MEDITERRANEAN CULTURE MAGAZINE

Woman, Life, Freedom

Reading Time: 7 minutes

by Reza Rashidy (translation by David Benedetti)

Almost a year has now passed since the death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini (16 September 2022), the twenty-two-year-old girl murdered due to the violent beatings suffered by the infamous moral police. A tragedy that shook the entire country and that caused the explosion of stratified and dormant anger from 43 years of terror and violence inflicted by the theocratic regime, giving rise to a cultural, social and political revolution, summarized in the slogan "woman-life-freedom".

The protest initially saw the participation of women and young people, who were then joined by men; but in a few days it spread to all strata of the population, overcoming any division of wealth, ethnicity and religion. The protest was followed by a ruthless repression, which in just the four months since the beginning of the revolution presents a terrifying toll: more than 600 people killed, among them more than 70 minors, more than 30 thousand arrests, 5 death sentences already carried out and over 120 death sentences following sentences issued by so-called Islamic courts following sham trials.

On the eve of the anniversary of the revolution, fearing a resurgence of protests, the regime is multiplying its campaign of intimidation against families and friends of the victims and prisoners. Confirmation comes from the latest Amnesty International report published on 21 August 2023: more than three thousand university students expelled from universities, hundreds of teachers, directors, actresses and lawyers were summoned by the courts and arrested. The regime is thus convinced of preventing and eliminating any protests on the occasion of this anniversary.

Some sentenced to death

Woman, life, freedom: the first revolution of the modern era

“Woman, life, freedom” is an unprecedented revolution in human history: it places women and human dignity at its centre, demands the restitution of burned youth, unlived lives, repressed joys and demands a normal and dignified life. The people feel that the realization of a normal and human life has been systematically raped by the theocratic power, an alien power, insensitive to their aspirations and suffering. The relationship between woman and life is clear to everyone, but in this revolution reclaiming life takes on a profound meaning and a powerful value. Now the monster is out of the bottle and no one can bring it back.
The relationship between woman and life is clear to everyone, but in this revolution reclaiming life takes on a profound meaning and a powerful value. Now the monster is out of the bottle and no one can bring it back.

The Iranian revolution which broke out with the barbaric killing of Mahsa at the hands of the moral police, guilty of having worn the Islamic hijab badly, started a profound destructuring of the traditional and cultural values ​​of society. The "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement is a super movement in progress that strikes the values ​​of chauvinism and paternalism inherent in the theocratic system and at the same time fuels the values ​​of feminism, secularism and anti-discrimination within society.

The upheaval suffered by all Iranian women following Mahsa's death and the subsequent killing of hundreds of women, young people and adolescents who were protesting this senseless murder, also triggered in men a process of identification with the victims: they could have been their mother, wife, daughter or sister; at the same time it brought back to mind everything that had been removed: the injustice, torture and violence suffered during the 44 years of the Islamic Republic, leading to the awareness that the path to justice and freedom passes inexorably through the redemption of women.

The 'woman, life, freedom' revolution managed in a short time to transform a theoretical discourse into an extraordinary unifying slogan and a claim shared by everyone, regardless of gender, wealth, ethnicity, political or religious belief.

'Woman, life, freedom', demonstration of solidarity with Iranian women (Wikimedia Commons)

The roots of the revolution

The revolution does not arise from nothing, but has its roots in the growth of the level of education, in gender awareness, in the processes of globalization and in the harsh resistance of women to the misogyny of the Islamic regime during the 44 years of theocratic power.

Since its birth, the Islamic Republic has chosen the obligation of Hejab as a distinctive logo and symbol of power, as well as the main tool for controlling women's bodies and every detail of citizens' private lives; Ayatollah Khomeini, 3 weeks after taking office in February 1979, abolished International Women's Day by ordering the grandiose and historic demonstration of March 8 to be crushed in blood. But the women have not given up and persevere in challenging the regime, taking advantage of every possible opportunity to promote numerous protest campaigns.

Struggling daily, women have suffered unprecedented and systematic violence from the moral police. There is no family in which, at least once, one of its members has not fallen into the infernal web of repression, suffering unspeakable and humiliating physical and psychological torture, harassment, arrests, whippings and fines for not having fully respected the rules of morality. Islamic.

According to government sources, in the first eight months of 2016, over one million three hundred thousand women were stopped and warned for transgressions of Islamic rules. The following year, according to the same source, "more than 150 thousand women had been arrested within 3 days".

All Iranians feel oppressed by the regime, but women feel the weight of discrimination doubly and ethnic and religious minorities feel even more so. But women's aversion is not only directed against the regime but also against the discrimination they are forced to suffer in society, in the family and in daily life.

The 'woman life freedom' revolution exactly reflects the brutal nightmares that have stratified over 44 years. The structure of gender discrimination fueled the idea in the mentality of males that respect for women's rights could preclude them from easy access to the job market and social spaces, thus undermining the superiority and control of males by diminishing their masculinity. In a historically male-dominated country, this assumption can effectively transform men into unaware allies of the retrograde ideology of the theocratic regime.

Iranian women protest against mandatory hijab, March 8, 1979

Western feminism and “woman, life, freedom”

Western women, mostly belonging to the middle classes, are recognized as pioneers of feminism, while women from the global south are considered younger sisters and passive victims. Paradoxically, even in Iran, by virtue of a centripetal vision, it was believed that educated women, belonging to the middle class of the big city, were the first to rise up against gender discrimination, to then involve the culturally backward women of the peripheral regions. Instead, exactly the opposite happened: it was the Kurdish and Baluchi women of two depressed and poor peripheral regions who rose up first. The slogan 'woman, life, freedom' was chanted for the first time a few minutes after Mahsa was killed in her homeland, Kurdestan, then followed by the women and men of the city of Zahedan (capital of the "damned" Sistan and Baluchestan region) and only later did the protest spread to all the other large and small cities of Iran.

The uninterrupted struggle and heroic courage of women, without aiming for the dichotomy between man and woman, has managed in a short time to incorporate men alongside them, challenging Eurocentric and centripetal prejudices.

Civil disobedience: the revolution continues

With the silence of the international media, in recent months and despite the intensification of the infinite repression by the Islamic state, the determination of women to free themselves from the yoke of tyranny has not been undermined: the formidable transformation of the struggle, after months of protest square, has become a powerful civil disobedience movement. In fact, for months women have been appearing en masse in public spaces without hejabs, openly defying the arbitrary laws of the Islamic state. The repressive machine, faced with the solidarity and courage of women, wanting to avoid the risk of melee, has activated hundreds of thousands of "intelligent cameras" in public places, threatening exemplary revenge for transgressors of public morality through facial recognition. It has instituted draconian laws regarding public "morals" which provide for transgressors a series of penalties ranging from the elimination of civil rights, to the cutting of telephone bills and access to the internet, to the seizure of passports and cars up to to exorbitant fines.

In recent weeks, millions of warnings have been sent to users and thousands of public establishments and numerous large shopping centers have been forced to close because they have "tolerated" the access of women without hejabs.

The growing challenge of women has, however, dealt a further blow to the regime's authority and thrown the regime itself into a state of profound bewilderment and confusion.

Solidarity protests for Mahsa Amini, ph Sima Ghaffarzadeh (Pexels)

The impossible has become possible

Even if the totalitarian regime could survive for a short time thanks to its repressive apparatus and the help of its foreign allies, the 'woman, life, freedom' movement has already achieved great and irreversible successes.

The impossible has happened: just take a look at the streets and squares of the main cities where millions of women without hejabs, ignoring the threatening proclamations of the authorities, carry out their daily challenge under the bewildered eyes of the agents unable to arrest and imprison millions of women. The most extraordinary change, however, is the attitude of men who now look at these women with a gaze of admiration, encouragement and solidarity.

Cover image
Demonstration in favor of Mahsa (Jina) Amini (Wikimedia Commons)

Reza Rashidy (Tehran, Iran, 31 August 1950), writer and human rights activist. After obtaining his high school diploma, he moved to Italy in 1968. In 1976 he obtained a degree in Architecture from the IUAV in Venice. In 1979, after the Islamic revolution, he moved to Iran. In 1980 he worked as a journalist at the ANSA office in Tehran. From 1981 to 1985 he worked as an interpreter, mediator and organizer of cultural programs at the Italian Cultural Institute of the Italian Embassy in Tehran. He has translated various essays, articles and books from Italian into Farsi.

(Tehran, Iran, 31 August 1950), writer and human rights activist. After obtaining his high school diploma, he moved to Italy in 1968. In 1976 he obtained a degree in Architecture from the IUAV in Venice. In 1979, after the Islamic revolution he moved to Iran. In 1980 he worked as a journalist at the ANSA office in Tehran. From 1981 to 1985 he worked as an interpreter, mediator and organizer of cultural programs at the Italian Cultural Institute of the Italian Embassy in Tehran. He has translated various essays, articles and books from Italian into Farsi.

Since 1985 he has settled permanently in Italy where, among other things, he collaborates with the "Con-Tatto project", Solidarity City-Municipality of Venice, for the creation of training courses in high schools in Venice. In Italy he published: “My story, I'll tell you… Stories and recipes from our world”, edited by Reza Rashidy, with a preface by Massimo Montanari. Editrice Coopconsumatori, Bologna, 319 pages, 2007. “The world is served” – The cuisine and recipes of immigrants in Italy, Edizioni C.I.D, Venice, 95 pages, 2008. “I'll tell you about myself, I'll tell you… Stories and recipes from our world”, edited by Reza Rashidy, with a preface by Massimo Montanari. Editrice Coopconsumatori, Bologna, 319 pages, year 2007. “The world is served” – The cuisine and recipes of immigrants in Italy, Edizioni CID, Venice, 95 pages, year 2008.

(English translation by David Benedetti)

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