The role of social media in the Iranian resistance: Catalysts for advocacy, emancipation and protest
Illustratrice Yona. Instagram : @welcome_univers
August 28, 2019
Written by Deborah Rouach
Translated by Elise Mckeever
Once again, Iranian women are at the forefront of social change and at the heart of their country’s challenges. This time, they are using social media to transform societal relations and activism. This use is empowering Iranian women, allowing them to define their realities and conditions themselves. This article therefore explores the role of social media networks as a means of working around the traditional, censored media in the fight of Iranian feminists.
The Internet, this virtual space of protests and the fight for rights and freedoms, has intensified the amount and scope of Iranian feminist activism, and given it a new lease of life. Women are not only present in public space but are protagonists of change, producers of online content and actors in their struggle for liberation. They have seized this new medium, which offers them the freedom refused them by traditional media outlets, intending to use it to transform society and further their denunciation of a system that they find degrading. Social media is revolutionary for Iranian women because it allows them to deconstruct patriarchal culture.
In an authoritarian society where any attack against the established order of things is repressed, freedom of expression frowned upon and demands for social justice condemned, the Internet appears to “capture the contradictions, paradoxes and dynamism of Iranian society better than any other phenomenon in Iran todayKAMRAVA Mehran and DORRAJ Manochehr, Iran Today : An encyclopedia of life in the Islamic Republic, Greenwood Press, 2008, p. 245”. Blurring the boundaries of public and private, it is an in-between space; one that exploits and plays upon subtleties in social and regime censorship rules. Iranian society has found in social mediaIn 2017, 49 millions of Iranians are using the Internet according to the World Bank definition, available on: https://ourworldindata.org/internet a “virtual public space” where the regime’s prohibitions can be circumvented. Iranian women’s use of the Internet is evidence of this. Indeed, Fariba Adelkhah describes it as a “space of negotiation with the authoritiesDELORME Florian, with ADELKHAH Fariba, AREFI Armin, FOULADVIND Leyla, “Iran : 40 ans de révolution (3/4), Négocier l’émancipation : une lutte sans fin”, France culture, 06/01/19, … Continue reading”.
Social media networks are proving to be one of the most important means of communication and mobilisation for Iranian women. They use it to document their struggles and the injustices that take place against them, which are ignored by traditional media outlets. VPNs (virtual private networks) mean that platforms such as Facebook, Telegram and Instagram can be used despite their censorship by the government. Social media therefore counteracts and substitutes the marginalisation of women’s voices in the traditional media and other spaces of public expression. Social media is liberating women’s voices where, traditionally within public space, everything that can be is done to silence their opinions and reformist ideas.
Several social media campaigns are testament to the activism of Iranian women. For example, ‘My Stealthy Freedom’The journalist Masih Alinejad, exiled in the United-States is a key contributors to these campaigns created on Facebook on May 3rd 2014 and followed by more than a million people, ‘White Wednesdays’ where the white veil is worn every Wednesday as a symbol of protest against the forced veiling inscribed in law since May 2017, and ‘walking unveiled’ initiated at the beginning of 2018. These movements show that social media networks are daring spaces that lead to concrete public action by women who no longer want to endure out-dated restrictions in a modern society where personal belief and public practise should remain distinct. If the women’s struggle is focused on the wearing of the veil, it is because this embodies the symbol of the 1978 revolution, oppression against Iranian women and is a rupture at the heart of Iranian society. Women invoke the notion of personal choice regarding veiling and wish to live their own subjective and individual definitions of gender. They are no longer afraid to expose the harassment they are victim to in public, demonstrated by the video movement ‘my camera is my weapon’ launched on Twitter and Facebook by Masih Alinejad on April 15th 2018. Iranian women are using social media as a tool for voicing their demands; they embody a new terrain of defiance where one can publically criticise the oppressive moral and social norms and rebel against the attacks of the morality police.
These Internet campaigns have shown that women’s cyber activism is not a fringe movement attempting to destabilise society but a non-hierarchical association of people who refuse to be confined by gendered rules. Social media thus plays a major role in the creation of socio-political movements and the establishment of a network of solidarity between women. The possibility of creating “a network of public spheresTAHMASEBI-BIRGANI Victoria, « Social Media as a Site of Transformative Politics: Iranian Women’s Online Contestations », in VAHABZADEH Peyman (dir.), Iran’s struggles for social justice : … Continue reading” allows a diverse range of Iranian women to share their stories, regardless of their social status, religion, location, without being affiliated with a particular feminist movement.
Criticisms that say this form of protest is decentralised and virtual can be contradicted. Indeed, Internet campaigns are reflected in the public space, allow women to express an individual perception of their condition and instantly share it while circumventing the government’s ban on organising social movements. Iranian women have thus found a way to counter the hypocrisy of the regime, who acts according only to the scale of the movement and how far it undermines their authority. Social media therefore enriches the possibilities of Iranian women’s modes of combat by providing them with a space that gives them each a voice, brings them together and amplifies their protests.
Social media therefore plays a decisive role in the emancipatory process of Iranian women who are reclaiming their struggle independently of state control. They have changed the relationship between Iranian women and their struggle as they have allowed women to take over the conversation on their bodies and become part of the debate, saying “by oneself for oneself [via] the opening of a space of possibilitiesWEIL Armelle, « Vers un militantisme virtuel ? Pratiques et engagement féministe sur Internet », Nouvelles Questions Féministes, vol. 36, n°2, 2017, p. 66-84.”. By allowing women to express their subjectivity and individuality, they reinforce the unique element of women’s emancipation instead of reducing it to a uniform, unchanging state of affairs. Social media networks thus make it possible to break the chains that keep Iranian women subject to the good will of the regime and provide a public springboard for their protests. Consequently, they can deconstruct and refute the approved feminity authorised by the religious forces
To cite this article: Deborah Rouach, ”Comprendre les mutations qui affectent l’Iran à travers la question de la condition des femmes “, Mémoire de master en relations internationales, under the direction of Mr Thierry Coville, IRIS Sup’, 2019, 56 p.
|↑1||KAMRAVA Mehran and DORRAJ Manochehr, Iran Today : An encyclopedia of life in the Islamic Republic, Greenwood Press, 2008, p. 245|
|↑2||In 2017, 49 millions of Iranians are using the Internet according to the World Bank definition, available on: https://ourworldindata.org/internet|
|↑3||DELORME Florian, with ADELKHAH Fariba, AREFI Armin, FOULADVIND Leyla, “Iran : 40 ans de révolution (3/4), Négocier l’émancipation : une lutte sans fin”, France culture, 06/01/19, 58′|
|↑4||The journalist Masih Alinejad, exiled in the United-States is a key contributors to these campaigns|
|↑5||TAHMASEBI-BIRGANI Victoria, « Social Media as a Site of Transformative Politics: Iranian Women’s Online Contestations », in VAHABZADEH Peyman (dir.), Iran’s struggles for social justice : economics, agency, justice, activism, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, p. 185.|
|↑6||WEIL Armelle, « Vers un militantisme virtuel ? Pratiques et engagement féministe sur Internet », Nouvelles Questions Féministes, vol. 36, n°2, 2017, p. 66-84.|