Women Life Freedom – OpEd


Frustrated and angry, people everywhere are mobilizing, protesting, striking, demanding change, screaming out against injustice, suppression and control. The unprecedented global movement expands week on week; it will not be stopped, no matter the level of violence or intervention state bodies employ to silence people and maintain the corrosive status-quo.

In a dramatic Sign of The Times, despite the risks, which are great, women/girls and men in Iran are uniting; standing together, demanding an end to gender inequality, and in, some cases calling for regime change.

To the surprise of many who assumed any popular uprising would be led by academics, writers and the like, fearless women and teenage girls are leading the movement in what is evolving into a broad Coalition of Dissatisfaction. The protestors in Iran are both a symbol of the extraordinary times we are living through, and a source of power for all who long for different, just modes of living.

Iranian teenagers lead the way

As is so often the case, one diabolical act became the spark that fueled a raging fire of anger, suppressed for years and now unleashed. On 13 September, 22 year old Mahsa Amini was arrested by the so-called Morality Police of Iran’s Law Enforcement Command for not wearing the hijab (head scarf) in a way acceptable to the Islamic Republic of Iran – i.e., some hair, horror of horrors, was loose and on display. Regime thugs took her into custody, where, out of sight they beat her so severely that she fell into a coma. Three days later, on 16 September, she died in a Tehran hospital.

The brutal murder of Mahsa has led to massive protests across Iran (in at least 103 cities and towns in all 31 of Iran’s provinces) and cities around the world. Predictably Iran’s government has responded in a heavy-handed manner with violence and more violence. At least 154 people have been killed by security personnel, and an estimated 1,200 arrested. When they are not firing live rounds, the police shoot birdshot and metal pellets into the crowd; they fire tear gas and deploy water cannons; access to the internet has been restricted and apps like Instagram and What’s App shut down in an attempt to stop protestors organizing.

Journalists and workers in civil society organizations are being specifically targeted; the Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) relate that (as of 6 October) an estimated “92 members of civil society who were not arrested at street protests, but instead arbitrarily detained at their homes or workplaces.” In addition 30 Iranian journalists have also been put behind bars.

This crude attempt to silence people isn’t working and it won’t work, in fact such actions by the regime will only further inflame people and strengthen the relentless march towards freedom.

The protests are not simply about gender inequalities and a woman’s freedom to choose whether to wear a hijab or not – important though this is, they are about freedom and the observation of human rights more broadly. Basic and essential human rights as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a signatory to, and as Iran, was one of the 48 nations that initially signed up to the charter in 1948. Freedom of speech; freedom of assembly; freedom of the media; freedom to live in a way consistent with one’s own values and beliefs free from the imposition of rules formulated and enforced by a violent authoritarian body.

Unity is rising

The Iran uprising forms part of a global movement for change that began in earnest in the mid 1980s and has grown in momentum year on year, month on month. In the last forty years or so people in virtually every country in the world have been uniting, demonstrating against repression, social injustice, environmental vandalism/inaction, political/corporate corruption and human rights violations.

Impelled by the forces of the time people are rising up and, as the extraordinary actions in Iran show, in spite of the risks and dangers inherent in challenging autocratic governments, and indeed so-called democratic bodies, people will not any longer be silenced, cowered. Shut away in front of their television sets or computer screens, to be fed and passively digest the propaganda of the corporate state.

Decades of repression, of being ignored and spoken down to by cynical politicians and corporate leaders, have led to this global moment of change and opportunity. It is a transitional time that will, or could, in time, usher in a creative fluid form of democratic living. Participation is an essential pillar of true democracy, but currently within democratic nations the possibility of contributing within the political, socio-economic space is almost non-existent, in authoritarian states like Iran, there is absolutely no space for any independent voices. Billions of people – the majority, are excluded, ignored and sidelined; individuals forced to live within structures and under inhibiting rules they do not agree with.

We are at the conception stage, the very beginning of a new order, a new civilization if you will, reimagined. Inch by inch the new order will need to be built, slowly, gradually. The architecture, tone and colours are clear: Freedom and social justice, true democracy in which everyone has the chance to participate, equality and peace. Such fundamental lasting changes will take time, rightly so, but look around, decay is everywhere, so too the calls for change. The existing systems and controls are not only being rejected, but they are collapsing under there own dead weight, failing to meet the basic requirements of the society, and unable to respond to the interrelated crises they have caused and continue to exacerbate.

Change then is essential, and in many ways it is now inevitable; an unstoppable force; it grows in strength and momentum with every protest march, every placard raised, every hijab removed, every action undertaken to highlight injustice, discrimination and abuse.

People, The People, will not any longer be gagged and manipulated, forced to accept the unacceptable, they will die first. But with every death, in Tehran or elsewhere, with every reactionary clampdown, whether it be arresting activists, stifling free speech, demonising people calling for change, outlawing protests and/or increasing police powers, the numbers demanding change increases, the outrage intensifies, the wave draws breath, rises and strengthens.

Graham Peebles

Graham Peebles is an independent writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in India, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia where he lived for two years working with acutely disadvantaged children and conducting teacher training programmes. Website: https://grahampeebles.org/

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