The prominent role of Gen Z protesters, especially young women, is one of the most striking characteristics of this month’s Iranian protests over Mahsa Amini’s death.
The big-picture Protesters have been subject to a more severe government crackdown. But young people continue to take to the streets and protest online to demand more social freedoms and a government serving the interests of the Iranian people.
Get up to speed: The protests started in mid-September, just days after Amini was taken into custody by Iran’s morality officers. They had arrested Amini for violating a religious law that requires women to wear headscarves. Authorities claim that Amini was not mistreated, a claim her family disputes.
- Protests have spread to many cities in Iran and around the world since then.
- Recent videos have been flooded with footage of young girls and women wearing headscarves and waving them in Iranian schools and on the streets shouting “death the dictator,” referring to the 83-year-old Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
- According to reports, school-aged girls in Tehran chased an education officer out of their school. Karaj, Iran: Teenage schoolgirls shouted, “If they don’t unify, they will kill each one of us,” according to one video that was verified by BBC.
The non-profit Iran Human Rights estimated on Monday that 27 children were among at least 215 people killed during the protests since their inception.
- The deputy commander for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps stated earlier this month that the average age of protestors arrested was 15 years.
- For their part, Khamenei and other Iranian officials have attributed the protests to outside forces without providing evidence — a claim that protesters and their supporters repeatedly rejected.
- According to Shargh, an independent Iranian reformist outlet, the education minister of Iran said that schoolchildren were taken into “psychological institutions” after being detained during protests. After being reformed, he said that the students could “return to school.”
The news: Although protest movements in Iran have been part of Iranian history, analysts claim this wave of demonstrations is different. Analysts say that the young age of many protesters and their leadership set them apart from previous protest movements.
- The uniqueness of this situation is that young women are leading it and that the fear barrier has been broken. Merissa Khurma is the program director for the Middle East Program at Wilson Center. She tells Axios.
The young Gen Z protesters also “don’t seem to have the same fears and trepidations as previous generations,” states Assal Rad, National Iranian American Council. She points out that school children are not included in the 2009 Green movement, a pro-democracy movement that grew from the controversial 2009 presidential election results.
- Rad says that while part of the reason is their age, as they are less likely to take on risk than older people, Rad also explains that this could be because Rad didn’t experience the same events as older generations, such as the 1979 revolution or the Iran-Iraq conflict in the 1980s.
- Rad says that young people are motivated because they “see their futures on the line.”
State Of Play: GenZ Iranians have more options to protest and more ways to bypass restrictions than they did in previous demonstrations.
- “That’s the way we see these videos. Rad says that this is how they see these protests.
- Khurma states that this access to information about the outside world and different forms of information has fuelled various protests, such as song and poetry, and Gen Z’s passion for protest.
- She says, “They see a world they don’t live in, and so they can better understand the injustices, inequalities.” They are more empowered, confident, and willing to take risks to express their opinions.
What you should watch: While it is unlikely that the government will reverse its restrictions since that would presuppose a total government collapse, Rad predicts that protests will continue to force the government into losing some restrictions.
- Rad states, “There is no way to return to the status quo. I believe those taboos were broken.”
- “The truth is that if they keep civil disobedience going on, there’s not much the state can do. What can a country do if 20,000,000 women decide not to do anything? Arrest a fourth of the nation.
No Going Back”: Gen Z is at the forefront for protests in Iran