Woman, Life, Liberty: A slogan one hundred years in the making

By | October 4, 2022

Nahid Siamdoust writes:

Of all the videos to surface from the Iran protests following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16th, one in particular has caught the public imagination. In this short clip, we see a large gathering of people around a bonfire when a young woman dressed all in white enters the circle energetically, whirls toward the fire almost joyously and halts in a dramatic pose before throwing her headscarf to the flames. The crowd cheers ecstatically.

The image seems to perfectly encapsulate the moment. On radio programs, people have called her the “fairy of Sari,” the Caspian city where the scene took place, or the “fire dancing gypsy.” From the ashes of a young, innocent woman’s death in custody, thousands of defiant women have risen to transform this moment of national tragedy and the decades of repression that have led to it into a moment of triumph. In these headscarf bonfires, women perform control over their own bodies, and in so doing, chart a new course for the country.

For decades, people of different political stripes, even Iran’s progressive feminists, argued that the hijab was of secondary concern when it came to attaining women’s rights. There were other more important rights to fight for, such as the right to divorce and custody, or equality in inheritance and testimony.

But protests following Amini’s death in morality police detention have revealed the centrality of compulsory hijab as a symbol of regime repression and impunity. Slogans such as “Woman, Life, Liberty” and “I will kill who killed my sister” intertwine the liberty of women with freedom at large, a notion that had been pushed to the margins for over a century.

This is not because women and women’s rights groups have not agitated for themselves and their country. Quite to the contrary: As early as 1852, the poet and women’s rights champion Fatimah Baraghani, known as Tahirih, declared at her execution on account of her Babi faith and public unveiling, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.” She stands in a long line of feminist poets, including Forough Farrokhzad and Simin Behbani, who through their words augured a new dawn both for women’s independence and for the country. [Continue reading…]

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