Women, Life, Freedom —Iranian Protestors fight for freedom for all

Gastbeitrag von Roxanne A.

The author who holds a sign which says „The more you stay silent, the more you silence the cries for help. Be a voice for Iran”. On her chest the words “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” are written.
© Privat

Der folgende Beitrag wurde von unserer Gastautorin in englischer Sprache verfasst. Uns ist es wichtig den Text in originaler Sprache zu veröffentlichen, wir bitten um Verständnis.

Triggerwarnung: In dem folgenden Text werden die Themen (sexuelle) Gewalt und Suizid behandelt. Bitte achtet auf euch! Die Kontaktdaten der Telefonseelsorge und der Frauenhelpline findet ihr am Ende des Beitrages.

The brutal death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after „wrongly“ wearing her hijab ignited one of the world’s most significant revolutions led by women. It has been over 60 days since the people of Iran have stood up against the Islamic regime to receive fundamental human rights. Unfortunately, the internet has been turned off multiple times, leaving the citizens without means of communication or the possibility to call out for help. In the short time windows where the internet has been turned back on, the protestors of Iran have sent out videos, news, and messages.

Countless women, children, and teenagers are imprisoned daily for up to 15 years, even sentenced to life for showing slight solidarity with the „Free Iran“ movement. Aylar Haghi was a young medical student who took refuge during a protest in a nearby building and was pushed out of a window by the Iranian police, falling to her death. Kian Pirfalak was a 10-year-old boy shot by the Iranian security forces. 26-year-old Marzieh Yousefzadeh was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment for simply holding a banner with Mahsa Amini’s name on it at a protest in Iran. Yalda Aghafazli, a 19-year- old young woman, committed suicide after ten days of being imprisoned for protesting. A Kurdish rapper named Saman Yasin was sentenced to death for supporting protests after being charged for waging a war against God. Nasrin Ghaderi, a 35-year-old Kurdish Ph.D. student, died after being severely beaten by the Iranian security force. 22-year-old Elmira Hosseini was arrested for handing out chocolates with the words „Woman, Life, Freedom“ written on the wrappers. These are, unfortunately, only a small fraction of the tragedies that have occurred since the beginning of this revolution. More than 350 people have been killed while thousands have been taken as prisoners.

The Iranian government openly and even proudly rapes and murders their people, which has shaken the whole world and finally allowed a place for Iranian people to be heard after 40 years of violence and oppression. 

The political slogan „Jin, Jiyan, Azadi“, which means „women, life, freedom“, was taken up after the death of Mahsa Amini and has been taken up by protestors worldwide. It originated from Kurdistan and was used in earlier protests by Kurdish women in resistance to foreign intervention, repressive regimes, and religious fundamentalists.

As an Iranian American, I have seen the cruelty that was done to Iranian people not only first-hand from my visits to Iran but also the second-hand disregard and silencing of Iranians from the outside world. It was unfortunately not the first protest in Iran I had heard of against the Islamic regime. Still, it was certainly one that gave me the strength to finally voice myself and be a voice for my family, Iran, and women worldwide.

After hearing ÖH AG’s (Aktionsgemeinschaft) refusal to make a statement about the Iranian protest, I, along with VSStÖ (Verband Sozialistischer Student_innen in Österreich), decided to take a photo action on the University campus in response to their refusal. Their denial to acknowledge the terror on women in Iran was a big statement. It was a statement that said, „this isn’t our problem“—a statement I had seen and heard too many times in my life. This made me realize why I had also feared to speak out my whole life or voice myself because Iranian people have been forced to be silent and suffer alone ever since the Islamic revolution. However, seeing the strong women, children, and other people of Iran risking their lives just so that future generations never have to bear what they had to gave me enough strength to get up and want to make a change. This is not just an Iranian problem; this is a worldly problem.

Women are the base of humanity; without women, how would there be life? And without freedom, where are our women?

When I think of humanity and life, my brain always thinks back to the American psychologist Harry Frederick Harlow who experimented in 1958 with baby rhesus monkeys to test maternal separation, dependency needs, and social isolation. As with any creature, these babies depended on their mothers for nutrition, protection, comfort, and socialization. To test this theory, he isolated the babies for up to three months, some for six and others for nine months. The results when they were taken out of isolation showed fear and aggression. Some clutched their bodies and rocked compulsively, while others were scared and aggressive toward the other monkeys surrounding them. They were not able to communicate or even socialize with other monkeys. They even began to harm themselves by tearing out their hair, scratching, and biting themselves.

The other experiment called for the babies to be reared by two surrogate mothers. One of the surrogate mothers was covered in soft cloth bearing no source of nutrition, and the other surrogate mother was made of just wire providing milk. The results showed that all the babies preferred the cloth surrogate mother even though it bore no nutrition. They only went to the wire mother when they were hungry. 

Every time I think of this experiment, I think of what every human is longing for: a feeling of safety, perhaps a home. This feeling of security begins in the womb of a mother. A safe place where one can have comfort and safety, what they all desire and, essentially, all need. Home is where one can be, exist, speak, and still feel safe.

In 1979, the Islamic regime penetrated the country of Iran. Children and women who could once freely roam around wearing as they desired, speaking as they liked, and being as they wanted no longer could be. They were now silenced and forced to cover themselves just for simply being a woman. 

And what is a woman anyway? What separates a woman from a man? What even separates a man from a monkey? If the effects of not having safety, not having a mother, and being unable to be and exist freely can have such harsh consequences on a monkey, what separates us from them? 

The only difference between a woman and a man is not sensitivity. It is the womb. It is the home a woman has in her body, the power she is endowed with to house a living creature, nourish a residing creature for it to grow, and eventually be able to be on its own. To exist. 

My father left his home during the Islamic revolution, and my mother eventually followed to pursue a life where one day they could bring me into this world. A world where I could walk, exist and speak without fearing being killed for just being. 

Although this is my reality, it is unfortunately not the reality for women in Iran and other parts of the world.

I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana. I was fortunate enough to be able to live, yet I was unfortunate enough to be Iranian. In the south, I’d grow up being bullied, punished, excommunicated, and treated as an „other“ just for simply being Iranian. Iran is a country that supposedly only birthed terrorists, not humans, not beings. I remember feeling so in despair in fifth grade that I sat up one night and wrote a letter to „the world“ and wanted to copy it hundreds of times, walk 30 minutes to my school and scatter it all over the school. Afterward, I had planned to lay myself on the train tracks nearby and wait for a train to take my life; if you’re wondering why I will tell you why.

When I went to Iran growing up, I felt at home. I sat under the fruit trees of my uncles and aunts, and I got to be without feeling ashamed of having melanin in my skin and being a so-called „terrorist.“ I had been silenced in America my whole life, and I thought, what does it take to be heard? Does it cost me my life that apparently doesn’t have enough value to be heard? Am I a currency? Am I the Iranian dollar in comparison to the American dollar? Having a voice would cost my life because mine was not worthy enough to be heard.

I was a child then. I have grown up to realize that even in the place that I once called home, I was not safe. 

Now I ask you—What does it take to be heard? What does it take for the world to stand up and fend for lives? 

Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old girl, was brutally beaten to death in Iran for pieces of her hair hanging out of the hijab she was forced to wear. She was unfortunately not the first and won’t be the last unless we decide to make a change. Following Mahsa Amini, brave people in Iran have now openly been protesting amidst the fear of every day their lives possibly being taken for the world, for us, to hear them and to be a voice for them as they are being silenced. People of Iran have been imprisoned and killed for handing out chocolates with the words „women, life, freedom“ on them; they have been raped and killed for protesting in the streets, imprisoned for even posting something in solidarity on social media, for singing a song, for dancing, and so many other simple things that we get to do without a second thought of it costing our lives. Yet they keep going. They are willing to risk their lives to create a better one for their children, the future, and for us. 

What separates you from an Iranian?

I remember the last time I was in Iran. I was around the age of 16. It was Ramadan, and it was the hottest summer they had had in years in Iran. I was out with my cousin, and I had rolled up the sleeves of my monto, a cover-up that goes down to your knees that every woman and girl starting between the ages of 5 and 6 is forced to wear. A woman police approached me, and the first thing she asked me was, „are you afraid of me?“ I had heard of the stories of girls being taken, beaten, raped, and spat back out into the streets of Iran. I was scared for my life. I was so scared I couldn’t speak back. This is when my cousin stepped in and told her that I’m from America, I’m 12, and I, unfortunately, don’t speak Farsi (which was not true except that I’m from America). She let me go warning me that if I didn’t roll down my sleeves, there would be consequences.

On this same travel, I traveled to my dad’s village in a very rural region in Iran. Here they didn’t have open access to television, the internet, etc. I stayed with family friends, and they had a woman who was not privileged enough to get an education, working and living with them from a young age. She was around 60 years old at this point. The more rural the region in Iran, usually the more religious people are. Therefore, she didn’t remove her hijab even though she was inside. When we sat down for dinner, she was sweating and fanning her face, and she looked at me and said, „I wish I could be free like Roxanne.“ I looked at her and asked her, „Why don’t you take your hijab off?“ She replied, „because I will go to hell if I don’t wear it.“ I then asked her, „Do you think I’m a good person?“ She answered, „Yes, yes. I think you are so kind,“ and so forth in which I told her, „So what makes someone a good person? Can’t a person be a bad person while still wearing a hijab? Can’t a good person still be a good person without wearing a hijab?“ She was shocked. Speechless— because she had never fathomed such a thought. She was made to believe, and she was made to fear, that she, herself, could never just be a good woman for existing and being, but rather for her to be worthy of a better place, the so-called heaven, she would have to hide away. 

I never forgot this event. Not just because of the depth of sadness that touched me but because of the fact that she never had access even to see how others were living outside of Iran, yet she knew what freedom meant, and she wanted it with every fiber of her being. Because freedom is not a man-made condition, it is a necessity that all creatures require in order to live. 

And while freedom is not a man-made condition, oppression is.

Could you imagine a day when you would wake up, and your freedom would be taken from you? Could you imagine a day you would wake up, and your home was no longer a home? Now is the day you can because all over the world it has been happening. Not by your everyday joe but by the people with power who can tell you what to wear and how to act. The people of Iran never expected the day they’d have to flee or be stranded in a country that would terminate their own people for not behaving as the people in charge desired. But now, they are choosing to keep fighting in hopes that we will hear their cries and change this world once and for all. Freedom is not a feeling one who faces oppression experiences after seeing freedom for the first time. Freedom is the safety that each living creature desires from the depth of its being.

Did you choose to be born in a free country? No, then it must’ve been luck or the strength it took for your parents to give up their home to create a better one for their children somewhere else. It could have been me. It could have been you. 

This is a problem, a fight, for each living creature because life begins in the womb, and for life to be lived, we need freedom. 

My last train of thought leads me to a baffling theory that my dad’s best friend came up with that has stuck with me forever and has risen in my head at this very moment. 

We were talking about the future and what this would look like. He came up with some crazy sci-fi ideas like a machine that you could step in if you had cancer that separates all your cells in a way that we can pinpoint cancer cells, take them out, and then the cells come back together the same as before. The craziest theory he had come up with to me though was that our world would be without war. I asked him how that could be. He replied, „Look at your generation. Y’all are informed about the world. Y’all care, and y’all try to speak better, to act better, to live better. Maybe not anytime soon, but sometime in the far future, there will no longer be a war-ridden world.“

We were forced to fear, and as a result, we were silenced, leading us to accept the unacceptable conditions in which this world ended up in. But now we have the chance to come in numbers and make freedom accessible for all, not just for the so-called lucky ones. We have to stop living in fear and stand behind one another and say enough is enough—I want to live in a beautiful world where nobody has to be in fear just for existing.

Home is our planet. Home is how we choose to make it look starting from now. As future generations, we can decide to make this home a beautiful place where all can freely roam and exist safely. We just have to want it, stand up for it, and to change it to the way we want it to look. 

Jin, Jiyan, Azadi.
Women, Life, Freedom.

Roxanne A. is a 24-year-old Iranian American who was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. She previously studied psychology at the University of New Orleans and currently studies American and English studies at the University of Innsbruck. Roxanne has a rooted interest in the social situations of the world and how it affects children and women. She is dedicated in finding reason and fighting for justice.

Tel.: 142 (Notruf), täglich 0–24 Uhr / www.telefonseelsorge.at / Telefon-, E-Mail- und Chat-Beratung für Menschen in schwierigen Lebenssituationen oder Krisenzeiten.

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“Day 63 of Iran Uprising, Medical Student Aylar Haghi Killed during Protests in Tabriz.” Women’s News, 17 Nov. 2022.

“Harlow’s Monkeys (1958) Explained .” Moderntherapy, 14 Aug. 2018, https://moderntherapy.online/blog-2/2018/8/14/harlows-monkeys-1958-explained.

Isser, Katharina. “Women, Life, Freedom: Solidarität Mit Dem Iran, Kritik an Der ÖH.” UNIpress, 7 Nov. 2022.

Parent, Deepa, and Ghoncheh Habibiazad. “Rapper Who Protested over Death of Mahsa Amini Faces Execution in Iran.” The Guardian, 11 Nov. 2022.

Safi, Akhtar. “Iranian Woman Gets 15 Years For Holding ‘Mahsa Amini’ Placard.” Iranwire, 17 Nov. 2022.

Safi, Akhtar. “Protester Dies by Suicide Following Release From Prison.” Iranwire, 13 Nov. 2022.

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