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Thousands of Women in Iran Protest Acid Attacks in Wake of Religious Law

On Wednesday, thousands of Iranians in the historic city of Isfahan gathered to protest recent acid attacks on women. The attacks have come just as a new law protecting anyone who "corrects" others for acting "un-Islamic" was passed.

As many as 14 women in Isfahan have recently been attacked by men who have thrown acid at them. Acid attacks cause extreme burns that lead to disfigurement, blindness or sometimes death. One woman in Isfahan reportedly died on Sunday from an acid attack.

The protest in Isfahan drew at least 2,000 people and likely developed from social media action. Protests of this kind are not common in Iran where citizens fear government retaliation for demonstrating.

Yet, the acid attacks on women have sparked outrage toward extremists and a stronger resistance to the new law passed in Parliament on Sunday. Details of the law are not yet completed, but it would give government and private citizens official authority to give statements on those who behave in an "un-Islamic" way. The law does not state that attacking people is an acceptable way to react to breaking social rules.

Since the installment of an Islamic Republic in Iran after the 1979 Revolution, citizens have been made to follow Islamic law, which includes women being required to wear a hijab whenever she is in the public eye. Post-revolution policies have greatly reduced the legal status of women in the country.

While women in the country have now had to follow these strict laws for decades now, women are fighting back. A social media movement called "My Stealthy Freedom," which has nearly 700,000 "likes," features Iranian women who post photos of themselves without a hijab. Posting these photos was already dangerous for these women, but with the passage of this new law it becomes an even more dangerous act.

One recent post on the Facebook page reads, "Mr. President [Rouhani], women make up half of the Iranian population, the half which have always been oppressed, the half of those who voted for you in hopes of attaining equality with men, the very women you said you would give them a proper status. Mr. President, the proper status of an Iranian woman is not staying at home out of fear for her life. The most basic rights of every human being are peace and safety, the very things of which Iranian women are deprived, not only these days, but always."

Many women are now afraid to leave their homes for fear of being attacked, especially as the acid attacks have reportedly not necessarily targeted women who are breaking social rules.

One woman who works in Isfahan writes, "I am thinking of taking some days off, or even [to] quit my job. I hold a notebook in front of my face, whenever I walk in the streets. ... I am so worried and scared that sometimes I feel my face is burning."

Acid attacks, which are not the norm in Iran, have long been used to keep women and girls afraid, as a method of controlling them. The prevalence of acid attacks are unknown, as this violence often goes unreported. According to experts, however, women and girls are victims in up to 80 percent of all cases, and of these cases, about a third of victims of under 18.

Media Resources: The New York Times 10/22/14; National Council of Resistance of Iran 10/20/14; BBC News 8/9/13; Acid Survivors Trust International

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