Fatemeh Sadeghi Vrinda Narain

In Iran, Women Are at the Vanguard of Transformative Change Once Again

Although the uprising following Mahsa Amini’s death may seem unprecedented, it is in fact part of a deep-rooted and longstanding resistance movement by women in Iran.
Solidarity with protests that have broken out in Iran following the death of 22-year old Mahsa (also known as Jina or Zhina) Amini are taking place all over the globe. [Matt Hrkac / CC BY 2.0]

By Vrinda Narain and Fatemeh Sadeghi | The Conversation

On Sept. 16, 2022, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, died in Tehran, Iran, while in police custody. Amini was arrested by the Guidance Patrol, the morality squad of the Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran that oversees public implementation of hijab regulations, for not wearing a hijab properly.

Soon after the news of her death was broadcast and a photograph emerged on social media of her lying in a Tehran hospital in a coma, people throughout the country became enraged.

Amini’s death starkly illustrated the systematic violence of police and highlighted particularly the brutality of the regime towards women and minorities. She was Kurdish, a member of one of the most oppressed minority ethnic groups in Iran.

All Iranian women who are routinely humiliated because of their gender can empathize with her. But Kurds and Kurdish women in particular understood the political message of her death at the hands of police and the state’s subsequent violent response to the protests.

The huge wave of protests in Iran following Amini’s death represents a historic moment in Iran. People have taken to the streets shouting slogans against the compulsory hijab and denouncing Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

Protests have raged in 31 provinces, including Kurdistan and Tehran as well as cities such as Rasht, Isfahan and Qom, among Iran’s most conservative communities. Dozens of people have been killed by security forces and hundreds more have been arrested.

A large crowd and cars are seen on a tree-lined city street, smoke billowing in places.
In this photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, protesters chant slogans during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the morality police, in downtown Tehran, Iran, on Sept. 21, 2022. (AP Photo)

The Girls of Revolution Street

Although the current uprising may seem unprecedented, it is in fact part of a deep-rooted and longstanding resistance movement by women in Iran.

In what is widely seen as a punishment to the hundreds of women who participated in the anti-regime protests leading to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the hijab became compulsory two years later in 1981.

Consequently, publicly removing hijabs became a challenge to the regime in Iran.

Decades later, in 2017, Vida Movahed climbed onto a platform on Enghelab (Revolution) Street in the centre of Tehran, took off her headscarf and waved it in the air as a sign of opposition to compulsory hijab.

She was followed by other women and the movement quickly became known as The Girls of Revolution Street or Dokhtaran-e Khiaban-e Enghelab.

The Girls of Revolution Street represented a fundamental challenge by younger women to Iran’s compulsory veiling laws. Their actions resulted in an increase in the number of women who braved the streets without hijab in defiance of the state.

Unsurprisingly, when religious hardliner Ebrahim Raisi became president in the contested 2020 election, the message was clear: Women would be further oppressed.

Zan, Zendegi, Azadi: Woman, life, freedom

This recent uprising is a link in a chain of protests that together have the potential to bring about fundamental change in Iran.

It began with the pro-democracy Green Movement in 2009 followed by popular uprisings in 2018 and 2019. The Green Movement was largely peaceful, but the uprisings grew increasingly more confrontational with each wave of repression.

Women have been in the lead in all these protests, posing a real challenge to the regime. They’re the leaders of transformative change, the vanguard of a potential revolution, challenging the legitimacy of the current government..

The current protests are focused on two main demands: dignity and freedom. Both have been absent from political life in Iran, and both have a prominent presence in almost all slogans during this uprising, particularly “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

A woman holds a sign that reads Women, Life, Freedom at a protest march.
Members of the Iranian community and their supporters rally in solidarity with protesters in Iran in Ottawa on Sept. 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The recent uprising makes it clear that the demand for radical change in Iran today is strong and significant.

With every wave of protest, the desire for freedom gets stronger, the voices get louder and success is within reach. Once again, Iranian women are at the forefront of demanding transformative change.

With the strong support this time of men, political and ethnic minorities and other disenfranchised groups, they may be leading their country closer to a freer and more just society.The Conversation

Vrinda Narain, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism; Max Bell School of Public Policy, McGill University and Fatemeh Sadeghi, Research associate, Politics, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


  1. Never underestimate the US’s ability to foment color revolutions.

    We’ve had a lot of practice.

    1. You are not the only one to suspect US involvement. While the issue is real, the subversives will take advantage of any issue to destabilize the Iranian government for the sake of regime change. This policy has existed since the Iranian Revolution kicked out our beloved Shah, just like the Chinese kicked out our beloved Chiang Kai Shek, the Koreans tried to kick out our beloved Singman Park, and we have failed to kick out our hated Vladimir Putin. How many ‘Color Revolutions’ do we have to see before someone notices?

  2. According to Al Alarabiya News, of 700 protesters arrested, 640 of them were men. According to BBC News, of the 76 deaths in the protests, 60 of them are men, 6 of them are women, and 4 of them children. In the face of this repression, ALL the protesters are courageous, regardless of sex. However, if you want to look at the numbers by sex, it is on average the men who are taking the most risks and significantly more men than women are making huge sacrifices.

    1. Doesn’t the number of men and the deaths of men–who also include Iranian police–make you a little suspicious that maybe, just maybe, these protests have outside provenance? I recall in Syria where the Muslim Brotherhood took over a peaceful protest, killed police and protesters, and kicked off a civil war. Is that what you celebrate? The arms of the CIA are very long and extend everywhere, ready to make mischief at the slightest opportunity.

  3. It looks like the Iranian women are starting to go through the Same things women here have been going through for a couple hundred years! I believe if we had left Iran alone, they might have progressed faster. In the Sixties I knew a lot of them at Berkeley, and they were beginning to change their attitudes, but the US, threatened them, and the progress stopped!!! When will we learn

  4. Absolutely beware of bogus western concern here. “Transformative change,” eh? I cant help but think of Laura Bush’s deep concern for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Remember: the only concern of the US is the overthrow of the existing government and the installation of a toady government. Any means available will do.

  5. Bunch of baloney! West dose not give a dingy when 80 prisoners were beheaded in one day in Saudi last year, or that they literally have no parliament, means no election at all no representation. The women there could not even leave home nor drive until last year or so. Definitely way way more limited than women in Iran. Don’t tell me you’re now all so enthusiastic about women in Iran or people in Iran. If you really believe in what you say you should be very short sighted. Sell your BS analysis to dumb masses that get their wisdom solely through mass media controlled by big masters. The way I see Iran along with only few other countries in world are the only islands of independence want to keep their culture clear from the fast spreading of filth on earth. Writer be proud to be Iranian, don’t sell your great culture so cheap. West won’t give you nothing but slavery wrapped in glittering outfit.

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