The women of Iran

A harsh, brave and ongoing fight


Art by Anika Ravilla

As we reach the halfway point of 2023, the situation of women’s rights in the nation of Iran remains a complex and contentious issue. Women throughout the Middle East still face significant discrimination and restrictions on their rights and freedoms. In Iran specifically, women are treated as second-class citizens, receiving only a small portion of benefits compared to those which men receive. 

In Saudi Arabia, women were only recently granted the right to drive in 2018. In Iran, women are fighting against mandatory hijab laws. In Yemen, women are advocating for an end to child marriage. However, these fights for equality don’t even scratch the surface of the movement for fair treatment. Their struggle is massive, ongoing and nothing short of heartbreaking. 

Stories circulating around the women in Iran organizing protests and rallying in the streets gained public attention earlier this year; many of their grievances have yet been solved, despite the fact that media attention has petered out. 

Women throughout the country face significant restrictions on their personal freedoms. By law, there are strict dress codes that dictate what women can and cannot wear. Women who violate these rules can face severe punishment, namely imprisonment. Women are objectified, harassed, belittled and treated as property by the male figures in their lives. 

Many women have chosen to defy the restrictions on their personal freedoms, by removing their hijabs in public or wearing clothing that violates the dress codes. Some Iranian women have even burned their hijabs in acts of rebellion against the government. However, this has only made their situation more dangerous. People who abide by these countries’ strict religious codes and laws often respond to these acts of rebellion with violence, only making protesting more difficult for women.

As a response to the events continuing in Iran, a movement called “Women, Life, Freedom,” with the mission of drawing attention to their ongoing struggle, has gained popularity. This movement arose following the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being beaten by Iran’s Guidance Patrol for wearing her hijab “improperly.” Following her death, women have been rallying to halt the mistreatment of women over religious-based issues such as their clothing in public. 

Women have done a lot to gain every little bit of freedom they have, they have fought for it, and they have paid a high price for it too,” Azadeh Pourzand, Executive Director of the Siamak Pourzand Foundation, said.

Perhaps the most significant challenge facing women in Iran is the legal system, which is heavily weighted against them. Iranian law discriminates against women in a number of ways, including matters of marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. Women also face restrictions on their freedom of movement, and are often required to obtain the permission of their male guardians to travel outside of the country

The treatment of women as being substantially less than men has become disturbingly normalized. The governmental systems spanning the region are systematically built against women, and tyrannical governments will continue to restrict their rights as long as they possibly can. Regardless, there are no signs of stopping for these women. 

“I think a common theme across the region has been the intersection between women’s demands for more rights and the history of colonization. These two facets have intersected as a result of the fact that most of the Arab Middle East was colonized by Western powers with notable exceptions such as Saudi Arabia,” Dr. Alanoud Alsharekh, an associate within the Middle East and North Africa Programme, said. “Therefore, in a lot of places, the struggle for women leaving the domestic sphere and entering the public one has been tied to nationalist movements trying to overthrow colonial powers across the region.”

Despite these challenges, women throughout the region have continued to fight for their rights and freedoms. Women’s rights activists continue to organize protests and campaigns to raise awareness about the discrimination and injustice that they face. In times of crisis such as this, one of the most important things we can do is remind these women that their voices are being heard. 

Governmental systems throughout the Middle Eastern region must take action to reform the legal system and eliminate discrimination against women in all areas of society. We must provide these women with a platform that recognizes their efforts; we must continue to advocate for them in every way we possibly can. Only then can these brave women truly enjoy the same rights and freedoms as their male counterparts, and be able to fully contribute to the entire region’s development and progress.