The Iranian regime's approach towards women's rights is an appalling testament to their deeply entrenched misogyny and disregard for human dignity. Through systematic repression and abuse, the regime has created a society where women are subject to discrimination, restriction, and the denial of basic human rights. For far too long, the international community has opted for appeasement when dealing with the Iranian regime, pursuing a futile policy of ‘constructive engagement’. This approach of compromise and negotiation has only emboldened the mullahs, allowing them to pursue their destructive and repressive agenda unchallenged. It is time to break free from the shackles of appeasement and acknowledge the necessity of regime change as the only viable solution for lasting peace in the region.

The Iranian regime's systemic repression of women has long been a cornerstone of their rule. From forcing women to adhere to strict dress codes to limiting their access to employment, and political participation, the regime acts as an enforcer of patriarchal oppression. Such practices not only violate the principles of equality and freedom, but also undermine progress and opportunity for women in Iran. Perhaps one of the regime's most odious acts is the constant denial of women's basic human rights. Women in Iran are subjected to domestic violence, sexual discrimination, and arbitrary arrests without due process. Add to this the grossly unfair legal system, where women face unequal treatment, harsh punishments, and a lack of legal recourse, and it becomes painfully evident that change is long overdue.

In January, a young woman, Roya Heshmati, 33, was sentenced to the vicious punishment of 74 lashes, on the fictitious charge of improper veiling. She was accused of encouraging permissiveness by refusing to cover her hair. Showing incredible courage, Ms Heshmati continued to defy the strict dress code even as she was taken to be whipped in Tehran, refusing to wear the veil. This cruel and degrading punishment was simply the latest manifestation of the repressive treatment of women by the theocratic regime. The brutal murder in custody of the young Kurdish girl, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, by the so-called ‘morality police’ in September 2022, again for the alleged offence of not properly covering her hair, ignited a nationwide uprising that raged for almost nine months. 

Protests erupted in towns and cities in Iran and around the world in support of Iranian women who courageously took to the streets chanting ‘With or without hijab, onwards to revolution," in a show of defiance. In a vicious crackdown, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – the regime’s Gestapo, and their militia thugs the Basij, killed more than 750 mostly young Iranian protesters, many of them women. Over 30,000 were arrested. In a wave of hangings, the criminal regime has executed many prisoners of conscience and protesters who took part in the nationwide uprising, as well as prisoners who were underage when they were arrested. Those executed are routinely brutally tortured into making false confessions. Dozens of prisoners on death row are currently being transferred to solitary cells to await execution. In December last year the European Parliament posthumously awarded Mahsa Amini the Sakharov Prize for Freedom. Her family were prohibited from attending the ceremony in Strasbourg by the regime.

Also, last December, Narges Mohammadi, among other prominent jailed women’s rights advocates In Iran, was awarded the 2023 Nobel peace prize. The brave Ms Mohammadi is serving multiple sentences in Tehran’s medieval Evin prison, amounting to about 12 years’ imprisonment, on charges that include spreading propaganda against the state. Mohammadi, who has campaigned for women’s rights and the abolition of the death penalty and an improvement of prison conditions inside Iran, said the Nobel prize would surely make her “more resilient, determined, hopeful and enthusiastic on this path”, and “it will accelerate my pace,” she added.

Iran's regime continues its relentless crackdown on women at an alarming pace. The case of Maryam Akbari-Monfared is particularly telling. Maryam, 48, has been serving a 15-year prison sentence since 2009 on the bogus charge of Moharebeh imposed solely because she had contacted her relatives who are members of the main opposition group PMOI outside Iran. Since 2016, she has faced increased harassment in prison after she filed a complaint with the Judiciary from inside prison demanding to know why her siblings were executed during the 1988 massacre. In 2021, she was exiled to a prison far away from her children. Prison guards have since told her that she will not be released until she retracts her call for justice for her siblings. In December she was sentenced to a further three years in prison, meaning she won't be released when her original 15-year sentence finishes later this year.

Roya, Mahsa, Narges, and Maryam are only four of the millions of brave women in Iran who have relentlessly fought against the oppressive regime, often at great personal sacrifice and risk. They have organized protests, challenged discriminatory laws, and created grassroots movements to bring attention to their plight. It is our duty in the West to stand in solidarity with these courageous women and to amplify their demand for regime change and for a new era of gender equality and justice. A democratic Iran would have the opportunity to rebuild its social fabric and create laws that promote gender parity in all aspects of life. The establishment of a democratic government would ensure that women are seen as equal citizens, with full rights, opportunities, and protections under the law.

It is incumbent upon the international community to take a strong stance against the Iranian regime's egregious violations of women's rights. Western governments should prioritize the support of Iranian women, engaging with opposition groups that champion gender equality. The key democratic opposition movement spearheading the campaign for regime change is in fact led by a woman. The National Council of Resistance of Iran and its charismatic leader and president-elect Mrs Maryam Rajavi, have spent decades risking their lives in the fight to restore freedom, justice, human rights and women’s rights to Iran.  They deserve our unequivocal support.

The Iranian regime’s history is stained by a series of dangerous activities that threaten regional stability and global security. From its support for proxy militias across the Middle East and sponsorship of terrorism to its pursuit of nuclear weapons, Iran has consistently demonstrated its disregard for international norms and commitments. Appeasing the mullahs with the hope of coaxing positive change has proven futile. Empowering the Iranian population to achieve their objective of political change will not only enhance their socio-economic prospects but also eliminate the fascist mullahs' grip on power and usher in a new era of freedom and fundamental rights for women and men.

The path of appeasement has only emboldened Iran and allowed it to wreak havoc both regionally and globally. The time for change has come. Supporting the Iranian opposition and their courageous Resistance Units and conducting international efforts to facilitate regime overthrow should be at the forefront of our strategy. By doing so, we can pave the way for a more stable and democratic Iran, eradicating the threat to regional security once and for all.