“Jin – Jiyan – Azadi” (“Women, Life, Freedom”) – This slogan comes from the Kurdish freedom movement, and is a result of decades of grassroots activities and efforts of Kurdish women in one of the most economically deprived regions of Iran, the Kurdish provinces.

Last month, Iran’s morality police arrested Mahsa Amini, a twenty-two-year-old Kurdish Iranian who was visiting Tehran and apparently revealed some of her hair. She was sent to a reëducation camp, and, several days later, died while in custody. Her family members suspect she was killed in a beating at the hands of the police. Her death set off the most widespread protests—many of which have included women removing the head coverings mandated by Iran’s conservative government—that the country has seen since the Green Movement of 2009. The authorities responded by cracking down harshly, and there have been unconfirmed reports of protesters being killed by the government. The Iranian regime, currently led by an ailing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has tried clamping down on Internet access as well.

The Iranian scholar Fatemeh Shams, who has been living in exile since 2009, teaches Persian literature at Penn, and is the author of the book “A Revolution in Rhyme: Poetic Co-option Under the Islamic Republic.” During an interview with “The New Yorker”, she explains what distinguishes the current protests from others in Iran’s past, the place and importance of Iran’s Kurdish minority in the uprising, and the benefits and drawbacks of leaderless movements. Shams puts it as follows:

“I think you can get a very good sense of any revolutionary episode or movement from its slogans. And the central slogan of this revolution, in my view, is quite different from previous ones—from the one in 1979, and then if you go back in history, to the turn of the twentieth century, which was the constitutional revolution. The central slogan of this revolution is “Women, Life, Freedom.” You can compare this with one of the main slogans of the 1979 revolutionary movement, which was “Bread, Work, Freedom.” It was the central slogan of the Communist Labor Party, which had been inspired by the revolutionary movement in Russia.

But here, the focus, the core of this revolutionary movement, is the bodily autonomy of women, and reclaiming the bodily autonomy of women. This slogan comes from the Kurdish freedom movement, and is a result of decades of grassroots activities and efforts of Kurdish women in one of the most economically deprived regions of Iran, the Kurdish provinces. The Kurdish women of Kurdistan and Turkey used this slogan for the first time. And Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the emancipatory Kurdish movement, in 1998 gave a very famous speech in which he said that women are basically the first captives in history and until they’re not liberated, any emancipatory movement, in fact, will be doomed to fail.”

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