“Woman, life, freedom!” On the streets of Iran, more than a month after the death of twenty-two-year-old Mahsa Amini, protesters in eighty-five cities chant their frustration with the government. Amini, a Kurdish woman who was on vacation in Tehran, was taken into custody by the Iranian “morality police” on September 13. Her hair was allegedly peeking out from behind her hijab, violating the mandatory dress code that requires women to completely cover their hair and the curves of their bodies. Some victims of the morality police get off with a verbal warning, while others are fined or beaten. Fellow detainees in the van with Amini claimed that security forces hit her head, likely causing the injuries that lead to her death. Later that day, she was rushed from the detention center to the hospital, where she lay in a coma. She died on September 16. Government officials claim, unconvincingly, that she suffered a heart attack from a preexisting condition.
Iran’s morality police pose a constant threat—primarily, though not exclusively, to women. Iranian women have to worry about being arrested for the length of their robes, the style of their hair, or public displays of affection, but many also seek to fight the regime, inch by inch, by testing the limits of what they are allowed to do and wear. Following the 2021 election of conservative President Ebrahim Raisi, though, the hijab law has been enforced more harshly than ever. This only compounds the frustrations of daily life in a country where sanctions have devastated the economy, unemployment for young people is almost 25 percent, corruption runs rampant, and political opposition is met with censorship, arrest, or exile. While women and high-school-aged girls are at the forefront of the continuing protests—tearing off headscarves, chanting and singing, and facing down riot police with incredible courage—women’s rights are not their only concern. Protesters, including striking oil workers, also call for “death to the dictator,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.