As we commemorate the anniversary of the tragic death of Jîna (Mahsa) Amini on 16 September, the twenty-two year-old Iranian Kurd murdered at the hands of the morality police (Gasht-e-Ershad), we are reminded of the indomitable spirit of Kurdish women who led the uprising under the banner of ‘woman, life, freedom’ or ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadi.’ Their struggle garnered unprecedented global support and sympathy, but as time has passed, it has become evident that much of that support was mere lip service. Today, we must reflect on the promises made, the changes that have been made, and the work that remains to be done.
Amini’s death was a poignant reminder of the brutal reality faced by women in Iran, especially those from minority communities. Her tragic fate became a catalyst for change, leading to widespread protests across the nation which continue until this day. Kurdish women, at the forefront of these demonstrations, demanded their basic human rights – the right to live free from oppression, to lead their lives with dignity, and to pursue their dreams without fear.
The ‘woman, life, freedom’ slogan echoed through the streets of Iran and reached the ears of people worldwide. International communities rallied behind these brave women, offering their support and solidarity. Prominent figures, such as the academic Angela Davis, and organizations denounced the Iranian government’s actions, pledging their commitment to the cause of equality and justice. It seemed, for a moment, that the world had taken notice and change was on the horizon.
In response to the protests and mounting international pressure, the Iranian government claimed to introduce reforms aimed at improving the rights of women and minority communities. They promised to dismantle the morality police and address the systemic issues that led to Jîna Amini’s death. These reforms raised hopes and garnered praise from some, as leaders promised to hold Iran accountable for its human rights violations. Others, however, remained skeptical that these promises would truly lead to a lasting change.
As time went by, their skepticism was proven to be warranted as it became clear that these promises were empty words. The reforms put in place were nothing more than a facade, designed to placate international concerns while maintaining the status quo. The morality police, though seemingly disbanded, continued their oppressive tactics in a more discreet manner. Kurdish women, marginalized communities and protesters still faced discrimination, harassment, violence and even execution. As those who have lived their whole lives under the Iranian regime always knew, the government’s commitment to change had been nothing but a smokescreen.
The Iranian government has rolled back the so-called reforms, most notably by reinstating the morality police with renewed vigor. Iranian journalist Pune Ashtiyan spoke to Mezopotamya News Agency in August to tell them that even though the morality police were temporarily absent from the streets, they have returned to the streets and ‘significantly increased in number’.
Ashtiyan said: “The Tehran Municipality, a non-police institution now run by an Islamist supporting the government, announced that 400 people were hired in the so-called Hijab Ban, or Veil Care Unit. These individuals are kept with a base salary of 12 million toman to beat and arrest women who do not wear headscarves. Twelve million toman is more than the salary of all other municipal employees.”
Ashtiyan claims the morality police were only temporarily removed as a response to the pressure they received following the murder of Amini. This proves international pressure can make changes, but the fact they have returned in full force proves that the work is not done.
Women in Iran have demonstrated unparalleled resilience and determination in their quest for freedom and equality.
As we reflect on these grim developments, it becomes increasingly clear that the international community must do more than offer empty words of support. First and foremost we must listen and believe the women on the ground, and on the front-lines of change in Iran. We must not allow them to slip from our memory, or out of the headlines. A year on – and the memory of Jîna Amini which fuels the women’s revolution there is still very much alive.
To truly foster change in Iran, we must strengthen and support the Kurdish opposition within the country. Women in Iran have demonstrated unparalleled resilience and determination in their quest for freedom and equality. Their struggle represents the aspirations of millions of Kurds and Iranians alike who yearn for a more just and inclusive society.
Supporting the Kurdish opposition in Iran means actively working to empower them. We must put pressure on our governments to take concrete actions that reflect their commitment to human rights and justice. Sanctions and diplomatic efforts should be leveraged to compel Iran to enact genuine reforms and respect the rights of all its citizens.
In commemorating the anniversary of Jîna Amini’s death, we must honor her memory by turning our words into action. It is time for the international community to stand with the Kurdish women and all those who continue to fight for ‘woman, life, freedom’ in Iran and elsewhere. Only through unwavering support and a united front can we hope to bring about lasting change and justice for women, Kurds and the people of Iran.