The patriarchal, misogynistic ideologies in law enforcement, government and Iranian society has allowed the “honor” killing of young women to become a crime without punishment.
A woman’s body with no head, no arms and no legs.
An unfinished sculpture.
Out of all the works in the art gallery, it caught my attention the most.
I pondered upon the artist’s motivation in creating her. What was the message being conveyed? Who is she without a head, arms or legs?
The sculpture most likely symbolized the fate of a woman under oppression. One with no agency, no opportunity to create her destiny. One unable to walk away from a dark past into a promising future.
This symbol of oppression, this state of shattered womanhood, was a reality for Mona Heydari.
She became a child bride in Iran at only 12 years old, forced to marry her cousin. Giving birth at 14, she was pressured to stay in the marriage for the sake of her child, despite enduring domestic violence. Finally reaching a breaking point, she escaped her marriage and fled the country. Her father and uncle succeeded in tracking her down in Turkey, reassuring her it would be safe to return home.
Once there, her husband and brother-in-law tied her hands and feet and decapitated her.
Beheading of #MonaHeydari is not a single incident. Her death by her cousin who paraded with a big smile as he was holding her head was a result of laws that do not punish violence against women & an ideology that considers women the property of her father & husband.#LetUsTalk pic.twitter.com/Pi9dDcwRlV— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) February 10, 2022
As if straight out of a scene in an ISIS flick, the husband paraded around town carrying the severed head in one hand and the sickle he had used to commit murder in the other. With a smirk on his face, he asked, “Now do you have anything more to say?”
The two men were arrested—though it is unclear if they will face retribution.
Heydari’s death, reported on February 5, 2022, is only the latest in a series of so-called honor killings involving young women in Iran in the last two years. 14-year-old Romina Ashrafi was beheaded by her father after running away with her boyfriend. Another 14-year-old child bride, Mobina Souri, was married to a cleric in her village who killed her upon allegations that she had an affair. The father of 22-year-old Rayhaneh Ameri murdered her with an iron bar merely because she had arrived home later than usual one night. Faezeh Maleki, also 22, lost her life after her father poured gasoline on her and set her on fire—he had speculated she had a boyfriend.
The list goes on.
Iran’s law enforcement generally considers violence perpetrated upon women by immediate family members or other relatives as “family matters.” Punishment for perpetrators is often lenient. Women who are perceived to have tainted the reputation of their family or community tend to fall victim to honor killings—including child brides like Heydari desperate to flee arranged or abusive marriages.
Iran’s law enforcement generally considers violence perpetrated upon women by immediate family members or other relatives as “family matters.”
Heydari’s being only 17 takes me back to my own life at that age. I had just finished high school in Iran and was planning to travel abroad. By the time I turned 18, I had left for Germany and ended up staying there a couple months. The New Year’s Eve celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin were particularly memorable. That journey not only opened my eyes toward another culture and exposed me to a different way of living, but also symbolized the freedom to travel and broaden one’s horizons. Admittedly, I was fortunate to have a family, especially a mother, who supported me in the endeavor.
Yet the country’s laws are not so supportive.
Married women in Iran need their husband’s permission to leave the country or renew their passports. Their husband’s refusal to allow them to travel has kept many prominent female athletes in Iran from participating in sports matches held outside the country.
Young girls can be married off as long as their father or male guardian secures court approval. And the pressure on girls and women to marry is intense, regardless of the discriminatory laws imposed on them once they sign the marriage contract.
It is why I chose never to get married in Iran, despite societal pressures and expectations.
Heydari’s death has sparked outcries about the lack of protections for women facing violence in Iran. In particular, the incident renewed debates surrounding the government’s refusal to pass laws that could better protect women like Mona. Citizens are taking to social media to decry ideologies of patriarchy and misogyny that allow perpetrators to get away with honor killings and other forms of violence.
Ladan Tabatabaei, formerly a high-profile actress in Iran, spoke out about the incident on her Instagram account: “We cannot be silent. We cannot continue as spectators. Every one of us should do everything in our power in bringing justice to women, in raising awareness toward honor crimes.”
Until that happens, the sculpture will remain unfinished. Her voice, thoughts and emotions will never come to life. Her dreams to travel, start afresh and create her future will remain incomplete.
All while oppressors parade around town, displaying severed body parts as medals of accomplishment. As long as they are the sculptors, the woman herself will remain shattered.