Hair cutting has become a means of protest for many Iranian women in the wake of the death of Mahsa Amini.
In case you weren’t aware, Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, was arrested in Tehran on Sept. 13th by Iran’s “morality police” (a group that enforces a strict dress code in the country) for allegedly failing to wear a hijab in public. Three days later on Sept. 16th, she died in police custody, with the local police claiming that she suffered a “sudden heart attack”. Her family has raised concerns that she had no prior heart conditions and many witnesses have come forward saying that they saw police beating her up inside a van, per BBC News.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Greater Tehran Police Commander Hossein Rahimi denied any claims that the Iranian police harmed Amini in any way and said that they had “done everything” to keep her alive, adding that her death was “unfortunate”, according to semi-official news agency Fars News.
Amini’s death has since triggered widespread protests, with thousands of women taking to the streets to denounce the state-mandated modesty codes enforced by the morality police. Videos circulating on social media depict huge crowds marching through the streets shouting: “No to the headscarf, no to the turban, yes to freedom and equality!” and “Woman, Life, Freedom.” Security has been dispatched to the streets in a move to end the protest and as of press time, nine people have been killed, per BBC News.
Most notably social media has been flooded with powerful images of Iranian women burning their hijabs and cutting their hair publicly and online, as a form of protest and a show of solidarity with Amini.
In one video with 2.6 million views, a woman can be seen cutting up her hijab with a pair of scissors. The caption for the video reads, “Today, exactly two years ago I started wearing hijab, today I cut my hair for #mahsamini.” User @persianziba shared that she did not want to show the video of herself cutting her hair for “religious reasons”, but filmed herself cutting the hijab as “a symbol of solidarity” and “to spread the message.”
In another video, Twitter user @ShinD1982 emotionally chopped off her hair in a moving tribute, using a hashtag with Amini’s name to caption the clip.
Hoda Katebi, a notable Iranian community organizer and writer, has spoken out in support of the protests, saying she’s “so moved” by the action being taken by Iranian women.
“These past few days I’ve been proudly watching Iranian women lead protests in the face of intense and familiar brutality with a simple but powerful slogan: ‘woman, life, freedom,” she wrote on Instagram. “Women wearing the hijab, not wearing it, or lighting it on fire atop a car in front of the ‘morality police’ —are standing side by side against a state’s co-option of religion and weaponization of hijab that harms us all, and instead demanding freedom and liberation on all fronts.”
With so many women burning and destroying their hijabs in protest of Amini’s death, it’s important to understand that this is being done in criticism of the enforcement of the hijab and not against the actual hijab itself.
For years, Iranian women have pushed back and spoken out against the strict dress code for women—which applies to people of all nationalities and religions, not just Iranian Muslims and is enforced beginning at the age of nine years old.
Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979—when legislation to make the hijab mandatory in public was first introduced and later written into law in 1983—Iranian women have been required by law to wear a hijab that covers the head and neck, while also concealing their hair. The morality police has been tasked with ensuring female citizens are abiding by the hijabs regulations and have the authority to dole out severe punishment (including arrest, a prison sentence, flogging, or a fine) if these strict rules are not followed.
There’s hope that with all the outrage and protesting fueled by Amini’s death, real, actionable change may come with regards to women’s rights in Iran and Iranaina women may soon be able to determine their own standards of modesty.
Only time will tell, but for now our thoughts are with Amini’s loved ones and the Iranian women who are bravely fighting the patriarchy and for their basic right to choose.