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Iran uprisings: How women are defying body conscription and demanding a future of feminist

In the wake of the mass uprisings across Iran and around the world, we reflect on the current status of women’s rights and freedoms in the country and the fight for “Women-Life-Freedom.”
Image credit: Artin Bakhan
WILPF International Secretariat
31 October 2022

Seven young schoolgirls in Tehran turn their back to the camera, let their hair free, and sing in their classroom what is now deemed the national anthem of the uprising in Iran.

“Baraye”, which translates as “Because of”, was composed by young singer-songwriter Shervin Haji-pour using tweets that stormed Twitter listing the reasons behind the new uprising in Iran.

Because of… poverty, repression, gender segregation and discrimination, corruption, censorship, environmental degradation, violation of sexuality rights and bodily autonomy, discriminatory economic policies, and political brainwashing. These are just a few of the reasons that Iranian people are taking to the streets and to social media in Iran, chanting “Women-Life-Freedom.”

“Life” and “Freedom” were reclaimed by feminists in Iran to re-centre the feminist narratives on what a reimagined feminist peace will look like – one where women and minority groups are free to use their real names[1] or to express their sexual and gender identities without fear of persecution and death. One that is rights-based, and where social and economic constructs don’t only advantage the kleptocratic elite and those in power. One where colonialism is not reproduced by the Iranian regime to suppress and control ethnic minorities, and one where the environmental resources and animals are not threatened with degradation and extinction.

Women and girls in Iran are furiously dissenting body conscription and the compulsory aspects of women’s bodily rights and autonomy.

They know that their bodily rights and integrity are the nexus point of the larger authoritarianism of state violence, surveillance, and control. Those young schoolgirls, as all women in Iran, have been banned from singing in public spaces since 1979.

Now, women and girls, and behind them hundreds of students, teachers, and factory workers from all across Iran are rising up once again against the gender apartheid. They are defying patriarchal authoritarianism, discrimination, and persecution of women and ethnic minorities.

The feminist uprising in Iran is telling us once again that women’s bodies have long been the battle fields of patriarchy and authoritarian regimes. Through forced and at times militarised bodily control and policing, the oppressive systems control the ‘spaces’ that women can have access to and control over. Stigma, morality, and decency are but some examples of the tools that these oppressive regimes use to confine and control women, their bodies, and their voices, thus alienating them from public spheres and spaces. The use of sex-based crimes against women in times of conflict can be seen on the same continuum of controlling women’s bodies as revoking women’s abortion rights.

The image of Jîna Amini (Mahsa), whose brutal death fuelled the uprising in Iran and around the world, has been multiplied by all the other images of women, men, and the younger generation in Iran and in other countries such as Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria who joined her in standing up for Women-Life-Freedom. They did so in solidarity, but also to showcase the multiplicity of feminist uprisings and to add complexity and intersectionality to the feminist struggles against structural and patriarchal oppression and discrimination.

[1] Mahsa’s real name was Jîna, which means ‘life’ in Kurdish. Jîna Amini’s Kurdish identity has been erased, thus obscuring her Kurdish identity, by both the Iranian regime and the media. Even in her death, she was only known as Mahsa.

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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