Iran has been rocked by protests following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman. Since 1981, under Iranian law, women must cover their hair and neck with a hijab. Amini was arrested by Iran’s morality police, who said she had broken laws on wearing the hijab. Taken to a detention centre, she collapsed and fell into a coma. She died 3 days later in a Tehran hospital, on September 16th.
Tehran police and the Iranian authorities have stated that Amini died of sudden heart failure. However, witnesses have claimed she was beaten by officers. Her funeral took place on September 18th, which was the trigger for demonstrations to erupt across Iran. Unrest had already been building in the country since mid-August. At that time, the government signed an order which cracked down on what is deemed ‘improper’ clothing.
Protests have continued across the country, with many deaths and injuries. Despite a heavy restriction on internet access being enforced to quell further unrest, images and videos have appeared on TikTok, Instagram and other social media. Police stations have been attacked, vehicles destroyed, and headscarves torched. Women have also been cutting their hair as a symbol of their protest, solidarity and grief.
The Politics of Hair
Hair has long been a symbol of protest and expression. In recent history, think the anti-war hippies of the 60s and early 70s with long, natural locks. Around the same time, the world saw the afro styles that accompanied the Black Is Beautiful movement. Later on, came the anti-establishment punks and skinheads with their mohawks and No. 2 clips. Go back over 200 years to Revolutionary France and the practice was in evidence there too. In the late 1790s there were what were termed bals a la victime (victim’s balls). At these secret balls young aristocratic men and women wore their hair cropped short. This mirrored the cuts the victims of the guillotine had prior to their execution, to ensure the blade cut cleanly. A symbolic protest that allowed them to mourn and remember their families and friends.
When women cut their hair to protest, it is an incredibly powerful and compelling way to express anger, grief and solidarity. It is no surprise that the public cutting of hair is being used to give voice to the anger about the death of Mahsa Amini and the right of women to express themselves as they see fit.
The Death of Mahsa Amini - Social Media
With a clampdown on news reporting, stories of the protests are emerging via social media. It is impossible not to admire the incredible bravery of the Iranians involved in these demonstrations. In one TikTok video with 388 thousand views, a woman can be seen standing in front of a crowd cheering and clapping as her locks are cut.
@viceworldnews A woman cut her hair in front of crowds of people in Iran as protests continued following the death of Mahsa Amini. #iran #tehran #hijab #mahsaamini #womensrights #womenoftiktok #hijabian #iranian #protest #hairtok ♬ original sound - VICE World News
Another TikTok post, this time with over a million views, shows Iranian women and men filming themselves cutting their own hair at home. A maelstrom of emotions are displayed: rage, frustration, despair and defiance.
@baybaby650 Who do you call when the police is the MURDER?#mahsa_amini #helpiran #iraniantiktok #iraniangirl #مهسا_امینی #persian ♬ Je te laisserai des mots - Patrick Watson
And across the world, thousands of women are showing their solidarity with Iranian women by cutting their hair too.
In another video with over a million views, a young girl cuts off her hair. The post is powerfully captioned - “I won’t wear my hair if other girls can’t wear theirs.”
@nunwithagunn I won’t wear my hair if other girls can’t wear theirs ❤️ #mahsaamini #justiceforiran #feminism #hijabfreedom #girlssupportgirls #fypシ ♬ original sound - Nunwithagun
Meanwhile, in Canada, a group of protesters cut their hair in front of a crowd of people in Toronto.
@nbcnews A number of protesters in #Toronto, #Canada, cut their hair in front of a crowd of people to show solidarity with #MahsaAmini and women protesting over her death and their rights in #Iran ♬ original sound - nbcnews
Many of the thousands protesting across the globe are not of Iranian descent. They just want to stand with the women of Iran and make sure that Mahsa Amini’s story is heard.
The Current Situation
Inside Iran, the protests continue. Footage shows some protestors chanting the slogan ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ across the country. Meanwhile the government is trying to wrest back control with riot police and water cannon. The internet blackout is also being continued. They have promised a thorough investigation into Amini’s death. Meanwhile,Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has expressed his sorrow through representatives.
Current estimates of the death toll during the unrest are around 75. Iranian officials have also said there have been over 1,200 arrests. Many suspect these figures are conservative. We can only hope that the protests are resolved peacefully, and a way is found to address these issues without further loss or life or injury. Mahsa Amini's death should not be for nothing.
Our thoughts are with Amini’s family and the people of Iran at this time.