Generation Z continues to protest the death of Mahsa Amini
Iranian protesters set their headscarves on fire while marching down a street on October 1 in Tehran, Iran. Photo: Getty Images
As protests in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini enter their second month, one of the distinguishing features between this wave of protests and past movements has been the prominent role of Gen Z protesters, especially young women. .
The big picture: Protesters have faced increasingly harsh government repression, including deadly violence by security forces, internet restrictions and mass arrests. But young people continue to take to the streets — and find ways to protest online — to demand greater social freedoms and a government that better serves the interests of the Iranian public.
Catch up fast: The protests began in mid-September, just days after Amini died while in the custody of Iranian vice police, who arrested the 22-year-old for allegedly violating a religious law requiring women to wear headscarves. Authorities say Amini was not abused – a claim her family has questioned.
- Since then, protests have spread to dozens of cities across Iran and around the world.
- Videos have proliferated in recent weeks of girls and young women defiantly removing and waving their headscarves in Iranian schools and on the streets, shouting “death to the dictator”, in reference to 83-year-old Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
- In a town outside Tehran, school-aged girls reportedly chased an education official from their school. “If we don’t unite, they will kill us one by one,” Karaj teenage girls shouted in a video, verified by the BBC.
Iran Human Rights Association estimated on Monday that 27 children were among at least 215 people killed in the protests since they began.
- The deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps said earlier this month that the average age of most of those arrested during the protests was 15.
- For their part, Khamenei and other Iranian officials have, without evidence, blamed the protests on outside forces — a claim that protesters and their supporters have repeatedly denied.
- Iran’s education minister said last week that some schoolchildren had been arrested during the protests and taken to “psychological institutions”, Iran’s independent reformist newspaper Shargh reported. He said students can “return to the school environment after being reformed”.
Driving the news: Women have always been part of protest movements in Iran, but the young age of many protesters as well as the fact that they are led by women sets this wave of protests apart from the past, analysts say.
- The uniqueness of the situation is that “young women, in particular, are leading this and the barrier of fear is broken – that we don’t just see this in the big cities but in many small towns across Iran “, Merissa Khurma, program director of the Middle East program at the Wilson Center, tells Axios.
Young Generation Z Protesters also “don’t seem to have the same fears or trepidations as previous generations,” says Assal Rad of the Iranian-American National Council. She notes that the participation of school children is a distinction from the green movement of 2009, a months-long pro-democracy movement sparked by the disputed results of the 2009 presidential election.
- This is partly due to their age, as “they are less risk averse than older people”, but also because they did not experience the events that shaped older generations, such as the 1979 revolution. and the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, says Rad.
- The youngsters have been galvanized because “they see their future at stake,” Rad told Axios.
State of play: Gen Z Iranians also have more ways to protest and know more ways to circumvent restrictions than many did in protests in years past.
- “That’s how we see these videos. That’s how we see these protests,” Rad says.
- This access to different forms of information and about the outside world has helped fuel various forms of protest — like song and poetry — as well as Gen Z’s enthusiasm for protest, Khurma says.
- “They see a different world that they don’t live in, and so they are able to better understand injustices, inequalities,” she says. “They’re more empowered, they’re more confident, they’re less likely to take risks to express themselves.”
What to watch: Although a complete reversal of government restrictions is unlikely to happen – as that would imply a complete collapse of the government – Rad predicts that the continued protests will force the government to ease some restrictions.
- “There’s no going back to the same status quo because I think those taboos have been broken,” Rad says.
- “The reality is if they continue civil disobedience, there’s not much the state can do, you know? What can a state do if 20 million women decide they don’t aren’t going to do something, arrest a quarter of the country?”