In Farsi we call them shir zan. Lion women. 

For the past 43 years they’ve been oppressed, murdered, exiled, imprisoned and raped by their government.

And for the past fortnight, Shabnam Dastgheib writes in this personal piece, they’ve been roaring.

The murder of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini over her ‘improper hijab’ has lit the tinderbox aflame. But make no mistake, the protests in Iran this month are not only about the hijab.

That is simply the most visible symbol of the brutality of life in Iran. 

Our brave women are laying their lives on the line for freedom of choice, the freedom to sing, to dance, to feel the wind in their hair, and to realise their full potential. All of which are illegal in their world. 

Those of us in the Iranian diaspora who visit Iran, hold our breath from the moment our flight arrives until the moment our departing plane leaves the runway. 

On departure, you can physically hear the exhalation of breath, see the removal of hijab and feel the heavy hearts, guilt-ridden that we have an escape route but our families do not. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran has nothing to do with Islam. It is about power, fear and destruction. Defy their archaic and arbitrary laws, and you will be punished with impunity.

Morality police patrol and harass women everywhere they go - I know of women who have naturally fair skin, who have been detained for wearing “too much foundation”.

Women who dare wear lipstick, who dare show their fringe, who dare wear nail polish are taken away in ominous white vans. There are many stories of rape, torture and disappearances.

The list of violations is endless and how strictly these laws are enforced changes constantly. 

Women face discrimination in every aspect of life including marriage, divorce, employment and political office. They are second class citizens. 

As with patriarchal systems all over the world, this is not about religion, this is about control.

The Iranian culture I know and love reveres women, celebrates them and raises them up, but the Islamic Republic of Iran does the opposite - it seems scared of the power and potential of women.

Amnesty International links the current President Ebrahim Raisi to international crimes against humanity. He is widely hated and needs to be held accountable. 

Above him sits the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an elderly hardliner who has stolen wealth from the people for decades. His time is up.

 Each year, thousands of people are unfairly detained for exercising simple human rights. Lethal force is used to crush any hint of dissent.

The Government shuts down the internet as they please in order to prevent international communities from seeing their crackdowns. 

In November 2019, a near total internet shut down for four days led to what Iranians know as Bloody November - hundreds were openly and brutally murdered for protesting crippling fuel price increases.

This month as the internet is again throttled, we watch from outside sick to our stomachs at what they might be getting away with. 

Torture is widely used, as is flogging, amputation and blinding as punishment. The death penalty is used widely with no fair trials in sight.

To live outside Iran is to live with ongoing gratitude and guilt.

I may live in a peaceful suburb in Aotearoa but my heart is in Iran on the streets with my people. 

We are up late every night watching the news, fearing for their lives, in awe of their courage and doing our best to amplify their voices.

Iranians inside Iran are leading this movement. They have started these protests and only they can finish them. If the Islamic Republic isn’t toppled by these protests, it will be the next ones that finish the job. Because it is clear our people won’t settle for a life of harassment and abuse any longer.

Iranians are saying that if they don’t take action now, they will condemn the next generation to lives destroyed in the same way.

To see young women marching towards armed forces, burning their hijabs and dancing in the streets fills me with immense pride. They have solidarity from Iranian men but they are the ones in the front lines.

This is bravery and power personified. This is feminism. This is the future. For Iranians living in suffocation for the past 43 years, this is the pot boiling over

Our lions can not be silenced any longer.

Shabnam Dastgheib was born in Iran and moved to New Zealand when she was 5-years-old. She is a former journalist and currently lives in Ōtautahi.

Top Image: A protester holds a portrait of Mahsa Amini during a demonstration in support of Amini, a young Iranian woman who died after being arrested in Tehran by the Islamic Republic's morality police, on Istiklal avenue in Istanbul on September 20, 2022. Photo: Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images

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