Homa X: Women's struggle unites the peoples in Iran
The women's revolt in Iran, which is already going down in history, is now in its second week. The unprecedentedly widespread uprising is being led not by any opposition leader or politician, but directly by the people.
But what are the risks of the uprising's "lack of leadership" in Iran? What tools, other than weapons, does the regime have against this rebellion? What examples are there in the history of Iranian women's struggle?
The second part of our interview with Homa X, an Iranian women's rights defender who keeps her real name a secret and takes as her pseudonym the name of Homa Darabi, who poured gasoline on herself and set her body on fire on February 21, 1994 in Tehran to protest against the compulsory headscarf...
Is there a divide and polarization in Iran based on ethnic identities such as Persian, Kurdish, Azeri, Baluchi, etc.? How relevant is ethnic identity in daily life?
Iran is marked by invisible borders. These borders may be obvious or unseen. You can be exposed to Persians insulting Turks and Turks insulting Kurds with their choice of words and jokes. Of course, there are Lor, Baluchis, Arabs and you can hear racist remarks against them in everyday life. But the most humiliated and discriminated in Iran are the Baluchis. The ethnic division has been reflected in the protests before now. When Kurds were persecuted, Turks could say, "Oh, that's none of our business." Or when the Persians protested in Tehran, the Turks in Tabriz and the Kurds in Urumiyeh were mute. The various oppressed ethnic groups did not stand up for each other's rights. We see that this has also been overcome in the recent women's revolt. This in itself is a source of hope.
How do you think this barrier was overcome?
The policy of oppressing women concerns everyone. In addition, the recent protests started not in big cities, but mostly in small regions, spread and turned into a revolt that transcended ethnic and class identities. Tabriz is an economically prosperous city, mostly populated by Turkish people, where Kurds are not looked upon favorably, whereas in the recent protests there were slogans chanting "Azerbaijan is standing, on the side of Kurdistan." This is the first time we have heard such solidarity from Azerbaijanis towards Kurds in Tabriz. Tabriz is a very important city for the Iranian economy and every voice that rises from there affects Tehran in one way or another.
THE REGIME'S TRYING TO END THE UPRISING BY CREATING ETHNIC DIVISIONS
And what has been the attitude of the regime's supporters in recent events?
The regime has its own army of paid internet trolls. They are aware of the solidarity between ethnic groups, so they try to create polarization in this regard. By emphasizing Mahsa Amini's Kurdish identity, they started propagating on social media that the Kurds are actually using Amini as an excuse and that their main goal is to establish a separate state. For this reason, Mahsa's family has often felt compelled to make clear that "we are not separatists, we are supporters, our daughter is Iran's daughter." So they did not allow the state to use that. But on social media, the Iranian regime's trolls continue to spread propaganda along these lines. The regime is trying to put down the rebellion by creating divisions between ethnic identities. This has always been the case throughout history. They think that ethnic groups should fight each other so we can maintain our rule. This method has always worked so far, but this time it won't be (as) easy. Because, as I said, there is a common force that encompasses all, the women's struggle, and the women's struggle unites the peoples.
In the first part of our interview, you mentioned that the women's rebellion in Iran is the expression of a long period of frustration. Are the regime's policies against women the only source of this frustration?
No, economic policies and systematic human rights violations also play a major role. The inequality between social classes is very profound. Social segments loyal to the state are favored, while those who do not cooperate with it are oppressed in every way. In recent years, purchasing power has declined drastically. Civil servants can no longer make ends meet. Seven years ago the dollar cost 3,000 rials, now it costs 30,000 rials. Poverty is deep, freedom is not an option and discrimination is very visible. In Iran you can't talk about anything, you can't criticize anything.
"THE NEXT REBELLION WILL BE BY WOMEN"
How does the education system in Iran work?
You can't get a proper education. While public schools used to be free, now you have to pay a lot of money. You have to be rich to get an education, especially in higher learning. If you want to get a master's degree or a PhD, you have to pay a lot of money even in state universities. This deepens class inequality and perpetuates a system where only the rich can afford a decent education. Children from poor families in small towns cannot access education. And those who do get an education are mostly unemployed.
Was it anticipated that this profound inequality, injustice and oppression would sow the seeds of a new uprising?
Indeed, in Iran it has been said for years that "next time the rebellion will come from women." I don't know how this prediction was made, but it turned out to be accurate. Moreover, participation is very broad, not only in terms of ethnicity, but also generations. All women, from old age to new generations, are participating in the rebellion. We witnessed mothers taking their 10-12 year old daughters with them.
I should mention at this point that the legal age for marriage in Iran is 13 for girls and 15 for boys. Marriage of children under 13 is normally by court order, but in practice, since marriage by an imam is valid, a court order is not obtained. In other words, child abuse is practiced legally. On the other hand, a woman, regardless of her age, cannot marry without her father's permission. In case of divorce, the mother has custody of the children until the age of 7, but after the age of 7, the father has undisputed custody. Women do not have the right to work unless their fathers and husbands give their permission. This prevents women from gaining economic independence and makes them victims of domestic violence.
AFTER THE ISLAMIC REVOLUTION, WOMEN HAVE NOT COMPLETELY COWERED AND HAVE ALWAYS BEEN IN A STRUGGLE
It is also legal to marry more than one woman, right?
That's right, men can legally have four wives and perform unlimited 'imam marriages.' They perform these marriages under the guise of the "Sunnah of the Prophet," supposedly so that women are not left destitute. However, when these marriages produce a child, the child is not entitled to certain rights, such as inheritance rights.
If you were in Iran today, would you join the protests?
Of course I would. I have participated in protests before, but we couldn't do much because we were harshly crushed. I should also say that after the Islamic revolution, Iranian women have not completely cowered and have always been in a struggle. We should not ignore this.
WOMEN BEGAN TO GAIN THE SUPPORT OF FAMILY AND SOCIETY
Have these struggles led to concrete results for women?
Not in the political sphere, but in the social sphere, women have achieved at least some successes against the further narrowing of their space. After the revolution, girls were forced by their families to cover their heads from preschool on. But now the girls refuse to cover themselves, and they have the support of their families. Just having the support of their families is a great achievement in itself. With the support of their families, women have begun to gain rights that Iranian law does not grant women in marriage. For example, when I got married, I went to a notary and signed a contract with my husband in which he waived several legal "rights," including my right to travel abroad. When my older sister got married, that was out of the question. But now there are many women who sign such contracts. The grooms' families are resisting, but so are the women's families. Women are gradually gaining the support of society, and we see the concrete result of this in the recent uprising. Therefore, Iran will not be the same Iran for women.
Did women in Iran immediately lose all their rights after the revolution?
No, it happened gradually, step by step, not all at once. For example, it was not compulsory to cover up immediately after the revolution, but after four or five years it became compulsory. It will probably take some time to regain the expropriated rights. It is very important not to be silent and to be vigilant, to be aware that the small rights that are taken away from you actually mean big losses in the long run. But it also takes experience and education to understand the importance of choosing not to remain silent. The communication age has allowed people to learn about other societies and to let the new generations know what is happening in the world. Therefore, you cannot bury the heads of children born in this age in the sand, even if you are a repressive regime like Iran.
When women's rights were curtailed after the revolution, weren't there women who were aware of this and fought back?
There were, and these women fought hard and suffered a lot. They suffered because there was no social power to support them. They were alone.
THERE WERE EVEN WOMEN WHO BURNED THEMSELVES TO DEATH AGAINST COMPULSORY HEADSCARF
What happened to those women?
They either fled the country, went to prison, or gave up. But there were even women who burned themselves to death in a public square. Prof. Homa Darabi, for example, whose name I chose to use for this interview, was a doctor, a pediatrician who had studied in America. She had returned to Iran before the revolution and worked as a professor. But in 1991, she was expelled from the university where she worked on the grounds that she was not complying with the headscarf requirement. Although the court overturned that decision three years later, the university did not readmit Darabi. On February 21, 1994, Darabi removed her headscarf in Tehran's famous Tajrish Square, doused herself with gasoline in full view of the public, set herself on fire, and took her own life.
Darabi, who had also fought against the Pahlavis during the Shah's rule, campaigned vehemently for the abolition of the compulsory headscarf. She and women's rights activists like her knew very well what the compulsory headscarf would take away from women. They fought a lot, they shouted a lot, but there was no one with the awareness to listen to them and understand them.
Today's generation has gained this awareness thanks to the Internet, and today they are demanding freedom on the streets of Iran. I think it is very important that people in Turkey have this awareness as well. The cost of a small loss of rights can be very high for the next generations. We have seen this in Iran. We are paying the price for the struggle that our predecessors did not fight.
How accurate is it to attribute the transformation of the new generation only to the Internet and new communication technologies?
Of course, we cannot ignore the contribution of the minor struggles of our predecessors, but the communications revolution is too powerful and effective for even repressive regimes like the one in Iran to stand in its way. Imagine that our generation, though indoctrinated by the regime from birth, did not and does not fit the mold the regime wants. Before the Internet, it only mattered what the father said, what the official education system said, what the monophonic media said. The new generation was born into a completely different world, and the traditional policies of the state are not enough to squeeze them into the old world.
NEW GENERATIONS CARE ABOUT WHAT THEY WANT, NOT WHAT THE STATE WANTS
In Turkey, Islamists complain about their own children's lack of faith. Is there such an agenda in Iran?
The new generations are questioning faith as well. I started questioning faith when I was a teenager, and my younger sister did it even earlier than I did. The new generations don't care about what the state wants, they care about what they themselves want, and they are stubborn about it. You see, in Iran, the punishment for killing a man is execution. But if a man kills a woman, the woman's family has to pay a certain amount of money to the killer's family so that he can be executed.
How do you mean?
I mean that a woman is considered half of a man, half of a human being. In order for a murderer, a "full human being," to be executed, the person he killed must also be "full." Therefore, the woman's family pays money to the murderer's family to make their murdered daughter "complete," and only then can the murderer be executed in return. In such an age, is it possible to convince people of such a punitive system, of such a regime? Especially the new generations!
THIS REVOLT WILL BE THE BEGINNING, NOT THE END
What do your family, relatives, acquaintances you are in touch with have to say about the current uprising?
People in Iran are in a state of restless joy. We, who are abroad, try to look a little more rationally from a distance and think, "This uprising is going nowhere for the time being." "There is still a long way to go," we say. However, those inside the uprising are not as pessimistic as we are. They say, "No, it will work this time, we are close to freedom." Unfortunately, I think it's too early to be hopeful. People are angry, they are furious, and they are ready to show their anger at every opportunity. But there is no leader and no program to manage that anger. When this regime falls, what will take its place, what do people want, what kind of system do they envision? There is not a mastermind to orchestrate this whole process. If those who revolt made a revolution, there is a danger that they will lose the revolution because there is no opposition. I think this revolt will be the beginning, not the end. Probably after this revolt, ideological discussions will begin, even if underground, and only then will a revolt be able to create hope.