Interview with Iranian women: “The road to freedom is through resistance and effort”

As the Women's Defense Network, we talked to Iranian women living in Turkey about the regime and women's policies in Iran and Turkey, as well as about the uprising in Iran.

Interview with Iranian women: “The road to freedom is through resistance and effort”

On September 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 (Gasht-e Ershad) 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. Resistance began in the streets of Iran after Jina Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the morality police of the regime for not wearing her headscarf properly and died of brain hemorrhage due to the blows she received. The resistance, which started under the leadership of women, became socialized in a short time. While university students participated in the actions where women cut their hair and burned their hijabs with boycotts and academics with strikes, the workers’ councils of factories producing in many different business lines such as oil, sugar and steel in Iran decided to strike. As ‘Kadın Savunma Ağı’ we talked with Iranian women living in Turkey about both the regime and women’s policies in Iran and Turkey and the rebellion in Iran.

In terms of women’s safety, the names in the interview were changed and written.

After the murder of Mahsa Amini in Iran, women around the world filled the streets to raise women’s solidarity and resist the domination of the female body and labor. What changed in Iran after the regime killed a woman? What are the women going through right now?

R.K. :  The evolution of the Iranian women’s desire for parity did not stop because the Islamic Republic came to power in 1979. Women in Iran are fighters not just because they had to be, but because they expect more of themselves and those around them. They want to experience life at its fullest on their own terms and they want to have the independence to make their own choices. Removing the hijab is a symbol of all the other rights and freedoms that are missing in their lives. The killing of Mahsa Amini in Iran sparked the anger accumulated  for years. This is not the first time women in Iran have fought for freedom, but it has never been as determined as it is now. With the participation of men, the actions initiated by women soon spread to many cities of Iran and turned into a desire for a revolution. Although the desires of people are different, the pressure of a patriarchal government on society, economic crisis, unemployment, not having basic human rights, inequality, compulsory cover and women’s rights are among the most important reasons for this rebellion. Currently, women are brutally shot, beaten to death by Iranian police in their actions or captured and taken to a place they do not know. They even raid some people’s houses in the middle of the night. Now, the individuals we call the Z generation in society have become the leaders of this rebellion. The most obvious thing that’s changed is the way people look at this generation. It seems that compulsory headscarves have become a problem not only for women but for many in society. The Guidance Patrol is no longer a fear mechanism. No matter what they do, people are no longer afraid of this government. People have changed, and this will change the government.

F.M. : Mahsa Amini’s death due to her choice of clothes is one of the most sad events. It’s not the first time women have been killed for their rights, but it was perhaps the most painful. With Mahsa dead, all the women mourned. All the women went out on the streets to live in freedom and normalcy. As you can see, they removed their headscarves at Mahsa’s funeral and this struggle is still ongoing.

Especially the headscarf burning and haircutting actions have taken their place as a form of rebellion against the patriarchal system and religious oppression in many countries starting from Iran. So, why Iranian women are cutting their hair and burning their headscarves in protest?

R.K. : Relatives of someone killed in Iranian culture cut their hair to object to injustice, and the hair cut for Mahsa Amini is a symbol of injustice and the rebellion of all women against this injustice. The headscarf is an indicator of religion and forced closure, and the headscarf, which is the means of forced closure, has been burned for years in the struggle against forced closure by women. These mean that the discourse carried out by the Islamic Republic of Iran on women is an empty discourse and is over.

F.M. : We have a woman named Farengis in Iranian history. Cutting one’s hair is a mourning ritual for the death of a loved one, a tradition already recorded a thousand years ago in the epic poem Shahnameh (Book of Kings), written by Persian poet Ferdowsi.  She is the mother of one of the heroes of Shahnameh, Siavash. When Siavash was killed when she was young, Farangis cut off her long hair and tied it around her waist. It was both a sign of mourning and a declaration of war. Today, women in Iran declare war on the government by burning their headscarves and cutting their hair.

And what are the demands of women in this rebellion that fills the streets? What kind of Iran do they want for women?

R.K. : As in many parts of the world, women in Iran want freedom and equality in all areas. They want women to have a status in politics, economy and society. After the Islamic Revolution, women’s rights have disappeared. Women in Iran can’t even run for president. Even a woman’s testimony is not admissible in court. She can’t be president of the court. Women can get a passport with the permission of their father before marriage and their husband after marriage. A woman cannot file for divorce in Iran and cannot even decide what to wear in addition to these pressures and insults. The woman is isolated from society. You know,  coping with isolation and loneliness as women  takes a lot of energy. Women in Iran don’t want to belong to anyone anymore, and they want to live in that society as a human being.

F.M. : Iranian women are no longer content with simply changing the headscarf stuff law. They demand freedom and equality. They want a secular government and politics to leave the Sharia because if the law has to abide by the Sharia, it won’t change anything for women.

In Turkey, women organized actions to show solidarity with Iranian women and also to express the demand for feminist secularism against misogynistic policies that took place here. What kind of difficulties and threats do you, as Iranian women, face in participating in these actions? Can you share your fears and concerns?

R.K. : In these events, women and feminist groups in Turkey have been our full supporters. This will certainly not be forgotten by the Iranian community. It may seem strange, but even here we Iranian women are afraid of the agents of the Islamic Republic. We always think of our family when we participate in these actions. “I wonder if they can take our picture and use it as a pressure tool for our family.” we ask ourselves. We are not afraid of what will happen to us, but we are afraid of any pressure to think about our family.

F.M. : As you can see, we were not allowed to hold banners. Police intervened in the peaceful gathering with broad security measures. Some of the participants were arrested. Some have been threatened with deportation. These are dangerous for the immigrant community in Turkey.

In fact, we are not far away from a regime where religious domination determines the lives of women. Mufti’s law, family information offices, fatwas, policies that try to define women with the role of motherhood in the family and at the same time try to control the woman’s labor and body are all around us. What do you see and experience as Iranians living on this land?

R.K. : Turkey is a suitable environment for a woman who comes to Turkey from a closed society like Iran. Sometimes we hear on the news that there is a murder of women in Turkey, which worries us. We are both surprised and concerned by the fact that some men are involved in women’s clothing on buses, subways and streets. However, we believe in the power of feminist groups in Turkey and women in general, and this makes us Iranian women jubilant.

F.M. : Civil society in Turkey is progressive. Despite the limitations, you female activists have the opportunity to organize training workshops for younger generations. There are brave women representatives in your parliament. On the other hand, the fate of Iran is before your eyes. The path to freedom is through resistance and effort. Road to freedom is shaped by  how we bring efforts together into a unified force.

Do you have any calls or messages for women in Turkey?

R.K. : If you have a freedom in a field, it doesn’t mean that the struggle is over. Don’t back down from a fight for a moment. You take a step back, they push you ten steps.

F.M. : I am grateful to our sisters who heard our voices in Turkey. You’ve been with us through the hardest days of our lives. You helped us become the voice of those who had no voice to cry under torture and captivity. Thank you so much!