Mahsa Amini – Why Iranian Women Are Cutting Off Their Hair

Written by Anoushka Patel

Edited by Annika Lilja



On September 13, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was in Tehran, having travelled there to visit family. She was at the entry of Haqqani Highway with her brother Kiaresh Amini, when she was arrested by the regime’s so-called "Guidance Patrol" and transferred to the "Moral Security Agency," allegedly for wearing an inappropriate hijab. CCTV videos of the event - released later by the Tehran police - show her collapsing to the ground at the moment of her arrest.

Amini's brother was told she would be taken to a detention centre to undergo a "briefing class" and released shortly afterwards. But she never made it; Amini instead arrived at Kasra Hospital, where she died on Friday 16th of September after being in a coma for three days.

In a now-deleted Instagram post, the hospital claimed she was brain dead on arrival. "Resuscitation was performed on the patient, the heartbeat returned, and the patient was admitted to the intensive care unit," they originally wrote, according to The Guardian. "Unfortunately, after 48 hours on Friday, the patient suffered a cardiac arrest again, due to brain death. Despite the efforts of the medical team, they failed to revive her and the patient died.” However, witnesses claim that she was beaten in the patrol van that was taking her to a detention centre.

Once news of Amini's death hit the news, days of protest began across the country and globally, in part thanks to the already-contested presence of Ebrahim Raisi at the U.N, who had complained about “Western double standards” on human rights. The hashtag #mahsaamini began trending on Twitter, with more than two million mentions, and Iranian women have been cutting their hair and burning their hijabs in defiance of the oppressive laws.


Tehran Police commander Hossein Rahimi claims Amini's death was an "unfortunate accident," saying she had a heart attack due to existing conditions. But Amini’s father has vehemently contested these allegations, saying he believes he has been given heavily edited CCTV footage that contradicts her bruising and eye-witness accounts, telling the Iranian Rouydad24 newspaper: “They said Mahsa had heart disease and epilepsy but as the father who raised her for 22 years, I say loudly that Mahsa did not have any illness. She was in perfect health. The person who hit my daughter should be put on trial in a public court, not a fake trial that results in reprimands and expulsions."


By law since 1979, women in Iran must wear the hijab in public, however in practice, this has not been heavily enforced. That is, until the new president Ebrahim Raisi took power in 2021. Since then, there has been an extreme enforcement of the rules. On August 15th, Raisi even signed an order enforcing the country's dress code with a new list of restrictions.


Article 638 of the Islamic penal code states it is a crime for women to appear in the streets and in public without an Islamic hijab. The actions of the so-called "morality police" have been heavily criticized by the UN Human Rights Office, which says the police have been targeting women and says they have verified videos of women being slapped in the face, beaten with batons, and thrown into police vans for wearing a hijab too loosely.


Amini’s death may have proved to be the final straw for Iranians, who have continued protests into their third week. Iranian security forces have shown no sign of stopping their sexist treatment of women, and there has been further reportage of the abuse of women by the morality police, such as the death of 16-year-old protester Nika Shakarami, whose family was allegedly forced into making false statements about the nature of her death, after Nika told a friend she was being chased by police on 20th September. Another 16-year-old girl, Sarina Esmailzadeh, died after being severely beaten on the head with batons by security forces during protests on 23rd of September, according to a source cited by Amnesty International.


This horrific treatment of women under the guise of law and order is an outdated and misogynistic stance taken by the government and law enforcement. Most Iranians reject the mandatory nature of religious regulations, saying hijab-wearing is a woman’s choice. An independent survey by GAMAAN (the Group for Analysing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran) in 2020, found that 72% opposed compulsory hijab. Even religious leaders, such as two senior ayatollahs, say that the law discredits Islam. Young men and older members of the population have supported the protests, spurred on by severe economic hardship, official corruption, and the illegitimacy of ruling politicians who stole the 2021 election.


Young women and schoolgirls have been instrumental in the fight for justice. In the absence of equality in society, women are raising their voices and not tolerating the abuse of power from those meant to protect them. Whether they be heckling Iran’s feared paramilitary Basji force, or chanting “freedom” in the streets, they are the voices of change and people across the world stand in solidarity with them.


 

Sources


Omid Shams. “Remembering the Victims of #IranProtests2022.” Iran Wire, 5th October 2022. https://iranwire.com/en/politics/108299-remembering-victims-iran-protests-2022/


Weronika Strzyżyńska. “Iranian Woman dies after being beaten by morality police over hijab law.” The Guardian, 16th September 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/sep/16/iranian-woman-dies-after-being-beaten-by-morality-police-over-hijab-law



“Mahsa Amini’s Father: Everything They Have Said and Shown is Lies.” Centre for Human Rights in Iran, 20th September 2022. https://iranhumanrights.org/2022/09/mahsa-aminis-father-everything-they-have-said-and-shown-is-lies/



“Mahsa Amini: Acting UN Human Rights Chief Urges Impartial Probe Into Death In Iran.” United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 20th September 2022. https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/09/mahsa-amini-acting-un-human-rights-chief-urges-impartial-probe-death-iran


Ahmed Vahdat. “Senior ayatollahs say Iran’s mortality police are illegal and un-Islamic.” The Telegraph, 17th September 2022. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2022/09/17/senior-ayatollahs-say-irans-morality-police-illegal-un-islamic/



Lauren Geall. “Mahsa Amini: demonstrations take place around the world in solidarity with Iran protesters.” Stylist, 3rd October 2022. https://www.stylist.co.uk/news/iran-anti-hijab-protests-mahsa-amini/709616


GAMAAN (the Group for Analysing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran). “Iranian’s Attitudes Towards Religion: A 2020 Survey Report.” August 2020. https://gamaan.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/GAMAAN-Iran-Religion-Survey-2020-English.pdf


David Gritten. “Iran protests: Schoolgirls heckle parliamentary speaker.” BBC News, 5th October 2022. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-63143504


Parham Ghobadi. “Nika Shakrami: Iran protester’s family forced to lie about death – source.” BBC News, 6th October 2022. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-63154994

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