Zozan Sima writes for Yeni Özgür Politika
The Iranian morality police (Gasht-e-Ershad) beat to death a young Kurdish woman in the flush of youth, Jîna (Mahsa) Aminî, on the grounds that her hair was showing from under her headscarf. Throughout the centuries a woman’s hair has been seen as her crowning glory. It is a source of beauty, majesty and magic. The Yaresan Kurds of Hawraman in Kurdistan province, northeast Iran still swear one of their strongest oaths on their mothers’ plaits: ‘li ser biskê dayk’. In all cultures, a woman’s hair is a beautiful mode of her outward expression, with colourful beads and ornaments, plaits and knots, head-dresses and hats.
After the male-dominated counter-revolution, women’s values and women’s bodies were cursed, and their hair became an object of fear. It had to be buried, covered over, on the grounds that it awakened lust in men. Christianity, which said that the devil hid in among hair, and Judaism, which prescribed the covering or shaving of women’s hair, helped to make this into religious law. But representatives of these religions no longer apply these rules so strictly. Although there is no actual verse relating to the covering of women’s hair, the imposition on women to cover their hair in the name of Islamic tradition is continued by the mullahs’ regime of Iran, the reactionary Taliban of Afghanistan, ISIS and the fascist Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkey.
Making women cover, with headscarf (covering hair), hijab (including the hair and neck) or niqab (including hair, neck and face, with mesh or slit for the eyes); whether by force or persuasion, by convincing or obliging them, recently also by creating a new sector in the fashion industry, is just one aspect of domination over women’s bodies. The matter goes further than the physical covering of the hair and body, it is symbolic, ensuring the enslavement and enforced submission of women. The control over women’s bodies is not limited to the covering of the hair, face, eyes, and body curves. It covers a wide spectrum of cutting and shaping of hair, pressure to lose or gain weight, and make-up and hair dye. The covering of women and encouraging them to exhibit their bodies are different facets of the same policy.
In many cultures, when women suffer deep grief, they will cut off their hair. This custom continues among the Yazidis today. After the genocide, they expressed their grief by hanging their plaits on the graves of the victims they had loved. It also lives on in Kurdistan and many countries of the Middle East. It is included in many stories in the Kurdish ‘Book of Honour’ (Sharafnameh). After Jîna’s death, hundreds of weeping women shared videos of themselves cutting off their hair. Women who have cut off their hair for their sons and loved ones in legends, myths and in community life, are now cutting their hair as direct action in memory of a woman who resisted the practices of a rotten regime. The roses left on her body by weeping hospital workers, and the Kurdish keening grief of her mother, prostrate on her grave, amplified the pain and fury still more.
The mullahs’ regime of Iran has recently moved anew against women. By issuing fatwas in the millennia-long rhetoric of the dominant male, linking the unfortunate state of world events to women’s revealing clothing, employment and emergence from male domination, they have prepared the ground for such killings. But the intimidation they tried to bring to bear on women, Kurds and those opposed to the system in the person of Jîna, has kicked back and lit a new spark in the struggle against the system. Most significant are the crescendo of slogans women and men in Iran in general and in Iranian Kurdistan (Rojhilat) in particular, are chanting in Kurdish and in Farsi as one voice: ‘jin-jiyan-azadî!’ and ‘zen-zendegi-azadi!’ (Women, Life, Freedom!)
This phrase, which has become a magical formula for the revolution, was a phrase coined by Abdullah Öcalan, the founding leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who ensured that the Kurdistan revolution was to develop with the character of a women’s revolution. In a letter to the women’s movement in 2013 and with the words, “You should continue to teach the magical formula, ‘jin-jiyan-azadî’ and exemplify it”, Öcalan expressed the requirement for the women’s revolution to be spread throughout the Middle East.
These protests show once more how influential the spell of this magical formula is. But in order for these protests not to be once more suppressed by killings, executions and arrests, they need to change to a process of establishment, organisation and the formation of alliances. So far the main deficiency in the struggle against the system is that it has waited for a rescuer from ‘outside’ and not made itself into a common struggle of the people. The whole world witnessed how those ‘outside rescuers’ compromised with the reactionary regimes and systems in the examples of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. For this reason the resistance which started in Rojava and spread throughout North and East Syria should lead the way for the struggle in Iran and East Kurdistan, for a struggle based on its own strength. The wind of Jin-Jiyan-Azadî needs to be fanned into a storm to blow away the black clouds of the reactionary regime, and all those who have been oppressed by the mullahs’ regime, in particular women and Kurds, should take their revenge.