Cultivating allyship and awareness

CMHR displays banner in solidarity with Iranian protestors

Woman, Life, Freedom, a banner honouring Mahsa Jina Amini and the Iranian protest movement she inspired, will be on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights from Sept. 16 to Feb. 6.

Keeley Braunstein-Black

Saturday, Sept. 16 marks the one-year anniversary of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini (also known by her Kurdish name, Jina Amini), whose brutal murder at the hands of the Iranian morality police sparked a national uprising in Iran and international protests.

On Sept. 13, 2022, Amini was arrested by the morality police, whose role includes enforcing the country’s strict hijab laws. She was severely beaten for wearing her hijab improperly and succumbed to her injuries three days later while in police custody.

A wave of protests and civil unrest followed in Iran, with young women demonstrating for the removal of restrictive dress laws. These were met by violent crackdowns from government hardliners.

To honour Amini and stand in solidarity with Iranian, Kurdish and Afghan women, Hajar Moradi, an Iranian-Canadian multidisciplinary artist, filmmaker and activist, helped create the Woman, Life, Freedom banner.

The banner will be displayed at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) from Sept. 16 until Feb. 6, 2024. Visitors can view the banner in the Community Corridor for free.

Woman, Life, Freedom draws attention to the ongoing struggle for women’s rights in the region, and Moradi hopes it will amplify women’s voices across borders, highlighting their collective battle against the patriarchy.

The banner was originally carried and displayed by Iranian activist group Feminists-4Jina (of which Moradi is a member) at the Toronto International Women’s Day rally in March 2023 and received immensely well, Moradi says.

“We got amazing feedback from the protesters at the rally. Many (people) knew about the women-led revolution happening in Iran and wanted to participate in the installation,” she says.

Woman, Life, Freedom is the product of a collective effort between Moradi, Iranian-Canadian artist Azadeh Pirazimian, volunteer Saeedeh Niktab Etaati and more than 100 participants whose messages of solidarity in various languages, such as Anishinaabemowin Kurdish, Chinese and Hindi, were sewn onto the banner’s colourful fabric squares.

The English translation of the Kurdish slogan “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” (“Woman, Life, Freedom”) is emblazoned across the centre of the banner. “Some people were curious about the slogan and what it represents, which sparked great conversations,” Moradi says.

The letters were created using braided fabric strings to symbolize the cutting of women’s hair, an Iranian symbol of mourning and protest. Hair cutting has since become an international act of solidarity.

“Show your sisterhood,” Pirazimian says. She believes the multiple languages displayed on the banner will help people viewing it at the CMHR connect with the work and go home with a renewed sense of awareness.

Moradi says she hopes Woman, Life, Freedom will “cultivate international allyship by highlighting the shared challenges women encounter worldwide.”

Moradi and Pirazimian say allyship in Manitoba can involve learning about the ongoing protests, amplifying Iranian voices in the news, attending local rallies and supporting Iranian friends and community members.

Iranian community members are leading a rally outside the museum on Sept. 16 to mark the one-year anniversary of Amini’s death, Angeliki Bogiatji, interpretive program developer at the CMHR, says.

“We’re really hopeful that human rights will (again) come to the forefront of this conversation on that very important day,” she says.

Published in Volume 78, Number 02 of The Uniter (September 14, 2023)

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