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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Students hold protest joining in push for women’s rights in Iran, Afghanistan

Iranian students share their stories and thoughts following the death of Mahsa Amini

By SONORA SLATER — campus@theaggie.org

Note: Some names were changed for the safety of Iranian student sources. Whenever a name is changed, it is noted within the article.

At 12 p.m. on Oct. 17, students crowded the front of the Memorial Union (MU), carrying signs that read, “Women, Life, Freedom,” “Free Iran” and “#MahsaAmini,” in a “[show of] solidarity with the women of Afghanistan and Iran, who are putting their lives on the line to fight for their basic freedoms and rights,” according to an Instagram post by the UC Davis Afghan Student Association.

The undergraduate organization organized the event in collaboration with the Iranian Graduate Student Association at UC Davis, in response to ongoing protests against the Iranian government sparked by the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini and other young women in Iran. 

According to an article published by IranWire on Sept. 15, Amini was on a trip to the capital with her family when she was arrested by the Iranian “morality police” on the grounds of  improper wear of her hijab. Agents told Amini’s brother that she was being taken to the station for a one-hour “re-education class,” but when he got to the building, he heard screams coming from inside. Soon after, according to the article, an ambulance left the building, which was later found to be carrying Amini to the hospital. 

Tehran Police issued a statement claiming that Amini had suffered from a pre-existing heart condition, despite multiple eyewitnesses testifying that they saw officers beat her in the police van after her arrest, according to an article by NPR.

The NPR article goes on to say that Amini’s death has become “the heart of a rallying cry for Iranians who want more freedoms and rights for women,” and protestors throughout Iran are now calling to dismantle the morality police, as many women burn their hijabs in protest of restrictive laws against women. 

Students gathered for the UC Davis protest listened to second-year mathematics and physics double major Parnian Sartip give a speech addressing the situation in Iran, before marching around the Quad and chanting phrases similar to those written on their signs. 

“In some countries like the U.S, women and men alike are granted the ability to wish for a trip to the moon,” Sartip said in her speech. “Even here […] we have a long way to go to get to gender equity, but only a few glances away on a world map, these dreams change. […] In Iran and Afghanistan, no one thinks about going to the moon. Men and women are hungry there. They do not have the privilege of a respectable job and a good education. Forget privilege, people lack human rights there.”

Sartip then anecdotally described the experience of women in Iran and Afghanistan, referencing a lack of choice in attire, rules against showing their hair, limited options for education, an inability to legally ride a bicycle and arranged marriages at a young age.

“I’ve had no voice in these laws,” Sartip said in her speech. “I cannot become a judge. At court when called to testify, my word is worth half a man’s. So is my inheritance. So is my life. If I am half the population, if I am the mother of future generations, if I am human, then why am I worthless?”

She went on to say that in Iran and Afghanistan, women have “always been voiceless,” but noted that she believes the “righteous fury” over Mahsa Amini’s death was a turning point that inspired many to action. 

“Today, standing next to Memorial Union, we remember these women,” Sartip said in her speech. “We continue to stand with them and shout with them, as if we are of one heart, in one place. The truth is simple: we all deserve bread, work, life and freedom. Whether we are man or woman. Better yet, if we’re just human.”

A fourth-year biomedical engineering major and the president of the UC Davis Afghan Student Association, who has chosen to remain anonymous, said that many Iranian and Afghan students have expressed “[feeling] helpless, since they cannot directly fight for Iran’s freedom.” According to her, this protest was one way she felt students could use their voices to help.

“Through protesting we have gained the attention of the world on the horrendous acts transpring in our home country,” she said via text message. “As students, we have the opportunity to mobilize and use our voice and that is what this protest is about. Iranians have come together on this day to show the world that things must change, our people must be given their basic human rights and that every individual is entitled to their own freedom.”

A statement attached to a petition created by “allies of the Iranian-American community at the University of California” calls upon readers to “publicly [condemn] state violence against the people of Iran,” and endorse a Sept. 20 statement made by the Association for Iranian Studies and the Middle East Studies Association.

“The international community has not condemned this violence strongly enough,” the statement reads. “[It] is thus signaling to Iran’s security forces that they have full immunity in their suppression of peaceful protesters. Now more than ever, we need to show solidarity.”

On Sept. 28, UC Davis released a joint statement issued by UC Davis Chancellor Gary May and others in leadership at the university, providing “resources and support for those impacted by unrest in Iran.”

“In recent weeks, Iran has experienced widespread unrest […] following the death of Mahsa Amini,” the statement reads. “We are deeply saddened by the death of Ms. Amini and those who have lost their lives while protesting in Iran. Last week, the UC Davis Iranian Student Association held a memorial service for Ms. Amini.”

The memorial service was held on Sept. 23 outside of the MU. Ariana Ahmadi, whose name was changed for her safety, attended the service and described the experience. 

We were together sharing our emotions,” Ahmadi said. “We had Iranian students, we had non-Iranian students and faculty, we had Iranians from outside the UC Davis community. It’s complicated — there is sadness, anger, fear. Sometimes we have hope that something is going to change, sometimes we are hopeless.”

Samira Sadeghi, whose name was also changed for her safety, said that she felt it was especially important for her to attend the memorial because she had an extremely similar experience while growing up in Iran. 

“If you don’t have a proper dress code, [the morality police] can violently arrest you,” Sadeghi said. “This is what happened to Mahsa Amini, and the same thing happened to me when I was 18.”

Elaborating on the experience, she began to wipe away tears. 

According to Sadeghi, she was going home from school in Iran when somebody pulled her from the back and dragged her into the street. She was then detained by the morality police for 12 hours, after they decided her attire didn’t fulfill the official dress code. 

“I was humiliated there, I was physically assaulted and they treated me like someone who has committed a crime,” Sadeghi said. “Like I murdered someone. I was just 18 years old at the time, and this is how I got introduced to adult life in Iran as a woman.” 

Sadeghi said that if she had shared her story under her real name, it could be very dangerous for her family members who are still in Iran. Ahmadi expressed a similar fear.

“It’s hard, because we don’t even feel safe here,” Ahmadi said. “If we want to go back to our country, there would be some problems if our names got out. Sometimes people don’t understand things, like how worried I am about my younger brother in Iran. They have this sense that there is protesting in the street and that people are getting killed, but there are things they couldn’t understand.” 

Sadeghi said that to her, this fear to tell the truth is part of what it currently means to be Iranian. 

“Honestly, I think this is a part of our stories — that we don’t have freedom of speech,” Sadeghi said. “We are afraid of telling our real stories about our real lives. That’s a part of the story of all Iranians.”

Written by: Sonora Slater — campus@theaggie.org

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 11/12/23 to remove the name of one of our sources who no longer felt safe having her name connected to this story.