We owe it to the brave women of Iran to stand up against the regime’s brutality
In 2016, a desperate sounding man called my office asking for help as his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, had been unlawfully detained in Iran while visiting her family.
What followed was a six-year campaign to release one of the bravest women I’ve ever met and, eventually, my constituent Nazanin came back home to London earlier this year.
While I can celebrate that Nazanin is free from Iran, the truth is that the women of Iran are not free. On the six-month anniversary of Nazanin’s freedom, a young woman called Mahsa Amini was arrested by the so-called Guidance Patrol in Tehran for allegedly failing to wear the hijab properly. The 22-year-old died in hospital under suspicious circumstances.
Having dealt with the Iranian regime during the six years of Nazanin’s ordeal, I know how frightening they can be
Mahsa Amini’s tragic death sparked an ongoing series of protests and civil unrest against the Iranian government, and I have watched in awe and fear the images of those women who are risking their lives for their freedom.
Having dealt with the Iranian regime during the six years of Nazanin’s ordeal, I know how frightening it can be, and I have so much admiration for the incredible bravery shown by women in Iran in their uprising. After Nazanin came home, she was invited to No 10 by then prime minister Boris Johnson and I accompanied her. As she told the former prime minister about her encounters with the Iranian authorities, she called them the “scariest people in the world”.
We can’t leave it to the young women of Iran to fight the scariest people in the world on their own. We owe it to the women of Iran to make it clear that their regime’s treatment of women isn’t acceptable and that the censorship of the morality police has no place in the 21 century.
I am glad that the United Kingdom government has sanctioned Iranian officials for using the threat of violence and detention to police women’s clothing and behaviour. It was also reassuring to hear ministers say that they are applying pressure internationally to remove Iran from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
These are very welcome steps, but they need to be amplified and expanded upon. In every interaction the UK government has with Iran, the freedom of women in Iran and their treatment by the regime must be highlighted.
These protests aren’t about how a woman dresses or whether she chooses to cover her hair. It’s about having the choice to do so. It’s about her choice and her ownership over her body and her life.
As a woman who was raised by Muslim parents, I was surrounded by female family and friends who were navigating their own identities unapologetically. I was never told how to dress or how to behave. If I had been, I can only hope to have been brave enough to stand up for myself and my fellow women.
Mahsa Amini died on 16 September 2022, the day I turned 40. I looked at the photos of her beautiful face and thought how unjust it was that her family and friends will never celebrate her 40th birthday with her. I thought about how she’ll miss out on finishing university and how she’ll never become a lawyer as she had aspired to be.
As I met friends for my birthday dinner, I told them that it felt like a watershed moment for all Muslim women around the world. As a British politician, I feel like we all need to play our part in shaping the future for these brave Iranian women, so that all young girls – including my daughter and Nazanin’s daughter who both have Muslim heritage – know that the world is theirs too.
Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn.
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