Illustrator Sarah Emami: “Iranian women want to be heard”

Protests have been going on in Iran for weeks over the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Gina Amani, who was brutally arrested by the morality police in September for having little hair out of her hijab. She died of her injuries three days later. Dutch-Iranian Sarah Emami decided to make her voice heard with her amazing illustrations, which now symbolize the Iranian struggle for women’s rights.

This is how you support women in Iran from Holland>

Sarah Emami

Sarah Emami has been living in the Netherlands since her first year, but the messages coming from Iran absolutely struck her heart as part of the Iranian diaspora. The violent arrest of Gina Amani’s sense of humor, for which she had to pay with death, is what Sarah calls the straw that broke the camel’s back. A day after this horrific event, on the evening of Saturday, September 17, I decided to draw an illustration to explain what was happening in Iran:

For something obvious here, you were caught as a woman.

I urgently needed to explain what was really happening in Iran. I often feel that for most non-Iranians, Iran is seen primarily as a “show out of my bed”. For many, it will soon be another restless Middle Eastern country. The effect of the mandatory veil is also often difficult to imagine. This is how I came up with the idea to draw a drawing that everyone can imagine: letting your hair flutter in the wind. For something obvious here, you were caught as a woman.

Compulsory hijab as a symbol of oppression

illustration of a girl with flowing hair and text’Did you know that leaving your hair in the wind is a crime in Iran?It shows how women have been oppressed for over forty years. Before you know it, drawing has gone viral. From sharing the illustration at the universities of Texas and Sussex and during a demonstration in Stockholm to the walls in the Australian city of Sydney, her drawing has become a symbol of the Iranian struggle for women’s rights.

I can’t go back to Iran because of my drawings

Even if you post a single message on social media, foreign support is in great demand. The internet has been shut down in Iran and reports on the situation are coming in very little. Sarah explains that this is a government strategy to silence their actions and suppress protests. This is why it is so important to make your voice heard, especially outside of Iran. The fact that I came out with this drawing in public means that there are consequences for me: I cannot go back to Iran. These consequences do not exist for non-Iranians, so sharing messages on social media really means a lot. The more international attention is on Iran, the more difficult it will be for the regime to take its course. We do not know how this will end, of course, but it is important to bear in mind that the mandatory veil is a symbol of all kinds of oppression against women in Iran. It is one of the most important pillars of maintaining control over women. If that disappears, the system will fall too.

The battle is not over yet

Now a month later, Sarah says it’s especially important for the conversation to continue by showing what Iranian women want. For women and young girls to take off their headscarves, take to the streets and risk their lives for more freedom. Sarah is trying to communicate this message with one of the other illustrations.

The text continues below the illustration

Sarah Emami

I made this drawing based on pictures I saw from Iran. of schoolgirls standing in a classroom, their beautiful long hair hanging over their shoulders and holding their headscarves in the air in protest. They filmed themselves from behind because they didn’t want to be recognized. In the same chapter, they reversed the image of the spiritual leader to write on the back: “Woman, Life, Freedom.” It’s unprecedented for girls aged 14 and 15 to say clearly what they want: get rid of the system. They want to be heard, and we can be that voice for them.

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