On October 1st, people gathered in Washington Square Park to protest after the recent death of Mahsa Amini. The slogan “woman, life, freedom” was written on signs everywhere. A woman named Nahal sat with a curious family and explained to them what was going on in Iran from her perspective. She explained that she, among many others there, had moved to come to the States, and all they wanted to do was to at least have the option to go back to Iran and feel safe. But with the violence against women that is taking place now, she cannot. In the same breath, she told this family to look around to get a picture of how many people were protesting with hijabs on. She made sure to explain that this is not an anti-hijab space or protest, the focus is keeping women safe, and there is a grave distinction between the two. 

Brave women protesting are putting themselves in jeopardy in the midst of an authoritarian government. For example, in Tehran 20-year-old Yasi, who rejects the hijab, went out into the streets after the death of Ms. Amini to show her solidarity. Her mother sat down and explained that she chooses to wear the hijab, but she does not think that the government should be allowed to impose its agenda on women, it should be their choice. In a generation where the protest of bodily autonomy is extremely present and debated, the hijab and its governmental pressures are undoubtedly infringing on women’s rights when there is no choice present. How, when, and why a woman chooses to wear a hijab does not, and should not have anything to do with the government.

This protest has been set apart from previous ones because of the diversity in this protest. This makes the intensity and anti-governmental agenda more momentous in comparison to what has gone on in the past. People are getting concerned about the deeply rooted principles that allow the government to kill this innocent woman because they did not like the way that she was presenting herself. This situation allows people to put themselves in her shoes, or her family’s shoes. This is a terrifying situation to be empathizing with. These people are fighting for bodily autonomy and the choice to wear a hijab because they have nothing to lose. In an oppressive government, these people know that protesting is dangerous, but they do not care. This authoritarian regime is creating people who are unhappy with the current governmental status, and in a world where they do not have rights, they would rather fight for a life worth living even if they die trying. 

Iran’s theocratic ideals make it hard to navigate and distinguish what could be changed moving forward for women in Iran. What could help people like Nahal in Washington Square Park, feel safe going back into the country? Though Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi deems what happened as a “tragic incident” what people really want to see is policy change. In 2017, former president Hossein Rahimi made this happen. There was a recognition of the protests which resulted in an announcement that they will no longer detain women who violate the code. Raisi has retracted the former president’s attempt to give back some semblance of choice. 

With fear comes sanguinity that there are people fighting and recognizing that women’s rights have been on the back burner for far too long. Though this is mainly a conversation about the issues of bodily autonomy and choice when it comes to deciding how one implements the hijab into everyday life, this has brought Iranian citizens together with anger. People are seeing and standing up for their rights and their right to a life that is better than fearing death at the hands of their own government.

Featured Photo via Vogue