Plucking, washing, combing, cutting, dyeing, shaving — our hair has a high value for us, and for many of us, it’s one of the ways we can show ourselves and who we are to the world. Above all, it’s a part of us and our body, and everyone should be able to decide for themselves what they do with their body.
Around the world, however, the rights of women and girls to have control over their own bodies is being torn away. From Roe v. Wade in the United States, to the shocking death of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini in Iran, recent months have highlighted just how fragile women’s rights to bodily autonomy continue to be.
Amini died on Sept. 16, after being arrested, beaten, and detained by Iran’s “morality police” — which enforce strict interpretations of Sharia law in the country — because she was allegedly wearing her headscarf incorrectly with some of her hair being visible. Headscarves are compulsory for women in public in Iran.
Since Amini’s death, protests have erupted across Iran and have spread to the world — with women cutting and shaving their hair, burning their headscarves, and taking to the streets in brave acts of solidarity and defiance.
Here, women’s rights activists and advocates share their thoughts on Amini’s death, and what they believe the global outrage in response to her death means for women’s rights.
"Mahsa's name was Jîna. And Jîna was a young Kurdish woman who had to resort to another name, an identity that conformed to supremacy. If we call her Mahsa instead of Jîna, we continue the nationalistic and regime-loyal invisibilization of those identities whose existence was constantly threatened by persecution, arbitrary imprisonment, and assimilation. We forget women like Zara Mohammadi, Zeynab Jalalian, and all the women who in their mere Kurdishness triggered a resistance.”
“We must definitely take into account the oppression of all minorities in the feminist and anti-fascist struggle. For absolute freedom can only be approached by challenging the dominance of the majority over the minority."
Women’s and refugees’ rights activist, Global Citizen Prize 2022 winner, and founder of Flamingo e.V. Network and Band of Sisters.
Activist and women's and refugees' rights advocate Anuscheh Amir-Khalili.
"The mullahs [Islamic religious teachers or leaders] have not reckoned with this united force of women living in Iran. They try everything to stop the uprising — shoot the protesters with live ammunition, torture them, and execute them. But the women continue to take to the streets and fight for a life in freedom. The mullahs' actions will go down in history as one of the greatest disgraces. The women will be remembered as role models for generations to come, with Jina as a symbol of justice. #giveupraisi."
Writer and journalist
"I admire the courage and the strength of protesters in Iran and Eastern Kurdistan. At the same time, I am disappointed and angry about how little attention these struggles get in the [...] feminist and queer public. Due to thin media coverage [...], as well as censorship and internet blocking in Iran, this is one of the rare cases where outreach on social media is an important way to support the protests — and yet it remains so silent."
Founder of NGO Sage Foundation and Senior Advisor to UNICEF
“The Iranian protests for women’s rights are not new; they have been simmering for decades. Protests happen regularly, but now we have reached a tipping point. Looking across the world, the rights of women are at risk, be it through the reversal of Roe v. Wade in the USA and the loss of bodily autonomy, or the lack of access to education in Afghanistan.”
“Women everywhere can suddenly empathize with the women of Iran, and have listened to their voices and stories for the first time. It has not only given them the strength to fight and to take to the streets; it has given us hope that Iranian women matter. Hope is the most valuable and important feeling. This public outcry has brought women together. It’s a tragedy that a woman had to die for this to get attention, but this moment can transcend space and time, and this unity has the capacity to move us forward.”
Journalist, political scientist, and physician
Journalist, political scientist, and physician Gilda Sahebi
"One of the world's largest feminist protest movements in recent decades is emanating from the Middle East. Isn't that something. Women's rights, feminism, sexual self-determination, emancipation — they are not ‘Western' values. They are universal and women and queers in the Middle East are fighting for them, giving their lives for them. Enough with this narrative that still prevails in so many minds!"
Journalist and board member of Flamingo e.V.
Journalist and activist Katja Musafiri
"The events in Iran bring a global problem urgently into focus. For violence inflicted on women* by men is not a purely Iranian, Muslim, or otherwise singular phenomenon, but common practice within patriarchal structures worldwide. This revolution that women* in Iran have instigated after the state femicide of (Mahsa) Jina Amini concerns us all!"
Campaigner at Iranian & Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (IKWRO) and Global Citizen Prize 2022 winner
“It should matter, because we have to fight for everyone to be free. No woman is free, until every woman is free. And currently in Iran, women are not able to decide if they want to cover their hair or not. We have to raise our voices and we have to make sure we speak for them.”
Author and journalist
"Iran is a trading partner of the Federal Republic (of Germany). This partnership stabilizes the Mullah regime, actively contributes to the oppression of the people in Iran and is an active sabotage of a feminist movement. Those who take feminist foreign policy as their banner must now support the people of Iran who are fighting for their rights. Jin, Jiyan, Azadî!"