Iran: Woman, Life, Freedom

New Series: Volume 3, Issue 1

19 February 2023

Editorial: Woman, Life, Freedom

Pardis Asadi Zeidabadi

Iranian women have been struggling for freedom and equality for almost 150 years. The recent killing of a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman Zhina (Mahsa) Amini by the so-called “morality police” for allegedly not wearing the compulsory Islamic hijab “properly” has ignited ongoing waves of protests in Iran and around the world. The country’s fearless women and girls have been chanting Women, Life, Freedom and leading the fight for change. Women and girls in Iran have been burning their forced hijab as a symbolic gesture of their insistence on gaining freedom. Women around the world (particularly politicians and celebrities) have been cutting their hair to show solidarity with the protesters in Iran.

This special issue of Discover Society explains the current protests in Iran from different angles. In the first article, I explain the characteristics of these protests and argue that they contribute to a democratic system within which everyone is treated equally regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion and class. The second article by Nadia Aghtaie examines how the morality police In Iran deprive women from making free choices and constitutes a form of violence against women.

The third article by Atlas Torbati explores the role of generation Z as the driving force behind the current protests in Iran. It explains how young people question the Islamic state by organising and holding mass street protests even in the face of deadly crackdowns. The fourth article is by Zahra Tizro exploring how the politics around the Hijab has involved trauma for Iranian women through Iranian history.

The article by Farshad Kashani examines the Iranian legal system in relation to the hijab. It describes how the enactment of compulsory hijab laws become a legal crisis for the Islamic Republic of Iran. The final article by Mastoureh Fathi examines a new notion of home, which she calls “the virtual home”. She argues how the current protests in Iran leads to “the virtual home” as a unifying shared space that enables Iranians outside the country to become closer to those inside, and reattached their broken ties to the homeland.

Welcome to our virtual Iranian home.

Discover Society is pleased to feature the illustrations of Roshi Rouzbehani as the header images for this series of articles. Roshi is, an Iranian freelance illustrator based in London, UK.  She is passionate about gender equality and puts women’s empowerment and sisterhood at the centre of her work. We thank her for allowing us to use her images for which she holds the copyright.

Pardis Asadi Zeidabadi, is a researcher and visiting lecturer at City, University of London. Her PhD thesis is about “the perspectives of Iranian feminists and women activists on their political identities and priorities”. Twitter: @Pardisasadi1


Asadi Zeidabadi, Pardis 2023 ‘Editorial: Woman, Life, Freedom’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):

Democracy and the Feminist Uprising in Iran

Pardis Asadi Zeidabadi

The protests in Iran have unique characteristics that differentiate them from previous protests. Public support for this movement is more prevalent than any other protest since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. People of different gender, ethnicities, religions, class, political perspectives and ages have participated in the protests to challenge the red lines imposed by the state. Importantly, people from different backgrounds have participated in self-organized protests without the direction of particular leaders.

This inclusivity and diversity is of fundamental importance as the history of Iran shows, where civil society has not yet fully developed. The state has often considered the expansion of political and civil rights as ‘un-Islamic’ and, as such, threatening to the foundation of the state’s ideological and political bases (Abootalebi, 2000). The inclusivity and diversity involved in the movement is a key factor that contributes to civic culture and a step toward democracy (Tohidi, 2016).

Democratic values, such as pluralism and tolerance of diversity, have developed within this movement while the effective grassroots women’s movement for improving women’s rights and building a secular and democratic political state also contributes to the process of democratization.

Women’s position in Iran 

Women’s rights are severely restricted in Iran. Iranian women experience varying degrees of discrimination in many aspects of their personal and public lives, mostly driven from legalised gender inequalities.

While patriarchal systems have origins beyond a specific religion, the Islamic state and practices in Iran have greatly boosted them. The restriction and erosion of women’s rights has increased since the 1979 Revolution, when women’s rights were among the first targeted by the Islamic regime that took over the country.

In fact, in the context of Iran, the identity of the Islamic state is strongly linked to women’s bodies and the constructions of gender. The Islamic state of Iran has highlighted gender as part of its global image. The government stresses that men and women have different roles and reinforces the necessity of modesty to promote its own political interests (Asadi Zeidabadi, 2022).

In particular, for the Islamic state, the hijab signals this redefinition of the gender structure and Iranian women play an important role in representing the Islamic state’s identity. The female body is the focal point for political project of the Islamists (Papanek, 2019). Control of women and the female body is one of the most important project for the state. This suggests women have been the most deprived group and have been subjected to the worse human rights’ violation (Asadi Zeidabadi, 2022).

Women’s rights and legal barriers

There are a number of governmental state regulations that clearly discriminate against women. Based on Islamic law, the life of a woman is considered literally worth half the life of a man. A woman’s blood money (money paid in compensation to the family of someone who has been killed) is valued less than a man’s in murder cases. Girls get half their share of inheritance compared to that of their brothers. In court, women’s legal testimonies are valued less than a man’s and, in some cases, worth nothing unless corroborated by a man.

The hijab became obligatory for all Iranian women from April 1983. Since then, all women have been legally obliged to wear hijab in public, even non-Muslims and foreigners visiting Iran. This law is used by the state to control women’s bodies and has been promoted as one of the most pervasive and visible indicators of the Islamic state’s gender policy.

Abortion is banned for women and is illegal. The state restricts public health-care providers from offering free contraception. Buying contraception from private clinics is too expensive and unaffordable for many Iranians.

Women musicians and singers can be prosecuted, if they are deemed “immoral” under Islamic law. It is notable that the definition of morality is pretty vague in the legal system. Similarly, women’s public dancing is illegal in Iran.

Polygamy is legal in Iran, and in the legal framework divorce is only a right for men. They can divorce their wives with a simple declarations and retain custody of their children. Conversely, women have very limited right to petition for a divorce and it is difficult (if not impossible) for mothers to keep custody of their children.

According to Article 1117 of the Islamic Civil Code, a husband may deny his wife the right to work if he thinks that her job is incompatible with his or his wife’s dignity, or with the interests of the family. This is one among many other discriminatory laws have contributed to women’s low  labour force participation (only 17% of women in Iran participate in the labor force , one of the lowest worldwide) despite their exceptionally high rate of participation in higher education (more than 60% of university graduates in Iran are women).

Women cannot receive a passport without the written approval of their fathers, husbands or grandfathers, or uncles. The right to travel overseas is also restricted as married women are not allowed to leave the country without their husband’s (or the local prosecutor in special cases) consent. No surgery can be performed on women without the approval of their male “guardian.”

From this quick glimpse into legal position of women in Iran, it is clear that they live in a secondary position to men.

Iranian feminists and women activists

While the activities of feminists and women activists have been largely suppressed by the Islamic regime – with many women rights activists either arrested, sentenced to lengthy prison terms or forced to leave the country – they have been steadfast in challenging the existing inequalities. Feminists and women activists have been constantly questioning structural sex and gender discrimination while seeking change via different forms of activities, protests and efforts including One Million Signatures, My Stealthy Freedom, White Wednesdays, and Girls of Enghelab street campaigns.

The government’s arrests and repression of feminists and women activists is significant because it indicates that the State is fearful of the impact of their resistance, and that they are seen as a real threat to the regime’s authority.

The characteristics of the latest protests in Iran

For the first time on a large scale, Iranian men have accompanied Iranian women to advocate for their rights. This is an important moment for solidarity of Iranian people, who fight for women’s rights regardless of their gender and this suggests that gender egalitarianism has culturally improved in Iran despite all legal barriers.  Standing with women, shoulder to shoulder, and saying the slogan ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ has the potential to educate and awaken individuals to inequalities in both private and public spheres.

This feminist uprising has inspired people from other marginalized backgrounds including ethnic minorities (such as Kurdish, Turkish and Baloch), gender and sexual and religious minorities to join to the protests and call for a fair society. These minority groups who have  been marginalized and suppressed by Islamic state for many years and have had enough of intolerance for differences are now challenging the system. Along with Iranian women they call for a democratic system that appreciates pluralism and diversity. Notably, despite the previous protests, the latest protests and movement is not a reform movement seeking to negotiate with the regime. Rather, it is a movement that calls for a fundamental change.

Unlike previous protests that took place in 2009, 2017 and 2019, this movement’s main source of discontent is neither political nor economic decisions. However, individuals from a lower economic backgrounds and different political perspectives have joined to this movement and chanting ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’. In addition, for the first time the movement ha sbecome a global movement that involves both national and international celebrities–  from artists, movie stars, to athletes and social influencers – to condemn the current gender policies in Iran and indicate their support for the movement.

The Iranian diaspora’s support also play a role in the movement and millions of people with ties to Iran (born in Iran or those who are of Iranian ancestry) have staged protests in solidarity with women in Iran. For example, in an unprecedented event, on 1st Oct, Iranian diasporic communities and human rights activists launched unprecedented rallies in over 150 cities throughout the world to support protesters in Iran. Iranian academics and researchers across the globe advocate the movement and women’s right in Iran via different activities including providing a Letter of Solidarity With Iranian Women and Protesters, writing publications and awareness rises. 

While people from different age groups participate in these protests, young people are on the frontline. Despite facing brutal crackdown, internet lockdowns, mass arrests, young people (school and university students) are on the streets fighting bravely and fearlessly for women’s rights and freedom.  Their courage keeps the protests going and motivates other protesters to continue.


The characteristics of the latest protests highlight how these protests led by women and fuelled by gender inequalities can contribute to a wider process of democratisation. The feminist uprising would play a role in democratisation by increasing awareness about women’s rights. In addition, diversity within these protests, unity between women and men, the relentless participation of youth from all walks of life, and solidarity of people from different background suggest how individuals exercise diversity and tolerance. Women have inspired people from different backgrounds to call for a democratic system within which everyone is treated equally regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion and class. 


Abootalebi, A. (2000) ‘The struggle for democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran’, Middle East, 4 (3), pp. 43-56.

Asadi Zeidabadi, P. (2022) ‘Political identity: feminists and feminism in Iran’. Gender, Place & Culture, pp.1-21. DOI:

Papanek, H. (2019) ‘The Ideal Woman and the Ideal Society: Control and Autonomy in the Construction of Identity.’ In Identity Politics and Women, edited by Hanna Papanek, 42–75. New York: Routledge. DOI:

Tohidi, M. (2016) ‘Women’s Rights and Feminist Movements in Iran’, SUR-Int’l J. on Hum Rts., 13(24), pp. 75-89.

Pardis Asadi Zeidabadi, is a researcher and visiting lecturer at City, University of London. Her PhD thesis is about “the perspectives of Iranian feminists and women activists on their political identities and priorities”. Twitter: @Pardisasadi1

Header Image Credit: Roshi Rouzbehani


Asadi Zeidabadi, Pardis 2023 ‘Democracy and the Feminist Uprising in Iran’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):

Mandatory veiling and morality police: an impingement on women’s liberty

Nadia Aghtaie

After the success of the 1979 Revolution, gender became a focal part of the revolutionary discourse. The State provided a perspective of ideal genders that necessitated the ‘emancipation’ of women from the Western culture and the redefinition of gender relations, which also entailed forced Islamisation and controlling of sexuality, especially women.

The gender model promoted by the State was portrayed as Islamic and, therefore, divine and non-negotiable. The ideal Islamic binary genders, specifically the ‘women question’, was located at the crossroads of almost all policy-making discussions that were soon implemented. All in all, gender as a system of inequality is now embedded in all aspects of Iranian society. In the last 44 years, those who have not performed the (hetero)normative genders in their daily lives have been somehow punished, threatened or excluded in one way or another. 

This is not to say that women were entirely liberated during the previous Pahlavi era. Women, mainly those from the working class or traditional families, were very much limited in their social mobility through legal and customary restrictions. For example, women could not travel or rent a house without the permission of their male kin (Moghadam, 1999). So, you could say that a lot of the post-revolutionary policies had their origins in the past. However, after the Revolution, the State not only systematically took women’s liberty away, but also justified its actions as sanctioned by God and hence irrefutable. Some of the resulting policies have been gender segregation in many public spaces, mandatory veiling and the creation of the morality police.  

Some people argue that the morality police in Iran, and the laws and policies that they enforce, such as mandatory veiling, constitute a form of violence against women, and that the operation of morality police and the way they treat women is wrongly justified using religious discourse. For example, among the most important religious obligations is the duty of Muslims ‘to promote virtue and prevent vice’ (amre beh maroof va nahye az monkar), and the State argues that this is precisely what the morality police is doing. 

One of the first signs of the State’s attempt to deprive women of their liberty and normalisation of violence was through a slogan, ‘either hijab or a smack in the head’ (ya rusary ya tusari). This slogan was shouted out in the demonstration protests after the succession of the Revolution by the conservative Muslims, which explicitly vindicated the existence of the morality police.

The view that women are vulnerable to immorality, the fear of female sexuality and their power to seduce men, which resulted in the enforcement of the hijab, has been justified by high-rank clerics using the verses from sacred texts. For example, Motahhari (1979) argued that the Koran has stated that ‘say to the believing women that they should cast down their eyes, and guard their private parts and reveal not their adornment save such as is outward; and let them cast their veils over their bosoms, and not reveal their adornment‘ (Koran, 24:31). 

This statement has been challenged by some Muslim feminists and women’s right advocates. They do not perceive veiling as an obligation and interpret this verse differently. They suggest that the word hijab has not been used in the Koran; therefore, there is a requirement only to cover your breast and decoration. Also, it has been argued that this Koranic verse is not exclusive to women, and it applies to men as well by guarding their eyes to preserve their honour.

Another argument made by clerics, such as the founder of the Islamic Revolution is that the hijab protects women and removes them from the level of objectification to that of respectability and therefore, it is an obligatory duty. The fact that the State has enforced mandatory veiling in female-only spaces, shows that the aim has been to make hijab an inherent part of womanhood.

One of the primary duties of the morality police has been to patrol the streets of Iran to ensure that the nation, specifically women, is adhering to the rules of modesty. It is important to note that what constitutes as modesty and appropriate clothing have not been the same throughout the last 44 years. The laws and regulations in the Revolution’s first decade were more restrictive than in the second, third and fourth decades. However, even in the latter years when the State has been more lenient, in relative terms, there have been times when the morality police have poured into the streets and have clamped down on women’s clothing and appearance in public.

For example, in September of 2022, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Jina (Mahsa) Amini, was killed while in the custody of the morality police. It is important to note this is not an isolated incident. Jina was not the first to be beaten by the morality police and has not indeed been the last. The existence of the morality police has meant that the Iranian State in general, and men in particular, have gained more power over women’s sexuality which has contributed to the institutionalisation of violence against women. For example, Article 630 gives a man the right to kill his adulterous wife and her lover if he catches them in the act.

The State’s interference with women’s sexuality and clothing has not been exclusive to the post-revolutionary policies. In 1936, Reza Shah Pahlavi banned the hijab as he perceived it as a sign of backwardness. As Haleh Esfandiari stated: ‘this was certainly a victory for women but a tragedy, too, because the right to choose was taken away from women, just as it was during the Islamic Republic when the veil was officially reintroduced in 1979’. 

Other arguments for mandatory veiling that the Iranian State has put forward are that women’s adherence to hijab is not only a requisite for a healthy society, the prevention of sexual harassment and strengthening the institution of marriage, but it also gives women respect and value. Also, there is a view that veiling has opened various avenues for ‘some’ women and has allowed them to enter the public sphere and gain mobility, especially within the context of Iran. Mehran (2009) suggests that the gender segregation policy and ‘purifying’ the public space through gender segregation and mandatory veiling were some of the main factors in increasing enrolment in higher education after the succession of the 1979 Revolution.

A lot of traditional families who did not agree for their daughters to move away from home and study at the university during the Pahlavi era because they were afraid of exposing them to Western culture, after the Revolution, they were willing for them to obtain a university degree and enter the employment sphere. The increased literacy rates in rural areas were especially striking after 1979. It is fascinating how the Iranian government has used Islam to proclaim that education is every Muslim’s Islamic duty, using the Prophet’s sayings to support this claim and weakening the resistance to educating girls which existed, particularly in the rural areas. In contrast, we can see the opposite in Afghanistan, where women have been banned again from entering secondary and higher education after the Taliban took over in 2021. 

It is noteworthy that the Iranian State endorsed girls’ education because the Islamisation of the education system in Iran would hopefully harvest generations of virtuous and devout women who would convey the culture and tradition promoted by the State to their children. Consequently, it was believed, they  would resist the peripheral pressure of Western culture. The State hoped that the third generation, those born after the Revolution, would be the ideal revolutionary models as they have been nurtured and taught under the Islamic State with no residue of the Pahlavi era in them (Khosravi, 2008). However, this has not been the case.

The young generation in Iran is not what the State was hoping for. This is clearly seen in the recent uprise where women have been at the forefront of the demonstrations. Even high school and middle school pupils have been ripping off their headscarves, standing on top of police cars and shouting slogans such as ‘woman, life, freedom’, ‘death to the dictator’, and ‘justice for Iran. Also, men have stood side by side with their female counterparts from different age groups and ethnicities for the first time.  

Two themes seem to emerge here: can mandatory veiling be seen as impinging on women’s liberty, and secondly, can morality police be conceptualised as a form of state-sanctioned violence? Some argue that the enforcement of veiling is a form of gender-based discrimination, as it requires specific dress codes for women that are not imposed on their male counterparts. This form of gender-based discrimination has a knock-on effect on how women are perceived by those in power and could limit their social mobility and employability, especially within public services. If a woman is perceived as deviant due to her appearance, she is likely to be discriminated against. For example, you will not be able to hold a job in places such as schools, universities, or the parliament, if you are not perceived as pious.

Also, it is argued that the imposition of veiling violates women’s freedom of expression, as it limits their ability to choose how they would like to present themselves in public spheres. There are other additional arguments, such as mandatory veiling can also limit women’s activities, especially within sports or limit their access to certain spaces. For example, if a woman is not properly veiled, she may be refused entry to certain buildings or may be subjected to harassment or abuse from members of the morality police or from other members of the community.

Overall, the laws and policies related to ‘mandatory’ veiling and other issues of moral conduct can create a climate of fear and intimidation for some women in Iran, particularly if they are perceived as not conforming to societal expectations. This can negatively impact women’s sense of safety and well-being and limit their ability to participate fully in society. Glorifying mandatory veiling through various concepts such as respect and safety and notions of women’s welfare does not hide the fact that non-compliance with mandatory veiling has entailed fines, whipping, jailed sentences and even murder.

Not everyone in Iran views the morality police or the laws and policies they enforce as a form of violence against women. Some may even see these measures as necessary for upholding cultural and religious values and as a way to protect the moral fabric of society. However, many other people do not support the enforcement of the hijab and view it as an impingement on women’s liberty. Adopting veiling should be a personal choice and not a state-mandated practice. Depriving women of making free choices and enforcing hijab is state-sanctioned violence and a form of ‘liberty crime’. 


Khosravi, S. (2008) Young and Defiant in Tehran. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Mehran, G. (2009) Doing and Undoing Gender: Female Higher Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran, International Review of Education, 55(5): 541-559.

Moghadam, V. (1999) Gender and globalization: Female labour and women‘s mobilization, Journal of World-Systems Research, 5 (2): 301-314

Motahhari, M. (1979) Nezam-e Hoghugh-e Zan Dar Islam (The System of Women‘s Rights in Islam), Qom: Sadra Publishers.

Nadia Aghtaie Senior Lecturer in Gender and Violence, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol. Twitter: @DrNadiaAghtaie

Header Image Credit: Roshi Rouzbehan


Aghtaie, Nadia 2023 ‘Mandatory veiling and morality police: an impingement on women’s liberty’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):

Iranian Zoomers, A Generation of Bravery, Hope and Invincibility

Atlas Torbati

In mid-September 2022, furious and impassioned protests spread across dozens of Iranian cities following the tragic death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Protests inspired by the demand for personal freedom for women followed by the slogan, ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ erupted, from Tabriz in northern Azerbaijan to southern Bandar Abbas along the Persian Gulf coast, from Sanandaj in the Kurdish west to eastern Mashhad, the pilgrimage city and Iran’s second largest city. Tens of thousands of Iranians came out into the streets and many continue to do so to this day, despite the regime’s violent and deadly crackdowns and threats of arrest.  

For the first time many Iranian men have accompanied women, shoulder to shoulder, chanting ‘death to the dictator’ and ‘we will kill, we will kill the one who killed our sister’, demanding social justice and regime change.  The burning of headscarves is perhaps one of the most public and explicit rejections of the religious restrictions that are imposed forcefully by Islamic Republic upon women since its onset.  The inclusivity and diversity of these protests has made them distinctive compared to the previous ones in 2009, 2017 and 2019 and this is due to the participation of various people from different cultural, religiou,s class and ethnic backgrounds.

These protests were often led by teenage girls and boys and young women and men, known as Generation Z, studying at high schools and universities.  They demonstrated the bravest challenge to the theocracy in more than a decade. Iran’s Generation Z are born between 1997 and 2012 – known as daheye hashtad or the 80s (the 1380s of the Iranian calendar). They form only about 6 million of the country’s population of 83 million, and, to now, they have unarguably been among the primary leaders of the current demonstrations. In fact, a significant difference between the current and previous waves of protests has been the prominent role performed by the country’s Generation Z, also known as Zoomers.

Zoomers grew up more connected, better educated, and more socially active than previous generations. One of the most interesting and important characteristics of this generation is the sense of self- sufficiency. Unlike previous generations in Iran, they freely speak about their interests, beliefs  and disbeliefs, even if it crosses the red lines of traditional, societal and religious norms and practices. According to Jabbar Rahmani, an assistant professor of anthropology at the Tehran-based Institute for Social and Cultural Studies, “this generation does not adhere to idealism and ideological idealizations like the previous generation.”

The zoomer generation are “digital natives” (Csobanka, 2016) since they have had greater access to the outside world and have grown up submersed in the social media and internet. The international language of technology and hashtags have connected them widely.  Their key demand is social justice and achieving their fundamental human rights.

This generation have developed a great analytical skill through being actively present on various platforms such as Club House , Twitter, Youtube, etc to raise their voice and concerns and courageously speak out.  As a result, they tend to question and criticise authority and  do not accept and respect the patriarchal laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic such as the compulsory hijab. For instance a video of Sarina Esmailzadeh, a 16-year-old You-tuber who was beaten to death on September 22, demonstrates her savvy understanding of the freedom enjoyed by her counterparts elsewhere around the world. She states “We ask ourselves why aren’t we having fun like the young people in New York and Los Angeles?” In a YouTube video, she said, “We are in need of joy and recreation, good spirit, good vibes, good energy. In order to have these, we need freedom.”

The massive engagement of this generation on social media has forced the Iranian officials to introduce the National Information Network, a domestic or “halal” internet apart from the international internet used by much of the world. In fact, Khamenei, in a June speech, pushed parliament to endorse a contentious internet bill, the Regulatory System for Cyberspace Services Bill, also known as the Protection Bill. This shows a zero-tolerance policy toward anything considered hostile to the Islamic revolution’s identity.

However, the Generation Z have not limited themselves only to the online world .Through writing graffiti, preparing, and distributing announcements to invite the public to join the protests and national strikes to raise their profile outside of Iran. Another fascinating characteristic of this generation is the sense of responsibility to act collectively in strikes and protests. The similar style of posts and contents on social media, the use of hashtags and the twitter storms that they create, are examples of the strong sense of responsibly they have in order to grow and speed up this movement.

One of the most courageous performances of this generation is when schoolgirls refused to sing a song praising Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after an October 13 raid on a high school in Ardabil. This was a reaction to the death of Asra Panahi, a 15-year-old girl, who was reportedly beaten to death by undercover officers. In Sanandaj, schoolgirls burned pages of their textbooks containing a photograph of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. They also chanted “Death to Khamenei,” the  successor of Ayatollah Khomeini.

In Tehran, schoolgirls airbrushed a photo of Khamenei on a classroom wall and replaced it with a photo of Mahsa Amini. In Tabriz another group of schoolgirls stamped on a picture of the two clerics, then tore it. Following the slogan, “Clerics, get lost,” the students at Al Zahra University, a college for women in Tehran, made bonfires across the streets during President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit on October 8. These are just a few among hundreds of images recently shared on social media by students who are part of Iran’s Generation Z. Such remarkable moments show how courageous they are in the face of political oppression and violence while fearlessly risking their lives to amplify their voice for freedom and justice

However, this is not the first time that the Iranian Gen-Z appeared in public crossing the red lines and resisting the police. In 2016 a large crowd of high school students got together to celebrate the end of school year exams at a shopping mall in the west of Tehran. The gathering was dispersed by the police with tear gas and baton. The authorities’ responses to all these moments were criminal charges, suppression, and detentions, and more recently,  death by execution and a call for re-enforcing Islamic values such as compulsory hijab and increasing restrictions over social media and internet.  

This fear and repression is intended to disempower the Zoomers and is meant to scare them and drive them away from social and political upheavals such as the current protests. However, in Iran, Gen-Z continue to take to the streets in defiance, even organising their own marches against the brutal crackdown of the Islamic Republic. Their willingness to take risks and their sense of entitlement to social justice has spread the message of Woman, Life, Freedom across borders. It is important to say that their bravery has inspired the global community to support the movement through posting stories to bring attention to the oppression faced by Iranians, including extrajudicial killings and torture.

The unexpected participation of this furious generation might be surprising for some and even some authority officials, but in reality, many academics and sociologists had identified such a courageous movement for some time. A few years ago, Saeed Razavi Faqih, a sociologist, and former political prisoner provided an analysis of Iran’s socio-political situation called “The eighties [Gen Z] will pass everyone” and warned about  many of events and scenes that are taking place in the streets of Iran today.

His analysis was that,“this new generation has completely different demands, trends, and views and basically shares no common language with the managers and officials of the country’s administration.” While pointing out to the fact that these young people would start entering universities in 2020, he warned “as soon as they [Iranian Zoomers] become aware of their ability to influence and bring about change, this mass population ruling the universities in big and small cities will transform everything.” This issue has been highlighted by other researchers and scholars such as Zohreh Najafiasl as  a ‘deep generational gap’ (2019) which is defined as detachment and lack of  conformity of children from parents (Najafiasl, 2019) . In her view one of the most important features of this gap is a “sense of rebellion” against anything that is considered tradition by the youth” (Najafiasl, 2019; p.60).

Others consider this gap as the fourth driver of tension and a possible threat to the Islamic Republic’s values. Due to having a pluralistic view, the Zoomers will be hard to govern and their control will not be as easy as with previous generations. This generation is not the ideal Islamic youth that former revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had anticipated. Rather, they baffled the clerics with their western behaviour such as drug use, bizarre outfits, and partying. They are the children of social media who are resisting against the country’s decision-makers and no longer trust traditional media. Instead, they turn to foreign-based media.

However, in spite of years of warnings about the enormous changes and the social dynamics that the generational gap imposes, the Iranian officials have chosen  to close a blind eye to this issue and have refused systematic reforms or adopting any liberal changes and developments to acknowledge uprising Zoomers’ demands and requests. Instead, the Iranian officials are utilising resources and adopting hostile policies to enforce additional constraints on those who abandon the values of theocratic government. Calling the protesters isolated, corrupt and anarchist, the Islamic Republic ostracises this cohort and does not recognise the distinctiveness of their beliefs and behaviours.

Most of the Zoomers are disgusted with the unceasing systemic corruption, hypocrisy, and the general disastrous socio-economic situation . It is important to note that this new generation of Iranian youth are also nurtured under nearly two decades of economic sanctions and international isolation impelled by a nuclear program that Iranians increasingly question. They are hopeless and have no faith in a brighter future. Therefore, the current political upheaval is a great chance for Gen Z to seize the moment to directly oppose the Islamic Republic. Zoomers see no brightness in their future, even in the decreasingly likely event that the Iran nuclear deal is revived.

Some reformist experts such as Mostafa Tajerzadeh believes that in order to resolve this predicament, officials must review and reform many of the policies in accordance with the requirements of a modern society. However, other political activists with  secular views, such as Narges Mohammadi, believe that the Islamic republic is unlikely to comply with the needs of  modern society since  submitting to one demand would pave the way for extensive and far-reaching demands in the future. It seems that the Iranian government can neither completely suppress this new generation, nor it can ignore them. In fact, ignoring the Generation Z will only lead to further radicalization.

The recent executions of young men, and the sentences to death of many others, are the Islamic Republic’s aggressive response.  Majid Reza Rahnavar, Mohsen Shekari, Mohammad Mahdi Karami and Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini were executed recently for allegedly killing two members of the parliamentary Basij forces and wounding four others. All these young men were convicted of “moharabeh,” or “waging war against God,” and after expedited legal proceedings, were sentenced to death. Human rights advocates have emphasised the impropriety of the trials, dearth of legal representation, and the pervasiveness of “coerced confessions” as the result of the systemic torture.  

Although the outcome of the current protests is far from certain, one thing is clear, Iranian Zoomers are determined to bring change, have radical ambitions for their country’s future, and an influential role in shaping their history. They will have a very active role to play.


Csobanka, Z. E. (2016) The Z Generation. Acta Technologica Dubnicae, 6 (2)

Najafiasl, Z., 2015. Intergenerational Gap: An Emerging Phenomenon in Iran. IAU International Journal of Social Sciences, 5 (1), 59–70.

Atlas Torbati is a lecturer on MA Understanding Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse (UDVSA) at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is also a senior tutor at the Department of Social, Therapeutic and Community Studies. She has extensive experience in teaching the Theories of Gender-based violence, Groupwork studies, National and International Policies of Gender-based Violence and Social Research Methods. Twitter: @atlasi82

Header Image Credit: Roshi Rouzbehani


Torbati, Atlas 2023, ‘Iranian Zoomers, A Generation of Bravery, Hope and Invincibility’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):

The Political Psychology of Veiling / Unveiling in Iran    

Zahra Tizro

The ongoing protests in Iran were predictable after almost 44 years of the government’s monolithic rulings on the compulsory hijab and women’s rights since 1979. This is when the Islamists took power and started implementing Sharia law and the Islamification of the nation. As a result, the role of women in the family and society, in general, and the compulsory hijab in particular, have strongly affected by a government which put emphasis on the ‘emancipatory’ role of religion in its Shia version.

The term ‘hijab’ in the literature is widely used to refer to the varieties of face and head-hair coverings in Iran from pre-modern times until the 1960s, it demonstrates the ambiguous nature of its usage on the writings centring on the topic in 19th and early 20th century. Indeed, the word ‘hejab’ does not appear in the Quran in the sense of the head-covering. Some contemporary Shi’i scholars by using the principles of justice and reason challenge the necessity for wearing the mandatory hijab and employ the major jurisprudential principles of ‘time’ and ‘place’ and not religious commands. They believe there is no notion of women wearing the hijab in the Quran, therefore, women should not be forced to cover themselves and they should not be punished either – its wearing must be optional (Ridgeon, 2021).

Other Shi’i scholars employ a far broader concept of hijab as dress code and argue that a Muslim woman’s character should not be made vulnerable to aggression and the lustful gaze of unrelated men, even in their imaginations, and hijab provides such protection. Veiling or hijab in this context is the tangible measure of chastity and modesty (effat/haya). Men are obliged to make sure their female members of the family observe the rule of hijab, otherwise, they are labelled as bi-gheirat or bi-sharaf. These ethico-legal codes of mahram’yat, veiling, gheirat-effat and punishment mechanism are all in place to control women’s sexuality and their conducts and misconducts. These discourses have powerful grip on women and men’s subjectivities and selfhood in a subliminal way that they own these discourses and behave in a way to earn the respect of the family and community members to protect their social relations (Tizro, 2012).  

The emergence of veiling as a key symbol of Islamic nationalism in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s project of ‘nationalizing’ Iran needs to be contextualized in the wider history of the country. In effect, it is the mirror image of the emergence of unveiling as the flag of Persianist nationalism in the earlier Pahlavi project of nationalization (Katouzian, 2004). This was itself a reaction to the dysfunctionalities of the Qajar and the Constitutional eras.

The imposition of veiling in the Islamic Republic led to the emergence of a rising struggle between women who do not wish to observe the compulsory hijab on one side and the morality police on the other. The emergence of the phenomenon of bad veiling or mal-veiling (bad-hejabi or shol-hijabi) can be seen as a symbol of all forms of dysfunctionalities and deformities resulting from the reverse social engineering of Islamification.

The roots of the socio-political crisis in relation to hijab can be understood in the intersection of the what Malinowski called the ‘context of culture’ and the ‘context of situation’. This is captured in the confusion of associated waves of identity crisis and confused preference structures of Persianism, Islam, Western modernity (Gohardani & Tizro, 2019).

A state of bewilderment and perplexity in the interaction with perceived states of belatedness prompts the translation of three regimes of truth into three projects of social engineering, namely, ‘Persianization’, Islamization, and Modernization. In this context the whole of social life is littered with examples of projects of reverse social engineering without considering the context and the social relations that are bound into it.

Generally speaking, the ‘question of women’ and the issue of the ‘hijab’, in particular, has always been, and continues to be one of the most divisive topics giving rise to many discussions amongst (and between) rival groups and ordinary people in all walks of life, often demanding new interpretations of the holy text by modern scholars. This is a far more complex phenomenon which surpasses the simple binary of traditionalists in support of veiling and modernists advocating the modernising of many issues relating to gender relations with both a symbolical and practical focus on the removal of the hijab.

There have been two significant historical trends of women’s veiling and unveiling, both were compulsory in nature and socially/culturally engineered while being formally imposed by the authorities in power at the time. Homa Katouzian  maintains that Reza Shah’s decree in 1936 on the compulsory unveiling of women “was tantamount to a decree in Europe at that time that would have forced women to go topless in public”. Katouzian’s observation is confirmed by an eyewitness, in the following terms: “Suddenly women were faced with having to go out in public unveiled. There were few options: either go out feeling “naked” or stay at home.” (2010, pp.219–20)

Reza Shah was led to believe the path to modernisation and reform of the nation passed through women’s liberation and emancipation in order to maximise their social and political participation and contribution. He used forceful measures to remove hijab and made it obligatory to appear without traditional face and body covering. Meanwhile, his son Mohamad Reza Shah continued his father’s reforms and under his rule more rights were granted to women, such as the right to vote, higher education, working even at the highest levels of ministerial, parliamentary and diplomatic rank. He introduced the family protection acts of 1967, gave the right to abortion in 1973 and enhanced a mother’s custody rights of their children while limiting polygamy and abolishing extra judicial divorce in 1975, among many other changes.

These revolutionary reforms, however, were the first dramatic encounter with modernity. They are interwoven with trauma and traumatic events with their features of being sudden, excessive, comprehensive, importunity, and irremediability can generate the sense of suspicion, fear, despair and resentment. Trauma creates rupture in the fabric of time and partitions it into a ‘before and after’ structure –  here before and after veiling and unveiling or before and after the Islamic revolution.

When Khomeini took power in 1979 many of these laws were abrogated, as a result of implementing Sharia law many of the rights were granted to women during the Pahlavi era were reversed, compulsory hijab was forcefully introduced and women’s role and place in the family and society were defined and practiced according to Sharia laws. While these sudden and fundamental changes were welcomed by some women, mainly those with a religious and conservative background, others were left in a state of shock, disbelief, rage and feeling deep injustice. Yet again, another round of experiencing traumatic events is repeated in a circular manner.

The force and energy behind the most recent women-life-freedom (Zan, Zendegi, Azadi) movement can be understood in the context of the lived experiences of many women who were forced to adopt a publicly cloistered way of life based on Islamic laws against their wishes. Also, at the heart of the women-life-freedom movement lies a wish to provide sanctuary for disadvantaged, marginalised and underprivileged individuals, communities and classes suffering from injustice and inequality. The protest against the compulsory hijab and gasht-e ershad (morality police) is only one of the manifestations of this movement against the discrimination and maltreatment of women.

However, in the spirit of hermeneutic of understanding and the art of overcoming incommensurability through understanding the radical others in their own terms, we should pay attention to all voices, forces and faces. The hijab as a social phenomenon is historically embedded and realized differently within diverse institutional arrangements. The meanings attached to the concepts and lived experiences associated with hijab are subtly but significantly different in both camps – for or against hijab. Those who favour it and support the government’s gender policies, in general, and the compulsory hijab in particular, argue that by de-sexualising women’s bodies, using hijab, women’s mobility and their access to the outside world were/are enhanced. They believe that the gender segregation policies, implemented immediately after the revolution at universities and work places, gave women and girls (most particularly from rural areas) greater chances to travel independently to other cities. This, in turn, had a significant impact in increasing the number of women graduates and women joining the workforce.

In this context, by endorsing hijab, women and girls from most conservative families were allowed to have better choices in life which could not be envisaged had it not been for the immunity, liberty and mobility that wearing hijab provides. Subsequently, by enhancing their financial situations their power, agency and status in the family and society have grown to a large degree, thereby emancipating these women in many ways.

In criticising the recent movement, some of the hardcore religious figures have put the blame on the previous government (of President Hassan Rouhani) relaxed policies in relation to ‘bad hijabi women’. When hardliner candidate Ebrahim Raisi won the presidential election, there were calls for tougher polices and punishment against those who do not observe the rules and regulations. Immediately after coming to office, a number of bills regarding population growth and family protection were conditionally passed.

These placed more restrictions on women’s reproductive health programmes such as the ban on antenatal screening tests and abortion rights. The budget for the centre for ‘inviting to vice and virtue and forbidding the wrong’ (amr-e be maroof va nah’ye az monkar) was increased and was intended to put more pressure on women and girls with poor hijab in public. Currently, the law in relation to hijab wearing is stated under article 639 of the Islamic Penal Code of Iran:  Article 638- Anyone who explicitly violates any religious taboo in public beside being punished for the act should also be imprisoned from ten days to two months, or should be flogged (74 lashes). Note- women who appear in public without a proper hijab should be imprisoned from ten days to two months or pay a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 Ryal.

Most recently, four months since the women-life-freedom movement started, Supreme Leader Ayatallh Ali Khamanei addressed the events and invited his supporters not to employ strong measures against women with lax hijab (or as he called it zaeif-al-hijab): “The hijab is a religious and inviolable necessity, but this inviolable necessity should not mean that someone without a full hijab should be accused of anti-religion or anti-revolutionary.” He advised them instead of using batons and violence against young people, whom as he said are under the influence of worldly temptations, they have to start articulating their perspectives in different shapes and forms (jihad-e tabeen) to reach consensus.

There is some speculation about how these comments would be perceived or interpreted by legislators and law enforcement, but there is a slim chance that the rules and regulations regarding hijab would undergo substantive changes as expected by those who demand reforms. This depends on different interpretations of what is perceived a ‘proper hijab’ by the legal system and morality police.

As both veiling and unveiling are the outcomes of reverse social engineering, lacking an adequate and irreversible level of emergent legitimacy and consensus, their corresponding institutionalized forms of Islamic and Persianist nationalism were beset by debilitating forms of dysfunctionalities. The focus should be on the urgency of reaching consensus on contemporary issues concerning Iranian daily life, more particularly, women’s clothing and their rights. For centuries, knowledge production predominantly was the terrain of men and their understanding and interpretations of the holy text and religious narratives (ahadith) about women had a profound impact on women’s lives.

Nevertheless, we are witnessing the emergence of competent Iranian female scholars producing significant and valuable scholarship in a range of scientific fields. Meanwhile, we need to offer a detailed and scholarly analysis of the workings of the religious orthodoxy. This can be achieved through rigorous research not in a combative way but with a compassionate spirit to explore the capacity of Shi’i jurisprudence to offer a more inclusive, pluralistic and flexible interpretation of Islam and engage more in this jurisprudential venture. Women’s voices within hawza ilmiyya (religious schools) should be heard and considered in order to offer a fuller, inclusive and dialogical approach. To establish gender equality in all walks of life, the riverbed of thought (in Wittgenstein’s metaphor) must be shifted.

A wholesale change in the structures of the dominant hegemonic masculinist discourse is required. We need to see the emergence of a society of “inside outsiders” inside the larger society who practice and believe in gender equality encompassing all aspects of life. Through ‘increasing the sites of resistance’ to privileged knowledges, women-life-freedom movement has the potential to offer polyvocality and a smooth emergence of viable alternative discourses embedded and rooted in the ‘Background’.

Zahra Tizro is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology University of East of London and the author of Domestic Violence in Iran: Women, Marriage and Islam (Routledge, 2012). Her research interests focus on gender and violence from a cross-cultural perspective. Twitter: @ztizro

Header Image Credit: Roshi Rouzbehani


Tizro, Zahra 2023. ‘The Political Psychology of Veiling / Unveiling in Iran’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):

How did the enactment of compulsory hijab laws become a crisis for the Islamic Republic of Iran? 

Farshad Kashani

Protests against compulsory hijab in Iran have taken an unprecedented form 44 years after the establishment of the regime.

Although Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution and the founder of the Islamic regime, said that the Islamic government was “an adaptation of the absolute authority of the Prophet Muhammad” and could “unilaterally cancel the religious contracts it has established with the people” or “temporarily prevent cardinal obligations such as Hajj when it is against the good of the Islamic state,” the issue of compulsory hijab, which is not one of the basic decrees of Islam, has been implemented and become a pervasive crisis for the Islamic Republic.

The compulsory hijab is a symbol of the innate obligations of  the Islamic Republic of Iran, but it was only enacted as a state law seven years after the February 1979 revolution.

Contrary to claims from many officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran, such as Ebrahim Raisi, who have referred to the hijab as optional, it is compulsory under various laws in Iran. Under the laws of the Islamic Republic failure to comply with the mandatory hijab can be prosecuted and its scope has been extended to such an extent that. in extreme situations, issuing apostasy sentences (which can be punishable by execution) against the offender is possible based on the existing legal system.

The legal axis of compulsory hijab in the Islamic Republic of Iran is “the regulation of violations and punishments of retail clothing which if used in public could be deemed as offensive against sharia and or public chastity”, which was passed in 1986, seven years after the February 1979 revolution.

According to Article 4 of this Act , “those who publicly wear their clothes and makeup in fashion that is deemed offensive against sharia or public chastity, will be prosecuted in a competent court, and could receive sentences as outlined under Article 2.”

The Act imposes penalties, warnings and guidance, rebukes and reproaches, a sentence of between 10 and 40 lashes, and a fine. The compulsory hejab applies to all men and women of any nationality or religion in the land, sea and air territories of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

Ten years after the adoption of the above mentioned, a complementary law was passed criminalizing the non-observance of women’s hijab and increased the punishment to imprisonment.

“Women who appear in public without an appropriate hijab are sentenced to imprisonment ranging from ten days to two months or to a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 Rials in cash.”

The Act known as Islamic Penal Code  does not clearly define or specify the characteristics of what constitutes an “appropriate hijab”. However, according to the constitution of the Islamic Republic, instances of such ambiguity should be referred to Islamic written sources and, if required, at the next stage fatwas. 

Although some Shi’ite clerics such as Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, do not perceive the hijab as a compulsory Islamic requirement, other views which are the basis of action in the Islamic Republic, clerics consider the definition of hijab based on a wide interpretation which emphasizes the necessity of covering the entire body of a woman except their face and the palms of two hands.

In other words, exposure of all or part of the hair or any other body part, except the face and palms of the two hands, can be deemed as examples of the inappropriate hijab. Therefore, women who are not fully covering their whole body but face and palms of hands, can be charged.

Infiltration of compulsory hijab into other regulations of the Islamic Republic

The compulsory hijab, as a legal basis, has entered subsequent laws such as the Administrative Violations Act and the Disciplinary Regulations of Students in the Islamic Republic. According to the Law on the Investigation of Violations of the Office approved in 1993, the failure to enforce the compulsory hijab by government employees of the Islamic Republic of Iran is an administrative violation and fines can be heavy and include the possibility of permanent dismissal from government organizations.          

Although such violation is not deemed a criminal offense, due to the criminality of not complying with the compulsory hijab itself, the Administrative Code Investigation Board shall send the case of the offending employee to the judiciary system. Even if the judiciary does not convict the individual for the offense, the ruling of the Administrative Violations Investigation Board will not be overruled.

According to the disciplinary regulations of students of the Islamic Republic of Iran approved in the Council of Cultural Revolution in 1995, which is a legislative body outside parliament and the Constitution  Law, fines for not observing the compulsory hijab and appropriate attire enforced by the regulations, can include suspension from studying for up to two and a half years, but the offending case is also sent to the judiciary system in order to be prosecuted.

According to Iranian law, appropriate hijab should be observed in any public environment and failure to do so even if the offender attempts to conceal will not affect the court’s verdict. This is why removing a headscarf in a car, even though it is in privacy, is a criminal act and can be prosecuted. The same goes for not wearing a compulsory hijab at private parties. According to the Iranian law, it is a public environment because of the presence of  unrelated persons, whether women or men (known as non-mahrams in the Islamic term) at the party, and women should observe the appropriate hijab guidelines.

The militias of the Basij force and the police are considered the enforcers of the regulation around hijab, based on a legislation passed in 1990, and have the duty to arrest and file a case against the offenders if they observe violation of compulsory hijab even at a private party or receive reports from two witnesses to a party.  

The same goes for the prosecution of retailers who trade attire deemed “in violation of the appropriate hijab” under “The Act on how to deal with violations and punish sellers of clothes whose use in public is against Sharia or imposes fines on public modesty” (1986).

According to the Act, the Law Enforcement Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran or Disciplinary Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran, abbreviated as FARAJA (previously NAJA), the General Directorate for Combating Social Corruption is specifically the arm that enforces and fights against offenses involving violations from hijab mandates. 

Hijab related crimes have a wide scope and can go all the way to apostasy

Resistance against an arrest by hijab law enforcement agents, including the Morality Police, under Article 607 of the Islamic Penal Code is considered “defiance of the order of a state officer”, and if the offender or accused resists arrest and detention, they have in fact committed numerous crimes and will receive a judgments and be punished accordingly.

Hijab related crimes can be tried in both criminal courts and the Islamic Revolutionary Court.  In accordance with Article 5 of the Law on the Establishment of General and Islamic Revolutionary Law courts, all offenses against sovereignty of the state or moral corruption are within the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Court.

During the interrogation and investigation phase, if the Prosecutor’s Office determines the hijab related crime was deliberated in order to morally corrupt the Islamic state and in violation of Islamic values, the offender will be tried in the Revolutionary Court instead of the criminal court.

If the court determines that the offender has antagonistic motives, such as encouraging others to commit the same offense or propaganda against the Islamic state, they will receive judgments in accordance with each of those offenses. In a wide interpretation of the law, if proven that the accused committed the offense, the judge can sentence the accused with apostasy which is punishable by execution.

Hijab related sentences cannot be appealed

Except for the death penalty, which must be upheld by the Supreme Court, in accordance with Article 232 of the General and Revolutionary Courts Code, there is no possibility of appealing the original court’s ruling to those convicted in hijab related cases, and the sentence issued by the original court is “final and irreversible.”

Hijab related offenses are deemed as ‘visible crime’ in accordance with current laws of the Islamic Republic, and those arrested by the authorities are automatically charged. If the arresting officer does not turn the offender in to be tried at criminal court, they have committed a violation of their duties. Once the accused is convicted in court, their sentence is irreversible which is, in fact, in contradiction with the Constitutional Law.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is the only country in the world where hijab is compulsory in its territory and is imposed on citizens and enforced through the police, Basij militias and the judicial system. 

The deep humiliation caused by the imposition of such legislation that is found inadmissible by a large proportion of the country’s citizens, has now led the country to a critical point. 

Farshad Kashani is a jurist. He was the Editor In-Chief of Iranian Diplomacy. He has the experience of managing and writing numerous legal articles and opinions in Iranian and international media outlets and legal journals on the Iranian public law affairs, English and wails legal system. Farshad Kashani has a book about the P5+1 and Iran interpretation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its legal impacts on the regime’s future and is currently writing a book on the legal regime of the Caspian Sea. Twitter: @FarKashani

Header Image Credit: Roshi Rouzbehani


Kashani, Farshad 2023. ‘How did the enactment of compulsory hijab laws become a crisis for the Islamic Republic of Iran?’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):

Virtual home as a space of unity

Mastoureh Fathi

In the aftermath of Mahsa Zhina Amini’s murder, an ontological question that was asked repeatedly was “Where is home for Iranian migrants is and what significance the homeland has for them?” The atrocities of the Iranian regime that followed this murder, through imprisonment of thousands, torture and execution of those who were arrested soon posed serious questions about identity and how Iranians living outside Iran identified themselves with their country of origin.

Since the 1979 Revolution, Iranian migrants, or what is generically called ‘the Iranian diaspora’ have been portrayed as infidels or spies by the Iranian regime’s officials. This portrayal separated Iranian migrants into groups and individuals, which interestingly also impacted on conducting research with Iranian migrants outside the country (Fathi, 2017). In this short piece, I discuss a new notion of home, facilitated through the virtual world, that is different to a home that migrants make in migration processes and one that is distinctive from a homeland. ‘The virtual home’, here is a shared space of emotions that unite people through sharing similar expressions in the virtual world.

Virtual home as a space of unity, I propose has been the moving motor of the Zan, Zendegi, Azadi (Woman, Life, Freedom) Revolution in 2022. Before moving on to discuss it, I need to differentiate between virtual home and two concepts of home and homeland in migration studies.

Home and homeland

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, there have been several waves of emigration from Iran which created a large group of Iranian migrants dispersed in different locations (estimated around 8 million Iranians are dispersed outside Iran globally). This large group of people (equating to a tenth of Iran’s population) make the concept of diaspora an important theoretical and analytical aspect in understanding the current revolution.

The scholarship between home and homeland directs us to three main distinctions between home and homeland: temporality, geography and practice (time, space and action). Whilst home is being seen as a place of present (time) and one that is made ‘here’ (geography), homeland is mostly about the past and one that is ‘there’.  Of course, these distinctions are not black and white and the wealth of literature in sociology and geography and in particular the book, Uprooting and Regroundings by Sara Ahmed and her colleagues (2003) show that home can be multidimensional and fluid.

The reason for these distinctions between home and homeland, is that home connotes a larger concept than a house or dwelling which can also include the homeland. Additionally, it is a place of settlement and has material and physical aspects (it has a structure, objects, roof, different rooms, warmth and comfort, etc.), it is also about an idea where one feels a sense of permanency (Fathi 2022) and a place of belonging. Homeland, on the other hand, is referred to a place of origin, a place of birth, a geographical location from where a migrant has departed and to which the person may/not return. So the two have shared characteristics, but ontologically they are different in the literature: the former being favoured in migration studies and the latter in diaspora studies.

To reduce home in migration to the concept of homeland is problematic because home connotes positive feelings that do not correspond with all types of migrants’ experiences of homeland. For those who have no option for a return (see the vast literature on forced migration, in particular Brun and Fábos, 2015), homeland connotes a sense of pain and displacement. Here, homeland here becomes the opposite of home.

But this distinction in Iran, since the beginning of 2022 Revolution, has changed. There has been a united sense of community and of solidarity that has brought Iranians together and given them a shared sense of belonging. Indeed, Yuval-Davis (2006) argues that such a sense of belonging is provoked at the time of crisis. Here the belonging to a homeland became a significant identifier once again. This transformation in feelings towards the homeland has changed the above distinction between home and homeland.  But how has this been done?

Virtual home in the making

What has been staggering about this new notion of home was the subversion of homeland from a place of birth to a place that is occupied by brutal forces. Almost every single Iranian migrant I talked to believed that Iran has become an ‘occupied home’: The consensus was that Iran as a home has not lost its significance, but it has become a victim in the hands of the regime.

Imagery of occupied Iran includes increasing inflation, racism faced by migrants living in Iran (mainly Afghan), the destruction of natural resources and endangered wildlife, damage to the historical sites, and distortion of pre-1979 narratives (to name a few). These imageries were combined and contrasted through visual images about glories of the past particularly the economic boom of 1960s and 70s in Iran and juxtaposed to the stark realities of present Iran. Such powerful imagery was even depicted in artworks, music and cartoons. In this way, Iran as a homeland, became present in the lives of Iranian migrants, and the geographical distance it had from the countries where migrants live, was compensated by physical gatherings organised outside the country. For example, on 22 October 2022, tens of thousands of Iranians gathered in Berlin to protest against the regime, making this the largest gathering of Iranians outside the country since the 1979 Revolution (the image).

Various debates, short reels, films, music, art works, short writings and commentaries were and still are being produced on a daily basis and shared by thousands on social media. In this way, occupied Iran found its way virtually to the homes of Iranians inside and outside the country. In doing so, social media platforms played a significant role in organising such lines of thinking, by providing a space to facilitate expression of opinions and feelings that eventually mobilised hundreds of thousands of people.

Here, I would like to draw on the analysis Roger Brubaker (2005) on the shaping of diaspora. I use this in explaining the formation of diasporic groups to offer an understanding how dispersed Iranian migrants found a form of unity through the virtual world.  Brubaker identifies three particular characteristics in a diaspora: a) dispersion, b) homeland orientation and c) boundary maintenance. In my previous writings, I had dismissed this categorisation and argued that such characterisation can be problematic due to its emphasis on a centre. Particularly it is not viable to think of these categories when migrants’ migratory pathways are not from location A (homeland) to B (host country), and journeys are more complex.  However, in the last few months, I realised the importance of the sense of belonging that can be provoked with help of virtual world in reviving a diaspora group. I particularly find the second and third facet of this theorisation helpful.  

Firstly, Iranian migrants are quite dispersed. Almost one tenth of those identifying themselves with Iran live outside its borders and although the majority chose to live in English speaking countries (USA, UK, Canada, Australia), there are large communities in other European countries: Germany, France, Italy, Spain. This dispersion has always stopped a coherent form of diaspora (such as Indian diaspora in the UK or Turkish diaspora groups in Germany) to take place. But this dispersion, was overcome by the help of virtual forums which allowed people to debate and share their experiences provided a space for these dispersed groups to come together. This geographical dispersion was also affected by generational differences. Some second or third generation Iranian migrants who were born and/or brought up in a country other than that of their ancestors also became active in pro-revolution and anti-regime protests.

Secondly, Brubaker discusses boundary maintenance that involves the preservation of a distinctive identity vis-à-vis a host society or societies. The brutality that was demonstrated by the regime in the aftermath of Mahsa Zhina Amini’s murder, not only created a sense of belonging that was shared by the Iranians, but also made the Iranian communities seen as distinctively. This characteristic enables consideration of the Iranian diaspora as newly a discrete community held together by their unique active solidarity. The reinforced relationships of people during this time, cut across many long-standing differences among Iranian migrants such as those of political parties, religions, ethnicities as well as gender, class and sexualities.

It is true that restoration and maintenance of a homeland undertaken by a collective commitment would eventually lead to identity and solidarity of its members. However, the sense of belonging and recognition of the homeland that has reappeared after Mahsa Zhina Amini was a new phenomenon that was made possible through sharing feelings, expanding them and re-energizing the protests and activism outside the country.


My aim in this piece has been to draw on the notion of virtual home as a middle ground between home-in-migration and homeland. I have argued that the sense of belonging in the aftermath of Mahsa Zhina Amini as a collective trauma was important in unifying an Iranian diaspora groups together. In this unification, however, the role and definition of homeland has changed. Homeland in everyday communications, art works, music and other means was portrayed as a place that was held captive by the regime. Returning back to the notion of homeland as a useful category helps in understanding why and how migrants’ identification with homeland reinstates a new form of identity among them.

I end with a sentence by Stuart Hall, “Diaspora identities are those which are producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference” (Hall, 1990, p. 235). The Iranian diaspora(s) are not at all similar to what existed before Mahsa Zhina Amini’s death. Her (and others) brutal murder eventually transformed how Iranian diasporas identified themselves. Some events have the capacity to change the mindsets of others. How home and homeland became reattached through the connections were made possible through social media and virtual ways. It is time to rethink the notion of home, homeland and the virtual world together and separate from each other. I suggest a rethinking of the sense of belonging in relation to virtual world is needed if we are to understand how new means of communication are shaping new forms of belonging.


Brun, C. and Fábos, A. (2015). Making Homes in Limbo? A Conceptual Framework. Refuge. 31(1): 5-17.

Fathi, M. (2017) Intersectionality, Class and Migration: Narratives of Iranian Women Migrants in the UK. New York: Palgrave.

Hall, S. (1990). Cultural Identity and Diaspora. In J. Rutherford (Ed.), Identity, Community, Culture, Difference. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Yuval-Davis, N. (2006). Belonging and the Politics of Belonging. Patterns of Prejudice, 40(3), 197–214.

Mastoureh Fathi is lecturer in sociology at Department of Sociology and Criminology, University College Cork. She has written extensively on gender, migration, home and identity. Her writings have appeared in journals: Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies; Ethnicities; Ethnic and Racial Studies; Gender, Place and Culture among others. Twitter: @Mastourehfathi

Header Image Credit: Roshi Rouzbehani


Fathi, Mastoureh 2023. ‘Virtual home as a space of unity’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (1):