“Women, life, freedom”: The new revolution led by girls in Iran

November 14, 2022
By Kerri Whelan
November 14, 2022
~3 min read

Girls and women in Iran are demanding a different kind of future.

What is their vision, and how did we get here?

On Sept. 16, 22-year-old Mahsa (Jina) Amini died in a hospital after being arrested for not wearing a hijab, in accordance with the government dress code. The circumstances were suspicious — she died while in police custody after being in a coma for three days, and witnesses say she was beaten while taken to the detention center.

This kind of extreme inhumane treatment of women and girls hasn’t always been the scene in Iran. From the 1920s to 1970s, women’s rights were making significant progress: Education became more accessible, women’s voting rights passed, child marriage became illegal and women gained the power to file for divorce.

As for official dress codes? Women and girls were free to wear any style, from traditional hijabs to skirts and high heels. It was their choice.

Women study at Tehran University in 1971.
Women study at Tehran University in 1971. Source: foreignpolicy.com.

But with the revolution in 1979, progress started to reverse. Education, voting rights and women’s political leadership were stripped from society. The legal age of marriage was even reduced from 18 to just 9 years old.

Girls’ and women’s rights activists have fought back on this regression for years, but making significant change for gender equality has been nearly impossible under Iranian law.

Mahsa’s death, however, has created a new tipping point for young people in Iran.

Protests have erupted — girls and women are marching in the streets, burning their head coverings and chanting for justice with the call: “Women, life, freedom.” The average age of protesters who have been arrested is reportedly just 15. But these young girls’ courage can come at a fatal price.

A 16-year-old girl named Nika Shakarami was last seen alive on Sept. 20 after being followed by security forces for burning her headscarf at a protest — authorities claim she died after falling from a building. The story is the same for another 16-year-old girl protester named Sarina Esmailzadeh.

Nika Shakarami was last seen being chased by authorities at a protest.
Nika Shakarami was last seen being chased by authorities at a protest. Source: bbc.com.

Girls, women and young people aren’t giving up. Thousands remain standing at the front lines of the protests, demanding equality, protection and freedom. They’re taking to social media, cutting their hair on video to fight back on traditional beauty standards. And their rallying cries are echoing around the world — from Istanbul to Los Angeles, protesters are joining in solidarity with Iranian girls.



The bravery is inspiring millions. Girls in Iran are willing to risk their lives for their freedom, and girls everywhere know that the movement for gender equality has a lot to accomplish. We must listen to girls’ voices, support their freedom from violence and rally alongside them as they fight to rebuild the future for the better.


As a girls’ rights organization, Plan International USA stands firmly in solidarity with girls and women in Iran. Read our full statement.