Shakhsari to discuss unrest in Iran at CAS Global Event

Sima Shakhsari

April 3, 2023 – DENTON – Winter is finally abating in Minneapolis, where Sima Shakhsari is chair of the department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota. Temperatures are slowly climbing but remain below freezing at night.

Daily winter weather deep in March and into April? It's outside the experience of most Texans.

Half a world away in Shakhsari's birthplace, Iran, climate of a different sort remains turbulent, and this, too, is beyond the understanding of most Americans.

Beatings and arrests by morality police. Killings, like that in 2022 of Mahsa Amini, a young woman arrested by morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab – a traditional head covering – too loosely. She died in custody.

Morality police? Arrested and killed for wearing a head covering too loosely? It sounds like the stuff of dystopian fiction, but it's all too real in Tehran.

The popular belief is that Amini was killed by police and the government tried to cover it up, and that has resulted in protests over Amini's death and the compulsory hijab laws.

"Many people who believed that reform was the answer have come to the conclusion that the system is not reformable anymore," said Shakshari, who will bring attention to the situation in Iran as the guest speaker at the CAS Global Perspectives event, "Women, Life, Freedom: The Iranian Movement," on April 6 at 11 a.m. in CFO room 205.

"But that doesn't mean foreign intervention or NATO intervention," Shakshari said. "Structural change that needs to happen in this system is what many people are asking for. And I think that is part of the reason why we are here. The pressures have really increased to the point that people have no patience."

The situation, Shakhsari said, has been inflamed by sanctions from the west on Iran, which have steadily made daily life difficult.

"People are tired," Shakhsari said. "The cost of bread, the cost of everything is so high at this point that the smallest thing can ignite. Because people were already so fed up, and Mahsa was a representable young woman, being a Kurdish minority and a young woman being aesthetically beautiful. She kind of became the symbol of these protests. But of course, all these years there have been many, many other people who have been imprisoned. Journalists, activists, labor activists, environmental activists and so on.

"I think the failures of the Iranian state to do what it had promised in the beginning of the revolution have pushed people to this point, especially that with conservatives in power. I think that for all these years, many people had hope that this system can be reformed. Even those who were hoping for reform have come to the conclusion that this system is not reformable."

The protests have resulted in more deaths, like that of 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami. Authorities said she fell off a roof. Her mother believes she was killed by the security forces after attending an anti-hijab protest.

Since the protests began last September, the group Human Rights estimates more than 400 people have been killed by security forces. The United Nations said 14,000 were arrested in the first six weeks. Dozens of protesters have been sentenced to death, and at least four men have been executed.

"I'm doing this because of the significance of what's happening in Iran and with the Women, Life, Freedom movement that started in September after the death of Mahsa Amini," Shakhsari said. "There's a lot of misinformation about the Iranian woman, in particular in post-revolutionary Iran, in the mainstream U.S. media. My hope is to historicize this movement and to show that there has been thriving civil society in post-revolutionary Iran. What we see today is a culmination of the kind of movements, whether it's women's rights movements, students’ movements or labor movements, that started after the Iran-Iraq war. Iranian women have been working hard to gain rights and fight the Iranian state's very restrictive measures. But the assumption is that Iranian women have been voiceless victims and this is the first time that there is such a protest happening, but there's a history behind this. At the same time Iranian women have been fighting for their rights, there has been a lot of appropriation of the Iranian woman's movement, in particular of the concept of woman and freedom. Just the way that it has been done in many places, such as Iraq, such as Afghanistan, to utilize women's oppression and the notion of women's liberation as a way for political agendas that seek to seemingly liberate Iranian women but are very much imbued with or connected to geopolitical agendas."

While this is Shakhsari's first in-person speaking engagement since the COVID pandemic, it's not Shakhsari's first visit to Texas. Though born in Tehran, Shakhsari has lived most of their life in the United States. Shakhsari was educated at San Francisco State University and Stanford, and has worked in Houston and Pennsylvania before Minnesota.

"Now I appreciate warm and humid weather," Shakhsari said. "The summers here get pretty warm, but the winters are unbearable."



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Page last updated 11:20 AM, June 9, 2023