In late February 2018, Maryam Shariatmadari stood atop a utility box in the streets of Tehran and took off her hijab, waving it like a flag with her hair flowing behind her, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran. Peacefully protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law, she was met with violence by state authority. A policeman violently pushed Shariatmadari to the ground, forcing her to require urgent surgery. Before she could reach the hospital, the 32-year-old computer science student was stopped by police and jailed without access to a lawyer or medical treatment for violating a law against encouraging immorality or prostitution. If convicted, she may face up to ten years in jail.

This is just one incident in a larger movement aimed toward the goal of female liberation in Iran. Since the passing of the mandatory hijab law in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution, there have been wave after wave of uprisings protesting it. In recent years, Iranian women have taken to social media to wage a battle against this law through online movements such as “My Stealthy Freedom”, which shares photographs of Iranian women “inside the country who want to share their ‘stealthily’ taken photographs without the veil,” according to the group’s Facebook page. Now, this radical new movement is moving offline and into the streets of Iran, where the government is fighting back without remorse, as seen most recently on International Women’s Day on March 8. 

IWD is regarded as a celebration of the “social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women,” according to the movement’s website

However, as people worldwide proudly marched in the streets on this day in solidarity for gender equality, the people of Iran found themselves facing the same kind of governmental repression Shariatmadari and countless activists before her faced in the name of female liberation. Over two dozen women activists were detained while staging a peaceful protest outside the Labor Ministry in Tehran, according to a Feb. 2 article in the Guardian. This is not the way a government should treat its people, especially a government which constantly claims to stand by values that would dictate otherwise. 

While Iranians were getting arrested for speaking up for female equality, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, took to Twitter to celebrate women in a manner contradictory to the actions of his law enforcement personnel. In a Twitter thread on March 8, Khamenei praised the ideal Iranian woman for her cultural independence and social involvement. He claimed,“The flag of women’s identity and cultural independence is at the hands of Iranian women,” and added, “The best people who can follow up and solve women’s issues are women themselves.” It is a step in the right direction that Khamenei values female voices, especially in regard to issues facing Iran’s female sector, such as domestic and sexual abuse. As part of his Twitter thread, he further mentioned, “A woman can have active presence and deep influence on social arenas … [including] protecting herself from abuse by men.”

However, these tweets were interspersed with tweets championing women for their “defined roles” as educators and mothers. For Iran’s Supreme Leader to recognize the worth of his country’s female sector is crucial, but it is not enough. Sentiments like these underscore the importance of days such as IWD, where we must recognize that women do not hold “defined roles” they are simply equals to men in every way. Khamenei’s sentiment does not align with the actions of Iranian law enforcement which has so quickly resorted to violence and arrest when faced with peaceful protest for female equality. Further, his stance on the aforementioned topic of abuse is laced with irony, for women in Iran are still subject to discrimination entrenched in the country’s laws: Women do not have equal family and criminal laws, nor do they have equal access to divorce. These are the laws that are meant to protect the country’s people, the laws that are meant to reinforce Khamenei’s rhetoric of the ideal Iranian woman. Yet not only are the laws failing to do just that but  they are also failing at the expense of innocent activists who are simply trying to foster the ideal Iranian society depicted in the more progressive segments of Khamenei’s Twitter feed.

This is not to say breaking the law is justified. Iran implemented its compulsory hijab requirement in 1979, and lawbreakers should be prepared to face punishment, as with any other law.  But the consequences of breaking this law and standing up for the values that Iran’s Supreme Leader himself desires for his country are too harsh. Ten years of jail time, a potential sentence for some of Iran’s most recent female activists like Maryam Shariatmadari, is equivalent to the sentence of owning a brothel. Respecting women and their influence in the social arena, as Khamenei says, includes respecting their voice and individuality. The current treatment of women in Iran disrespects these values and demands more than one day of solidarity and action. The protests happening across the nation are inspiring agents of change who will maintain the persistence and perseverance needed to liberate Iranian women from an oppressive regime that aims to quiet their voices. 

As an Iranian woman myself, I proudly stand by the actions of these ladies not just on International Women’s Day but every day.