3rd Dec 2023


The fight of Iranian women is a fight against patriarchal violence

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A month ago, the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Iran — following her arrest by the country's Guidance Patrol (the "Gašt-e eršād" also known as Iran's morality police) — triggered a national uprising. The initial outrage against the forced wearing of the veil, mostly expressed and made visible by women, quickly slid into a more general contestation of a regime that denies women their most basic rights.

The movement, which has since been joined by calls for more democracy and a political change, has been violently repressed by the authorities with Amnesty International reporting at least 240 lives lost to police violence — including 23 youth aged 11 to 17 — at the time of writing this article. And yet, women are still leading the fight with the slogan "Women! Life! Freedom!" echoing in the streets of many Iranian cities. The fight Iranian women started is a fight against patriarchal violence.

Patriarchal violence, a consequence of power structures

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Patriarchal violence is defined by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women as a collective term for the violence that is experienced throughout the world and that is rooted in the patriarchal power structures it defends. Patriarchal violence exists — in one form or another — in all countries of the Euro-Mediterranean region covered by EuroMed Rights' mandate. This patriarchal power structure dictates what women must wear, must do, must say and how they must behave.

In Iran, but more generally across the Euro-Mediterranean region, conservative and religious movements use cultural and religious arguments to dispute demands of reform from feminist and women's rights activists.

These movements, which find renewed strength in populist candidates, aim to deny women their bodily autonomy and bodily rights. They operate by restricting possibilities for women's organisations to receive funding while increasing the emphasis on women's traditional role as caretakers rather than political actors.

These conservative and religious movements reduce the relative but decisive progress achieved in some countries and in recent years by civil society following the Arab revolutions of 2011. Government crackdowns have multiplied in recent years as evidenced by the multiplicity of backlashes recorded by EuroMed Rights in Middle East and North Africa in its recently developed gender backlash map.

Patriarchal violence, a reality across the Euro-Mediterranean region

The most obvious example comes from Turkey where the withdrawal of the country from the Istanbul Convention has removed an essential legislative piece to protect women.

But backlashes against women's rights can start with smaller, less mediatised actions. In Tunisia for instance, the new electoral law adopted by a decree from conservative President, Kais Saied, drops the strict parity requirement for all electoral lists that existed in previous elections. A small decision which contributes to making women less visible on the political stage.

This comes in addition to Article 5 of Tunisia's new Constitution which compels the Tunisian state to "achieve the purposes of Islam in preserving the soul, honour, property, religion, and freedom". Many human rights organisations, including some members of EuroMed Rights, have expressed concerns that such an article could be used to restrict human rights in general and women's rights in particular.

This conservatism is at play on both shores of the Mediterranean. In Italy, abortion rights could be at risk following the election of the extreme-right coalition led by Fratelli d'Italia to the government. Georgia Meloni's party has already impeded abortion access in the region it controls, forcing many women to travel across the country to access abortion services. The election of Lorenzo Fontana, very well known for his anti-gender position, as president of the national Parliament shows the very dangerous directions Italy is taking.

From Iran to the Euro-Mediterranean region, feminist and women's rights organisations mobilise tirelessly to defend their rights and oppose any encroachment over hardly won rights. Their fight must be commended and supported by all who believe in an equality of rights for all.

The fight of Iranian women today is also the fight of all women worldwide against patriarchal violence.

Author bio

Raquel Reyes i Raventós is the coordinator of the Women’s rights and gender justice programme at EuroMed Rights. She holds a Master on Human Sciences and a Specialised master in gender studies. She has been working with several NGOs on the humanitarian and development cooperation, with experience in Latin America, South-East Asia and the Middle East and Northern Africa region.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


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