About 100 people have died in protests in Iran, thousands were injured. Young and old people, men and a particularly large number of women are opposing heavily armed officials and Islamist militiamen on motorbikes, who are speeding through crowds at more than 100 kilometers per hour, swinging iron bars.
We in Europe seem to know the topic from our social discourses, in the media, on social networks. in discussions with the „identity left“! It’s all about the headscarf again, isn’t it? The protests show that it really is an instrument of oppression, some say. And the others retorted indignantly that there were real headscarf feminists on the street. Both sides of this debate are somehow right. But both are also wrong. Because what matters is not the headscarf, but what happens underneath.
A lot has changed also for women in Saudi Arabia, although the situation is of course not comparable with Iran. Here, they have become more visible, now working side by side with their male colleagues in government, in the catering trade, at passport control at airports, occasionally also in the management echelons of large companies or as entrepreneurs. Women open gyms, that have never existed before in the country, where women don’t sweat on the usual exercise machines, but get in shape by dancing. Courses in Zumba, pole dance and acrobatics are offered on several floors. Or “Burlesque Fitness” in the “Moulin Rouge” themed room.
In Iran, what women are currently achieving is almost unbelievable. With their rebellion against the comprehensive marginalization of Iranian women, they not only deliver a continuation of the protest series that has not stopped since 2017, they not only demonstrated the fundamental need for change in Iranian society on a specific topic. Above all, they have achieved a spread of resistance to almost all classes, across ethnic and social boundaries and gender differences anyway.
Where people are oppressed in a certain way, nobody is free, but everyone is the subject of a system of coercion, even as an apparent profiteer. Women often recognize this much earlier and more clearly than others. Not only in the dictatorships of Latin America or Russia, where it is often mothers’ organizations that rebel most persistently. In Muslim countries in particular, women matter.
In the so-called “Arab Spring” of 2011, women led protests against Middle Eastern dictatorships, particularly in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt. Women in particular are prosecuting the atrocities of the Syrian regime in European courts. And it is also women in the ranks of Kurdish militias who kicked out IS. But where the struggle for the democratization of the Muslim world is going on almost unnoticed these days, namely in Sudan, women are once again driving the resistance against the dictatorship.
Gone are the days when Saudi women had to wear a long overgarment, the abaya, when they left the house. Many Saudi women have been fascinated by the speed of change in their homeland, since Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman began using the crowbar to open up Saudi society. “The changes in Saudi Arabia and the rapid development are kind of scary – but in a wonderful way,” a Saudi female student in Berlin says. “I didn’t expect it to go so far so quickly. It’s incredible.” Laws have been passed under the direction of the Crown Prince to protect women from harassment. They have also been given the right to travel without a male guardian’s permission, to be treated equally in the workplace and to receive family documents from the government. The student in Berlin says that it was this new protection that allowed her mother to leave her father, flee her conservative, abusive environment and start a new life.
In Saudi Arabia, a careful and slow reform on female rights is carried out from the top to the bottom, whereas in a country like Iran, female and basic human rights have to be demanded from the bottom to the top. As the Mullah regime is denying any liberal rights, not only for women, but for all humans living in the Islamic regime, they take the lead in confronting the regime with those violations.
Women are the main driving force behind upheavals of the societies in the Muslim world. And not only under the banner of one’s own liberation, but again and again for the purpose of freedom for everyone and always at the top, contrary to the West, where the identity questions are always focusing on minority rights.
Whoever reduces the women of the Muslim world to the object status in a religiously conceived society is doing with them exactly what the most radical Islamists want right now – even if the reflex arises superficially from their own solidarity.
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