Protests give Iranians hope
‘This is just the start of the revolution’
‘The protests gave me hope’, says chemistry student Raha (23). ‘They made me realise that maybe I can be free as an Iranian woman, that maybe I can be free as an Iranian lesbian.’
The death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the Iranian morality police for allegedly wearing her headscarf incorrectly, sparked a protest against the government in the Islamic country that has now been going on for almost a month. Iranians abroad also took to the streets in solidarity, including in Groningen, where Raha, together with other Iranian women, organised a protest last week.
‘I would like to be able to walk in the streets of my own country, freely hand in hand with my girlfriend’, says Raha, who moved to the Netherlands with her mother when she was fifteen. ‘I would like to show her my country and where I come from.’
They forced me to unlock my phone and went through my photos
Although she has been living in the Netherlands for eight years, she still feels the pressure of Iranian values. ‘LGBTQ people are never given a platform; our existence is not acknowledged’, Raha says. They are even prosecuted.
Up until recently, she always avoided mentioning where she is from or sharing childhood stories. ‘I sort of distanced myself from my Iranian identity, because I felt like I could never be free as an Iranian woman.’ Instead of saying she is Iranian, ‘I would say I was born in Iran. By saying it like that I was trying to say I’m not Iranian.’
For Nika (32), a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Arts, the protests feel personal as well. When she was a bachelor student in Iran, she was arrested by the morality police herself. She was told her mantu, a type of headscarf for Iranian women, was too short.
She was dragged into a van full of women and girls and was sent to the morality police’s office. ‘They forced me to unlock my phone and went through my photos and my social media.’ The morality police will interrogate women about their relationships and virginity, she says. ‘It’s mostly mental torture; they tell you that you’re a piece of shit, that you’re nothing.’
Nika was forced to sign a document saying she was sorry for having been inappropriate and promising she would respect the Islamic Republic’s rules. She was not allowed to leave by herself, though: one of her family members had to pick her up. Usually, it has to be a parent or a husband, but Nika was lucky that her older sister was allowed to come get her. But she was only allowed to leave after she had changed into ‘correct’ clothes.
It’s not just young women who are being scrutinised, as Fariborz (29), a PhD student at the Faculty of Science and Engineering, knows. His mother was arrested one morning while jogging, because she wore an athletic outfit. ‘It was bizarre to me. Why would an older woman be arrested just because she wants to exercise?’
The view of a woman from the back when biking is too provocative for men
‘Women are generally not allowed to publicly participate in sports in Iran’, says Raha. She learned to bike when she was a little girl, but once a woman hits puberty, she’s no longer allowed to ride a bike in public. ‘The authorities believe that the view of a woman from the back when biking is too provocative for men’, Nika explains. She herself didn’t learn how to ride a bike until she moved to the Netherlands.
‘In Islamic laws, Iranian women are discriminated against’, says Fariborz. If a woman wants to travel abroad, she has to get permission from her father or husband to apply for a passport. Many female athletes can never go to international sports events because of that rule: their father or husband refuses permission.
Nika had to fight a lot with her father to be able to apply for a passport. Raha’s mother even divorced her husband, because he refused to extend a passport to her. ‘He gave some personal reasons that were completely unwarranted.’ Raha helped her mother to get the divorce. ‘It’s ridiculous for any man or person to have that kind of control and power over someone else’s life.’
The widespread protest for more freedom is not without risk, though. ‘Many Iranians don’t feel safe revealing their faces when they go to a protest’, Nika says. Even in the Netherlands. They are afraid that when they go to the Iranian embassy to renew their passport, they might be rejected, or something terrible might happen.
There are many snitches among the protesters here
Iranians need to be careful if they still want to return home, Fariborz says. ‘There are many snitches among the protesters here.’
People are even encouraged by their government to report their fellow countrymen and women. Whenever Nika returned to Iran, she always received a text message saying that, ‘as a responsible citizen’, she should feel responsible for taking action whenever she sees the rules are broken. She’s asked to send a video and report to the government.
But those messages may soon stop, Nika, Raha and Fariborz believe. They hope the government will be overthrown and Iran will have women’s rights once again. ‘This protest is just the start of the revolution’, Fariborz says.
Raha, Nika and Fariborz are not their real names.