• Mahsa Keikha


Mahsa Amini. Her name is my name.

The news of her tragic and undeserved death—or rather her murder at the hands of Iran’s ‘morality police’—has left me heartbroken.

Mahsa Amini. She could be me. She could be my daughter.

I know what it’s like to be forced to wear the hijab. I know what it’s like to live in fear. I grew up in post-Revolution Iran.

When I was a young girl, as soon as I reached school age, I had to cover my hair, even though I attended an all-girls school. In classes and in public, we girls had to wear dark clothes, preferably black. Long sleeves covered our arms, and long skirts covered our legs—and we wore pants underneath those skirts, just in case. Not even our socks could be white.

The powers that be wanted us invisible. They wanted us to be silent, obedient. All through those early years we were taught that if we let so much as a hair slip out from our headscarves, we risked going to hell. This thought was pushed into our minds. It was a perverse and persistent form of brainwashing.

When I was a teenager, I experienced intense fear about my appearance. I worried constantly that I would somehow attract attention. It wasn’t just going to hell that I became concerned about—the punishment for women who broke any rules could be severe.

It was only after going to university that I was able to glimpse another reality, one that exists in most of the world. I began to travel for my job. I went to Germany, Switzerland, Canada, the UK. There, millions of women walk on the streets with their heads uncovered. They wear what they want, and bare their arms and legs if they choose, and they do not worry about being snatched by ‘morality police’ and beaten for flaunting repressive rules. It was impossible for me to believe that all these women would be going to hell.

Mahsa Amini. Only 22 years old. Around the same age I was when I began to discover for myself the freedoms available in other countries. But Mahsa Amini has forever been robbed of any such opportunities.

People forget that Iran was not always like this. Even I do not have experience of the time before the Revolution. But I do know that pre-Revolution, Persian women were among the most modern in the world. The women of Iran wore what they wanted, they moved freely and spoke freely. The Revolution occurred because the Iranian people no longer wanted their country to be a monarchy. They wanted a full democracy.

Instead, the people of Iran got an oppressive theocracy that has held onto power for 43 years through intimidation and violence. This regime made the hijab mandatory less than a month after the Revolution. 43 years later, Iranian women are still being beaten and tortured and killed for the slightest deviance from those rules. Mahsa Amini was not the first. I fear she will not be the last.

The limited social media available to Iranians in recent years had opened for them a window of possibility. Seeing how others in the world live, they’d begun to understand how the Islamic Republic has been abusing its citizens. Many had started quietly rebelling against the government’s strict rules. Now, in the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death, many have taken to the streets in protest. But the government has blocked their internet access, saying it needs to quell the uprisings. They want the people of Iran silenced, invisible, obedient, just as they have wanted its women and girls to be all these years. But the removal of internet access is more than that. I have no doubt that the cutting of ties with the outside means that the mass murder of Iranian citizens is happening—and the government does not want the rest of the world to witness it.

I fled from Iran, and from an abusive marriage, in 2013. I had long been quietly preparing, tirelessly striving to secure a work permit that would enable me to go to another country. By then, I had a young daughter, and I knew I did not want her to live an oppressed life. I didn’t want her to be forced to wear the hijab and cover herself and be in constant fear of breaking the rules. I wanted my daughter to have the freedom that is everyone’s birthright. I wanted her to be surrounded by love, not hate.

The actual day that I left came at me as a surprise. Under imminent threat of death, I ran from my home without even shoes on my feet, carrying my young daughter. After a panic-filled journey, we landed in Canada. It was the best thing that ever happened.

Here, I can live my life freely. I wear what I want, think how I want, speak up and share my thoughts. And I have the freedom to speak for others like Mahsa Amini.

I do not take this lightly. I know what it’s like to be made invisible. I know what it’s like to silenced.

It has given my heart some solace to see the outpouring of voices from around the world in the days since Mahsa Amini’s death. We must continue to speak, to make ourselves heard. For if there is one lesson that can be learned from the history of Iran it is that voices can be silenced, that rights can be taken away swiftly, without notice, nearly overnight.

Mahsa Amini. Her name is my name.

She is me. She is all women, all people, who have been oppressed and made invisible. Let us be her voice.

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