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‘The world is watching’: Protests in solidarity with Iranian women are going global. Here’s why

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Protesters have taken to the streets across Australia to show solidarity with Iran’s people and a subsequent wave of women-led protests.
Thousands of Iranian Australians and supporters rallied in Sydney – among other cities including Melbourne and Hobart – on Saturday against the Iranian government’s regime, which has seen women burn the hijabs they are forced to wear in cities all around Iran.

In Sydney’s Belmore Park, people chanted, “women, life, freedom”, “say her name” and “Mahsa Amini” as they heard from Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi, human rights activist Craig Foster and local community activists.

Protest organiser Kaveh Akbari, who migrated from Iran to Australia as a refugee in 1995, said there is a link between what happens in Iran and among the Iranian diaspora around the world.
“Iranians do look to us, to provide them with support and exposure from outside of Iran,” he told SBS News ahead of the Sydney protest.

“It’s a show of solidarity with the people of Iran. It’s important for them to know that the world is watching, that the world is aware of what is happening, because this is where they get their strength to keep going.”

People gather in Sydney’s Belmore Park to protest the Iranian government’s regime on Saturday, 1 October, 2022. Source: SBS News / Monique Pueblos

It’s expected to become the biggest day of global action since Mahsa Amini, whose first name is Jina in Kurdish,

Since then, women have led protests in Tehran and Kurdish regions of Iran against the theocratic regime’s attempt at quashing their freedoms.

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Speaking to SBS News earlier this week, Kurdish refugee and writer Behrouz Boochani called on the international community to show support.
“People are fighting against this system, and they need support from around the world. That is important,” he said.

“If [the] people of Iran get support from people around the world, I think they will put pressure on the government and the government then should react to that to do something.”

But he said Western media should understand and acknowledge the voices of those in Iran.
“The true voice of people exist in Iran, and come from Iran, who are inside the country, on the streets,” he said.
Soma Rostami, spokesperson for human rights organisation Hengaw, had a similar message.
“The only thing that they [Iranian people and Kurdish people] are asking for, or they need, is international support. To be heard,” she said.

“They need the support of all the countries.”

What happened to Mahsa Amini?

Ms Amini was a 22-year-old woman from one of the Kurdish provinces of Iran. She was in Tehran with her brother when she was reprimanded by Iran’s morality police – known formally as the ‘Guidance Police’ or the Gasht-e Ershad – due to her “improper” wearing of the hijab.
She was detained for three days in Vozara Detention Centre when she fell into a coma and died. Local police have denied allegations she was beaten, asserting she suffered a heart attack in detention. It’s a claim her family contests, and her parents publicly declared Ms Amini was fit and healthy before her arrest.
Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, all women in Iran are legally required to wear a hijab in adherence to the government’s interpretation of the Islamic body of law, Sharia. According to the country’s law, women’s hair and necks must be covered while wearing loose-fitting clothing.

Failure to wear the hijab in accordance with Iran’s laws can land women in jail, fined or physically abused by the morality police.

Frustrated with the theocratic government’s rules and without the legal right to protest, scores of women are risking their lives in defiance against officials, burning their headscarves and chopping their hair off on the streets.
Iran, which has blamed “foreign enemies” for protests that have swept the country, says it has arrested nine European nationals for their role in the unrest.
The detention of citizens of Germany, Poland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and other countries is likely to ratchet up tensions between Iran and Western countries over the young woman’s death.
The nine unidentified people were detained “during the riots or while plotting in the background”, the intelligence ministry said.

It comes as more casualties were reported. Nineteen people were killed after security forces fired on armed protesters attacking a police station, an official said.

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The foundations of the ‘women, life, freedom’ slogan

From the streets of Iran to Australia, protesters have been heard chanting “women, rights, freedom!” – or Jin – Jiyan – Azadi.
Mr Boochani explained the slogan originates from the Kurdish resistance – mostly related to Kurdish women fighting the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria, which contributed to the establishment of a de facto autonomous Kurdish region known as Rojava.

“Now, I think it’s not only a slogan; it is a manifesto of this movement. And that’s why we say that this movement is led by women,” he said.

Mr Boochani praised the Kurdish resistance that has since swept the world.
“I am mostly amazed by the way Kurdish resistance [has] affected the region. That is important – the history of resistance in Kurdistan and the way a revolutionary idea can create its way to challenge the system,” he said.

“I think everyone … should celebrate that – that a whole ethnic minority can have a progressive political culture in that region. And I think that is something in spite of all.”

People are seen holding signs at a rally in Hobart following Mahsa Amini's death.

People are seen holding signs at a rally in Hobart on Saturday, 1 October 2022. Source: SBS News / Sarah Maunder

‘Whole country is now united’ against regime

Mr Akbari said the recent protests are an “accumulation” of a few decades of consistent activity in Iran. He believes this started with student protests in 1999, which were at least twice quashed by the Islamic Republic.
“Then, we’ve seen this resurface a lot more consistently. We’ve seen an uprising in 2018, another in 2019 and then again in 2021 and 2022. It’s been about different things that give an undertone to the uprising,” he said.
In recent years, the Islamic Republic has been marred by economic turmoil with high unemployment rates and skyrocketing inflation. Many Iranians blame the government for systemic corruption that is a link to the failure to deliver better social and economic reforms.
Now, Mr Akbari believes Iranians are coming together in a “much more united way”.

“All sorts of people from all walks of life, all different classes of society, they’ve come onto the streets, and they’re united in what they’re demanding – which is a change to a system, change to a regime which has brought them nothing but misery for the last 43 years.”

Mr Boochani agreed the “whole country is now united”.

“Everyone with different backgrounds and political ideas, they are now united against this system … to reject this system, to challenge it. And now, they demand to change the whole system,” he said.
“Iranian people haven’t been united like this over the past 40 years, after the Islamic revolution in 1979.”
Both Mr Boouhani and Mr Akbari said the uprising goes beyond wearing a hijab.
“It’s not only about the hijab. People now, they want to change the system, which dominates the hijab. They want to change that,” he said.
“It’s really important that we understand this movement for what it is: it is feminism at the frontlines,” Mr Akbari said.
“But it is women and men, shoulder to shoulder, going onto the streets, chanting, and eating bullets.”
As to what message he hopes to leave with Australians, Mr Akbari said this movement is “organic, from the people, from within Iran”.

With additional reporting by AAP and Monique Pueblos.

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