Gen Z Iranian Women Hold the Future

“As a 22-year-old Iranian American woman, it is painfully clear that our fates are intertwined as we raise our voices for autonomy.”

Protestors gather in front of the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to protest the murder of Masha Amini by the morality police and show solidarity with the people of Iran, September 2022. (Esteban Osorio / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

“Woman, life, freedom,” is what young Iranian women are chanting as they bravely take to the streets to protest the compulsory hijab laws that restrict their bodily autonomy.

Over the past two weeks, the women of Iran have risen up in the name of Mahsa (Jina) Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was detained and then murdered by Iran’s morality police for allegedly showing a few strands of hair from underneath her hijab while visiting family in Tehran.

Mahsa’s death sparked protests across the country as Iranians fight for their human rights, freedom of choice and democracy. Women are cutting their hair in protest and bravely marching in the streets. In response, the Islamic Republic is indiscriminately killing and arresting the Iranians protesting their autocratic government. To hide their own crimes, the government has shut down the internet, silencing the entire country. 

As widespread as these protests have become, we cannot ignore that it’s Gen Z Iranian women who sparked this flame of civil rights advocacy. I’m the same age as Mahsa. And as a 22-year-old Iranian American woman, it is painfully clear that our fates are intertwined as we raise our voices for autonomy.

One needs to look no further than TikTok to see videos of young Iranian women on the frontlines, demanding freedom. They’re paying for it with their lives—as of Sept. 30, 83 people, including teenagers, have been killed in the protests. Women my age and younger are being shot point-blank for their defiance.

Iranian protesters set their scarves on fire while marching down a street on Oct. 1, 2022 in Tehran, Iran. (Getty Images)

Across the ocean, Iranian Americans are watching with collective anguish. For us, this is not abstract — we have sisters and cousins, aunts and nieces in Iran — some on the frontlines, others voicing their support in more covert ways. Gen Z’s inherent digital intelligence has allowed them to use social media as a catalyst for dissent, resulting in the Iranian government curbing internet access. In response, Iranian American women have been uplifting the voices of their siblings more than ever in a show of diasporic solidarity, while internet freedom groups work to help Iranians circumvent restrictions.

It’s easy for us to watch these protests and think, this would never happen here. But the chant of “woman, life, freedom” resonates internationally — especially here in the United States as women fight for our own autonomy.

I compare our struggles not to diminish the severity of either — the struggles I face as an American are nowhere near as severe as the perils facing Iranian women. Rather, I want to emphasize that we have a shared fate. Like our sisters in Iran, Gen Z women in the United States are coming out in droves to demand bodily autonomy. Members of my generation concerned about autonomy in the United States should amplify the voices of Iranians protesting for their freedoms as we also work to protect our freedoms here at home.  

Here at home, Gen Z — and particularly Gen Z women — are being spurred to action following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade earlier this year. New data from IGNITE found that among young cis women, trans men, trans women, and gender-fluid individuals, abortion is a top issue in the lead-up to the midterms. From social media to the streets, Gen Z women in the U.S. are demanding autonomy and rejecting the idea that an aging, mostly male body can control their bodies.   

Like our sisters in Iran, Gen Z women in the United States are coming out in droves to demand bodily autonomy.

It’s not just abortion rights, either. Gen Z women in the U.S. are fighting for bodily autonomy as it pertains to sexual harassment and violence in school and the workplace, discriminatory dress codes and ending period poverty. Woman, life, freedom.   

Gen Z women are a force to be reckoned with, from my hometown of Stockton, Calif., to Tehran. As an Iranian, I yearn for my sisters across the sea to be free. And as a woman, I recognize the path to liberation at home and abroad is rocky and requires us to rise up. Luckily, that is exactly what my generation is doing. If you care about crises of bodily autonomy at home, it’s critical you use your own platforms to uplift the voices and plight of the brave Iranian protestors — because none of us are free until all of us are.  

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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Mana Shooshtari is a native of Stockton, Calif. She's the field director of a national political organization and studying political science at San Jose State College.