Just over two years ago, Abbotsford’s Sharareh H. visited her hometown of Masshad, Iran.
Travelling with her father, Sharareh attempted to enter a local college with him but was denied entry for wearing what was told to her was an inappropriate hijab. She had several strands of hair loose and wasn’t considered fully covered.
Sharareh wanted to say something, but her father urged her to remain quiet for her own safety.
For the next hour, Sharareh waited outside as her father attended to his business in the college.
Hamed, who considers herself very opinionated, was unhappy with how she was treated.
“I was disgusted,” she said. “Disgusted by the way he felt like he was in control and had the power to dominate where I go and what I do. I will never forget.”
But now, with her home country in turmoil after a woman refused to follow orders, Sharareh feels fortunate. One different decision, one wrong word or one act of disobedience and it could have been her as a victim, or worse.
The name Mahsa Amini has transformed into a hashtag on social media and has been chanted in the streets worldwide. The 22-year-old Iranian woman died Sept. 16, after being detained by the country’s morality police in the capital city of Tehran for wearing inappropriate attire. The police were accused of beating her and causing a fatal head injury.
Protests spread throughout the country hours after her death in hospital, and the government responded with regional shutdowns of Internet access. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed the widespread unrest as riots and claimed it was part of a foreign plot to hurt Iran.
According to Iran Human Rights, more than 200 people have been killed as a result of government intervention in the protests, with much of the world condemning the Iranian response.
Demonstrations have spread across the globe, including regular gatherings in Vancouver. Justin Trudeau stated on Oct. 11, International Day of the Girl, that Canada stands with those protesting, and that Canada has imposed sanctions on Iran due to the country’s actions.
“This year’s theme, ‘Our time is now – our rights, our future’, is particularly timely as women, girls, and students in Iran bravely stand up to the oppressive Iranian regime,” he stated. “They have the right to live their lives, to make their own choices, and to express themselves peacefully. We are standing with them.”
Sharareh, who works in downtown Abbotsford, is also standing with them from afar. She has regularly attended gatherings in Vancouver and her Instagram account has transformed into a platform for the protests and a way for people to seek knowledge about what is happening in Iran. Her entire family is still in the country and she said it has been hard watching from so far away.
“This issue is deeply personal for me,” she said. “It’s in every atom of my body and since everything started I haven’t had a normal life.”
Sharareh and her family moved to Canada in 2005 and she arrived here at the age of 16. She was always aware of the challenges and oppression women and minorities face in the country, she said.
“For 43 years, a lot of Iranian women and ethnic and religious minorities have been oppressed,” she said. “My experience is being a woman in the country - I have to cover my hair and the morality police control how women should be dressed and how things should look in public. So that has been something I’ve always carried in terms of oppression. But you also realize all of the culture, heritage, history and flavour in the country, it’s a beautiful country. It’s a conflicting feeling to be raised in Iran.”
Her parents lived through the 1979 Iranian revolution that led to many changes and Hamed feels there is a lot of trauma associated with that time period. However, she noted that Iran is now a young country with 75 per cent of the population under the age of 30. Sharareh said this generation wants changes.
She said a notable moment occurred when she was 13 and wanted to take her swimming career to the next level. But she was told by her father that it was not possible because girls cannot compete in sports at the national level.
“I just thought, why the hell not,” she said. “But my parents knew early on - they had two daughters and that was one of the primary reasons why they wanted to come to Canada, so we could have more of a future.”
Sharareh noted that everything from sports to education to job opportunities are either limited or non-existent for women. They also need their husbands or fathers to sign for them if they want to travel and custody of children almost always goes to the father. She said Canada is not perfect at all, but it gave her freedoms she could never receive as a woman in Iran.
She also stated that the protests are not anti-religion but are pro-human rights. Sharareh said she is encouraged and overwhelmed with the support in Vancouver and Canada for the protests and prays for a positive outcome. She also never believed her social media would become a beacon for freedom.
“We want to imagine a different reality, a different world that is not defined by guns, but by solidarity,” she said. “So what I want to see is for people to reach solidarity, to be able to live a life where they can make choices for themselves and for religion to not seek to control and oppress people. Even though we’re physically apart, we are very much the same. I want to shine light on Iran and continue using their critical thinking to understand these international issues better.”
For more, visit Sharareh’s Instagram page at instagram.com/sharareh.hamed.