1- The brutal murder of Mahsa Amini by the police of the Islamic Republic of Iran has led to nationwide protests lasting more than twenty days so far against this crime, against the Islamic Republic and against its mandatory hijab. Women, especially young women and students, have played a decisive role in this uprising.
2- The protests have created a very difficult situation for those in power in Iran. On the one hand they cannot easily back down from the imposition of the compulsory hijab, on the other they do not have the ability to end nationwide protests. It is therefore inevitable that they have chosen to suppress the population with increasing violence.
So far hundreds of protesters have been killed and thousands have been arrested: they face torture and possible death in the regime’s prisons.
3- When it comes to the issue of women’s rights, the Islamic Republic of Iran has always envisaged a regime of gender apartheid, although its imposition in practice has never been a complete success.
One of the pillars of this system is the country’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei Vali al-Faqih, who has consistently emphasised that women, relative to men, are imperfect intellectual beings, and that their main function should be to bear children.
Despite this, more than 60 percent of university students in Iran are female. The problem, however, for Iranian young women is finding a job, whether with or without a degree: the official employment rate for women is only 13 percent. Yet currently, 80% of Iran’s population lives in cities and urban families cannot survive with only one breadwinner. Accordingly, many Iranian women are forced to work in temporary jobs on the black market or from home, with no job security or legal rights. Sanctions, endemic corruption and the chaotic neoliberal economic policies – pursued by all factions of the Iranian government – have meant rising prices (an inflation rate over 40%) and food shortages.
Women have faced the burden of feeding their families with increasingly meagre wages despite a rising cost of living. That is why the issue of poverty in Iran is particularly an issue for women, even compared to most other countries in the economic south.
The regime that came to power in 1979, vowing to support the disinherited, now presides over an economic system that has one of the highest Gini coefficients (the disparity in wealth between the bottom ten percent and the top ten) in the Middle East and North Africa.
4- In light of the above points, the fight for women’s equality with men should be wider and will go further than the fight against the compulsory hijab.
While fighting for freedom from ridiculous and oppressive clothing laws, the defence of women’s “right to life” (the slogan used in Iran) is in practice intricately linked to the material base of the current rebellion, class struggles in Iran.
Its success will require the realisation that full equality between men and women can only be achieved in a different kind of society where exploitation of human beings has ended. Thus women’s struggles in Iran today also herald the beginnings of a new era of class struggles in the Middle East. Solidarity with such a movement cannot come from above, from colonial states complicit with globalised low-wage female labour in developing countries. It must come from below: from trade unions, independent women’s organisations, student unions… We call on you to support Iran’s new uprising.
Bridget Fowler – Emeritus Professor – University of Glasgow
Christine Cooper – Professor – University of Edinburgh
Yassamine Mather – Editor, Critique – University of Oxford
Raquel Varela – Professor – University of Lisbon
Maud Anne Bracke – Professor – University of Glasgow
Silvia Federici – Professor Emerita – Hofstra University, USA
Anne McShane – Lawyer – Ireland
Patricia Arnold – Professor Emeritus – University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA
Iran Mansouri – Lecturer – University of Birmingham
Lesley Catchpowle – University of Greenwich
Daria Dyakonova – Faculty International University, Geneva
Velia Luparello – Professor – Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (UNC), Argentina
Susan Weissman – Professor of Politics, Saint Mary’s College of California