her childhood and the turbulent situation currently unraveling is one of both sadness and joy. With the average age of current protestors in Iran being only 15 and many as young as 16 being killed, Satrapi is heartbroken over the thought of “losing our kids.”
However, she also sees a light of hope at the end of an otherwise-dark tunnel. Having grown up in the midst of a revolution, Satrapi is far from a stranger to political unrest. Witnessing the current protests, she claims “this is the first feminist movement that I know of in the world where [young] women are leading the men to protest with them.” What was once a divided front has now flourished into a globally united movement, one of “the youth against archaism, of democracy against dictatorship.”
Satrapi’s sentiment does indeed ring true – it’s hard to fully grasp how historically unprecedented these current events are. While Iran has had a long timeline of civil unrest, never before have women’s rights been at the forefront of these protests. Even greater, never before has a movement been spearheaded by girls still in high school, collectively fueling a movement so powerful even nations worldwide have linked arms in solidarity.
More than just speaking out, Satrapi is also utilizing her art as a powerful vessel for raising awareness. Less than a month ago, she auctioned off 44 sheets of original book art from Perseoplis through Sotheby’s in London. While the auction house estimated each page to be worth around 4,000 to 6,000 euros, they were actually sold for over three times the estimated worth – with some pages even being sold for over 17,000 euros! With the money raised, Satrapi announced she would be funding her next creative project, and more importantly, donating a portion to raise awareness on the women’s rights movement.
“Each of these pages is a tribute to the history of Iran, but also to every child that grew up in times of conflict,” Satrapi claims.
Now more than ever, her art resonates with both the complexities of Iran’s past and present. Persepolis in and of itself is a political protest, one in which Satrapi uses to not only paint her childhood but also build an empathetic bridge to help readers better understand her country’s rich history. Portraying intimate storytelling through modern social and political questions, Satrapi challenges Western premonitions of Iranian society and globally embodied ideas of femininity – relevant messages that easily extend into our current world.
As the unwavering fight in Iran continues, we must acknowledge that this movement is exactly that: a fight. For every step taken on the road towards disbanding oppression, there is also adversity on countless fronts aiming to destroy that very path.
“Women. Life. Freedom” are three words that don’t just live within the bounds of Iran, but the entire world as we know it. Just because there exists a fine line separating freedom and oppression does not mean we can precariously balance on the tightrope hanging between both. It is ultimately our responsibility to stand on the right side, not just theirs. Human rights are – human –after all.
Admittedly, it’s far too easy for us to compartmentalize the injustices occurring halfway across the globe. We can read about these events through articles like this or hear about protestors through reports that only last as long as our morning cups of coffee do. At the same time, we are also afforded the privilege of continuing our days, with ignorance and complacency being easy companions to follow. However, for those living directly in the midst of these inequalities, their reality is not something they can simply bury underneath their daily list of errands.
Just as the Iranian youth protest through the streets, we must also do our parts to aid them – regardless of our personal affiliation. Whether that involves simply educating ourselves or donating to organizations like Iranian Diaspora Collective, we have the power to be a voice to Amini and the hundreds of others that can sadly no longer use theirs.
As younger Satrapi concludes in Persepolis:
“For a revolution to succeed, the entire population must support it.”