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Iran’s Assault on Women’s Rights: A Cry for Change We Can No Longer Ignore

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Under the Islamic Republic of Iran, violence against women extends far beyond the confines of their homes; it permeates the very fabric of society. The death, a year ago (September 16th 2022)  of 22 year old Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini, at the hands of Iran’s Morality Police, serves as a grim and bloody reminder of the multifaceted violence the regime has since the founding of the Islamic Republic (circa 1979) inflicted upon women. This violence isn’t limited to the physical realm; it is social, legal, and economic, resulting from a system that systematically discriminates against women.

Iran’s constitution ostensibly guarantees the equality of all citizens under the law. However,   in practice, this alleged ideal falls woefully short, with the Iranian regime perpetuating gender-based discrimination. Even more troubling is that all acts of violence against women are normalised through a perverse interpretation of Islamic laws. 

The constitution, along with civil status laws, fails to adequately protect women’s rights. The case of Mahsa Amini is just one grievous example of many examples of Iranian women who have been killed, tortured or imprisoned.  It is a despicable expression of a violently misogynist worldview that looks upon women as mere commodities to be exploited and dispensed with should they lose their utility, mainly that of a life spent in submissive silence and service.

Physical violence against women in Iran is not only normalised, it is rationalised as an act of piety. An example of this is the imposition of the Islamic Hijab, shortly after the 1979 Revolution. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the Hijab, a religious attire many Muslim women across the world choose to adorn to fulfill their religious duties, its imposition through physical violence, or the threat of, falls within the realm of the oppressive and inhumane. 

Worst still, for millions of Iranian women today it has become symbolic of the regime’s perverse influence and desire to take away freedom of choice over those it deems its lesser.  

It is therefore incumbent on the international community to  urgently address the appalling human rights violations in Iran, especially those perpetrated against women, as this form  of human rights abuse is increasing

The cries of #WomenLifeFreedom from Iranian women and their male allies should not fall on deaf ears, and I believe the survival of our democracies could rest on our collective ability to heed the cries of the oppressed. 

In the heart-wrenching story of Mahsa Amini’s death, the countless other human rights violations and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Iran, we find a painful reminder of the oppressive grip that the Iranian regime continues to maintain over its people. It also serves as a distressing testament to the world’s failure to hold this regime accountable, choosing mealy mouth words and diplomacy with the regime, over a set of policies exposing the Iranian theocracy’s crimes against humanity, targeting the regime’s elites and supporting the Iranian people trying to free themselves from the chains of oppression. For years, the regime has ruled with an iron fist, fanning the flames of sectarianism and misogyny to divide and conquer. It has pushed minority groups to the fringes of society, maintaining a climate of fear and paranoia. The oppression of women is a cornerstone of this strategy, as it seeks to deprive society of half its potential and suppress any form of dissent or opposition.

In both Jewish and Islamic thought we are told that those who take the life of one innocent life, destroy an entire world. When Mahsa Amini was murdered by the men who rule Iran with an iron fist, the world of Mahsa, her family and friends was destroyed. We owe it to Mahsa’s memory, her family and friends, to stand in solidarity with the people of Iran and their struggle for freedom and justice. 

About the Author
Catherine Perez-Shakdam - Director Forward Strategy and Executive Director Forum of Foreign Relations (FFR) Catherine is a former Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and consultant for the UNSC on Yemen, as well an expert on Iran, Terror and Islamic radicalisation. A prominent political analyst and commentator, she has spoken at length on the Islamic Republic of Iran, calling on the UK to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. Raised in a secular Jewish family in France, Catherine found herself at the very heart of the Islamic world following her marriage to a Muslim from Yemen. Her experience in the Middle East and subsequent work as a political analyst gave her a very particular, if not a rare viewpoint - especially in how one can lose one' sense of identity when confronted with systemic antisemitism. Determined to share her experience and perspective on those issues which unfortunately plague us -- Islamic radicalism, Terror and Antisemitism Catherine also will speak of a world, which often sits out of our reach for a lack of access.