In September, as girls and young women across the globe were heading off to schools and colleges, excited at the prospect of learning new subjects, catching up with old friends, and planning their futures, young women and girls of Iran were fighting for their right to be free.
They marched in the streets protesting the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died at the hands of Iran’s morality police while detained for allegedly wearing her headscarf improperly.
For the past seven months, these young women and girls have made a conscious decision to take off their headscarves, pull their hair back in pony tails, cut off their hair in protest, tear up pictures of government leaders and officials in their classrooms, and walk into streets to face batons, beatings and bullets in search of freedom, justice and equality. They made a choice to put themselves in harm’s way, so that they could have a future that would allow them to make their own choices about what to wear, what to study, who to be. They knew that for taking such a stance, for their acts of bravery, for their fight to be free, they could pay a heavy price. They would face verbal abuse, physical attacks and beatings, sexual assaults, imprisonment, and even death, all the while knowing who was responsible for the physical and mental assault on their bodies and minds. When they spoke, sang, or danced their truth to power they called out their oppressors, named those in power, and came face to face with their aggressors and attackers. But now those who wish them harm, those who are releasing toxic chemicals into their centers of learning are no longer identifiable, at least not in plain sight.
Over seven months into a revolution led by the brave girls and young women of Iran, there is now a veiling of their aggressors, hidden figures launching attacks on girls in schools.
Official news outlets are reporting that somewhere between 830-1,200 school girls have been affected by poisoning at over 26 schools throughout Iran, since November. They are suffering from nausea, dizziness, fatigue and respiratory problems. While majority of the earlier attacks concentrated in the holy city of Qom, the school poisoning incidents, chain poisonings, have recently spread throughout Iran. Irrespective of the high number of attacks and increasing number of victims, parents’ pleas to government officials to find and bring to justice the perpetrators has been met with evasive responses. The news reports do not state that these attacks have been sanctioned by the government, and in fact many of the headlines capture a narrative that“Iran is probing into the poison attacks on girls’ schools.”
Like a real crime story, the perpetrator(s) has yet to be apprehended. The heroines of Iran’s 2022 revolution now have an aggressor, and enemy, who is veiled and attacking them in the one place where they should feel safe, in the classroom. During a briefing on March 1st, Ned Price, US Department of State Spokesperson, called on “Iranian authorities to thoroughly investigate these reported poisonings and do everything they can to stop them and to hold accountable the perpetrators.” But the question remains as to what government officials are actually doing to investigate these horrific crimes.
Reports from news outlets indicate that officials’ response to the outcry of parents has been less than satisfactory, ranging from ‘many of the fears stem from rumors and that it is not as bad as it is being reported, to it is difficult to catch the perpetrator because it requires an examination of the causative agent used for the poisoning at the time of the poisoning, or that the poisoning is happening because people want girls’ schools to be closed.’
None of these responses demonstrate the government’s commitment to solve these crimes and apprehend the perpetrators.
Recent videos from Iran also show parents questioning school officials on why the school security cameras did not work during the poisoning incidents, or why a school principal was not at school during a recent attack. A recent released video captures a disturbing incident where a concerned parent’s plea for answers and actions is met with force from undercover security officers. As the questions mount, concrete responses and actions become illusive and point to a government that is at best complacent and at worst complicit. In the meantime, girls and young women in search of freedom and knowledge can find neither, no freedom in the streets, and no knowledge in the classroom.
Leila Milani is an Iranian-American who was born in Iran. She is a board member of Too Young To Wed.