International Day of the Girl is always an occasion to celebrate women and girls, but it’s also a time to reflect on the injustices they’ve faced — and still face — all over the world. This year, one powerhouse political pair spoke out in solidarity with the Iranian women standing up for their own freedoms. Former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama posted about Iranian protests for Day of the Girl 2022 on Oct. 11, and their tribute is so moving.
“On this International Day of the Girl, we stand in solidarity with the courageous Iranian women and girls who have inspired the world through their ongoing protests,” the couple wrote in a joint post via Instagram. Since the Sept. 16 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who was arrested for allegedly not wearing the hijab in accordance with government standards, women all over Iran have been taking to the streets and burning their hijabs in defiance. “The rights they seek are universal,” the Obamas added. “Equality, the ability to make their own choices about how they look and dress and express their identities, and the freedom to do so without facing harassment, intimidation, and violence.”
Several eyewitness reports state that Amini was allegedly severely beaten while being detained by the Guidance Patrol, the Iranian government’s religious morality police, and died as a result of police brutality. Government officials have maintained Amini died of heart failure, a claim her family refutes. Women all over Iran became outraged at the alleged circumstances of Amini’s death, sparking a series of protests that have lasted weeks — despite the risk of retaliation from police and government officials. “We are in awe of the Iranian girls who have played such a leadership role in insisting that the future be different from the past, and that Iranian women enjoy the full rights and opportunities they deserve,” the Obamas wrote.
These protests, described by several key sources as some of the most widespread protests in over a decade, seem to be in response to years of oppression under the stringently religious, theocratic Islamic Republic, which took power in 1979. “To all those who are out there advocating for your rights — we are moved by your acts of protest and bear witness to your bravery in facing down the brutality of a regime resisting calls for change,” the Obamas wrote.
The Iranian government has met these protests and acts of defiance with strong pushback: according to an October 2022 report from Iran Human Rights, as of Oct. 8 at least 185 people have been killed by security forces confronting protesters across the country. At least 19 of those deaths were children. “There are surely difficult days ahead, and our hearts go out to those who have tragically lost loved ones in Iran,” the Obamas wrote.
All over the world, protests have sparked in solidarity for the women and femmes risking their lives to stand up for their rights in Iran. “But we believe that the future will ultimately belong to the young women and girls of Iran who are refusing to be silent,” they added. “You remind us that true power comes not from clinging to the past, but from the effort to build a better future.”