On International Women’s Day, Monday 8th March, if we wish any further evidence of the misogynist lunacy of the Iranian mullahs, then we should look no further than the news that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme leader, has ordered that cartoon character women must wear the hijab. Now, in Iran, even animated female characters in cartoons cannot reveal their hair! It would be amusing, if it wasn’t so serious. Women’s dress codes are under constant scrutiny.  They must wear the hijab and ‘morality police’ are on relentless patrol to enforce the law. Women, particularly young women, are singled out for brutal attacks for the ‘crime’ of mal-veiling. Girls who were deemed to be improperly dressed in the street have suffered horrific acid attacks and stabbings, in assaults openly condoned by the mullahs. Teenage girls, arrested for the offence of posting videos of themselves dancing or singing on social media, have been publicly flogged. Young female students attending end-of-term parties have been fined and beaten. This is what gender equality looks like in Iran today.

The hanging of a 23-year-old woman in Ardabil Prison on 22nd February, took the toll of women executed by the Iranian regime to at least 113 so far during the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, a supposed moderate. Most of these women were executed for killing an abusive husband or partner. But this is actually another example of how the regime fails women, because they are mostly victims of domestic abuse who kill in defence of themselves or their children, because they have no legal recourse to end a violently cruel marriage. These killings often occur after women have suffered years of humiliation, insults, beatings and even torture, by abusive husbands, from whom they have no escape…no right to divorce.  In other countries, they would be granted leniency based on their circumstances, but not in Iran. And this, of course, does not even touch upon those executed for crimes that are not capital offences under international law, like drug offences, or for non-crimes, like political activism.

Iran is now the world leader in executions per capita, as well as executions of women and juvenile offenders. Over 4,300 people have been executed since Rouhani took power in 2013, with the number of overall executions and those of women actually believed to be much higher because of the fact that most executions take place in secret, without witnesses. There are approximately 40 million women in the Islamic Republic of Iran, over half under the age of thirty. Women make up more than 50% of university students, but, because of discrimination and blatant sexism creating obstacles to employment, they accounted for only 19% of Iran’s workforce, even before the pandemic brought the economy to a shuddering halt. At a time when women in the West have achieved political, economic, personal and social equality, Iranian women are amongst the most repressed in the world, ruled by a regime dominated by elderly, bearded misogynists. 

But young Iranian women are becoming increasingly engaged in the growing opposition to the mullahs’ corrupt regime. They are joining the resistance units that are springing up in every town and city in Iran. In the nationwide uprisings that have taken place, tens of thousands of courageous female teachers, medical staff, nurses, students, factory workers and pensioners have taken to the streets to demand an end to corruption, an end to discrimination and repression and an end to the clerical regime’s aggressive military adventurism across the Middle East. The mass protests are continuing, even as the coronavirus rages across Iran, killing more than 225,000 so far. Hundreds of women have been amongst those killed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the regime’s Gestapo and thousands more have been arrested .

In the theocratic fascist dictatorship, the Iranian penal code is designed to enable men to discipline women and girls if they fail to conform to strict Islamic codes. The theocratic dictatorship in Iran has a history of targeting women with oppressive laws that would not be tolerated in the West or indeed in most civilized countries in the world. In Iran women are considered the property of their closest male relative and have no legal rights. Girls of nine can be married off by their parents. A woman’s evidence in court is worth only half that of a man. Women may not seek to have a man charged with rape unless they have four independent witnesses. All family relationships are strictly controlled by Shariah law. Homosexual behaviour, adultery, sex outside marriage, are all prohibited. Women accused of such behaviour can incur severe punishments, including beatings and death, sometimes by stoning. 

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first Supreme Leader of Iran after the 1979 revolution and the father of Islamic fundamentalism, stated that equality between women and men was “in fundamental violation of some of the most crucial rulings of Islam and in defiance of some of the explicit commandments of the Koran”.  Immediately following the revolution, Khomeini abolished the ‘Family Protection Law’ that gave women family rights. He also cancelled social services for women and abolished the role of female judges in Iran’s justice system. Today, only 6% of MPs in Iran are women. 

Today, Iranian women are at the forefront of the resistance to the theocratic dictatorship. Indeed, the main democratic opposition movement, the PMOI/MEK is led by a woman, the charismatic Maryam Rajavi. Brave women are now routinely joining their brothers to demand regime change and an end to the misogyny and repression which has terrorized not only the Iranian people for the past four decades, but a vast part of the Middle East as well.

Addressing an International Women’s Day conference, Malala Yousafzai said: “We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.” Well the women of Iran are no longer prepared to be silenced. They will be heard and their cry for freedom and democracy will resonate around the world.