The death of Jina Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish-Iranian woman has sparked nationwide protests in Iran since September. Educators and students were amongst the first to go on strike in protest against the Islamic regime’s brutality and in support of Iranians fighting for their freedom.
As the voice of teachers and education workers around the world, Education International has expressed solidarity with the Iranian people and condemned the human rights violations of the Islamic regime. The call was echoed at the international level by the International Trade Union Confederation. At the national level, despite union efforts to raise awareness of the issue, Iranian-Dutch educator and unionist Khazar Lotfi reflects on how the societal response has fallen short of truly supporting the female-led resistance in Iran and the need to amplify it.
Education matters and it should never be misused to oppress or force people in any type of way. However, this and worse is precisely what is happening in Iran where the educational community is the target of repression by the Islamic regime. Schools are not protected and educational environments that should be safe havens of knowledge and growth have turned into battlegrounds by the regime’s forces who viciously beat down peaceful protesters, no matter their age.
“It is scary”, my cousin tells me. On the rare occasion that she manages to circumvent the digital restrictions of the authorities, she shares her worries and hopes for the country and its future. One of her current personal struggles is her twelve-year-old son who keeps insisting that they “do something” because the whole country is on fire. Not unlike many other children in Iran, he feels an urgency to contribute to the current uprisings. And not unlike many other parents in Iran, my cousin is worried for his life. According to activists and lawyers, at least 700 teenagers have been detained so far and more than 50 have been killed. Education Minister Yousef Nouri admitted that an undisclosed number of children are being held in “ psychology centers” for reform and reeducation, which are notoriously abusive. The situation in my homeland is dire, to say the least.
Ever since Jina Mahsa Amini‘s death over two months ago, the Iranian people have been protesting to reclaim their freedom from the Islamic regime that has been holding the country hostage since 1979. The 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman died in custody after suffering severe abuse by the morality police in Tehran at the beginning of September. Jina was arrested for wearing the hijab inappropriately according to the theocratical regime’s stern laws. Her death enraged Iranians who have been deprived of basic human rights for decades and sparked nationwide protests.
My cousin and I share the same blood but I have been spared the same struggles since my parents fled the Islamic Republic when I was three. I wonder if I would have been as indifferent to the country’s state as most of my colleagues and acquaintances are in the Netherlands were it not for my heritage. At the same time, I am also an educator and as such, I shiver when hearing reports of children being killed or seeing videos of students being attacked, beaten, and arrested on campus. I am reminded of our empty classrooms during covid, how eerie it was to walk through abandoned school buildings, and how saddened I felt to see a school without students. But at least I knew my students were free from violence. How terrible it must be to be an educator in Iran right now and fear for your students’ lives.
The Cooperative Council of Iranian Teachers Trade Associations was the first to openly call upon educators and students to go on strike in protest against the Islamic regime’s brutality. In an attempt to prevent the world from bearing witness to their horrific acts, the authorities in Iran have additionally imposed digital blackouts. This increases the urgency of international attention and awareness regarding the awful situation there. The current death toll is estimated at more than 400 and approximately 14,000 detained protesters are at risk of receiving the death penalty after 227 Iranian parliamentarians issued a statement calling for the execution of protesters.
It has been over seven years since I last visited my country of birth, hugged my aunts, or hung out with my cousins. Now, every image I see from Iran includes people that remind me of them. When I see girls burning their headscarves I am reminded of the time my cousin got arrested in the heat of summer for inappropriate attire (her trousers were too short, showing her ankles); when I see people dancing openly in the streets, I am reminded of the weddings I attended where all guests broke the law’s gender-segregation rules by dancing together and celebrating in secret while fearing a disruption by the regime’s officers; and when I see youth playing cards as a way of protesting it reminds me of my religious grandmother shuffling a deck of them to keep herself busy during the lonely hours she spends at home since all of her children fled the country in the 90s.
The female-led resistance in Iran is standing up against the misogynistic and violently repressive apparatus of the totalitarian regime but only a few people and media outlets in the West have adequately reported about them or their diaspora’s massive protests abroad, like the historical one in Berlin where at least 80,000 people gathered to express their support for the protestors. Particularly the Netherlands has remained cowardly quiet on the matter. From its ministers to its white feminists the protests have been either reduced to the issue of mandatory hijab in the Islamic republic or simply responded to by empty acts of symbolism, rather than any actual reprimands, neglecting the fact that women’s rights are human rights and include more than the mere right to self-determination regarding garments.
I understand that Iran has a complicated history for those who are unfamiliar with it, but as educators, we must educate as well as be educated and, no matter what, always speak up against injustice and oppression. Education matters and it should never be misused to oppress or force people in any type of way. As unionists, we should therefore amplify the voices of the teachers and students in Iran whose freedom and lives are under attack and stand up for their rights. We should listen, read, teach and never hesitate to stand up for what is right and to give voice to “woman, life, freedom!”
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.