CONTENT WARNING: this article contains discussion of sexual assault, violence against women and sexism. Please read with caution.
I will never forget the day I first time I heard this phrase.
Parvaneh** had come to me for help with a protection visa. She was from Iran, a tiny woman, with long curly hair and enormous brown eyes. Parvaneh was agitated, not able to make eye contact.
Parvaneh told me that she was detained by the Gasht-e Ershad, the Iranian Morality Police, because she was wearing makeup. She tried to escape. They doused her with capsicum spray. They handcuffed her and dragged her to a van. She did not know where she was taken, but was pulled out of the van, and locked in a room, she thinks. She could not see as her eyes were swollen.
Parvaneh told me that three men raped her while she was in custody.
Parvaneh escaped Iran and came to Australia by boat. The Department of Home Affairs recognised that Parvaneh suffered persecution, recognised her as a genuine refugee, but she was only granted temporary protection (which goes against international law).
Women’s rights in Iran
In 1979, Iran went through a revolution, where the ruler Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown, and a hard-line religious group took control under the new ruling group Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Shortly after taking control, the Ayatollah ordered that all women had to wear a veil. Protests by women against this were crushed.
Since that time, women have been subject to more and more restrictions and the Gasht-e Ershad was formed in 2005 to enforce Islamic dress codes and actively police any behaviour that is deemed to be “immodest”.
Women can be arrested for wearing “too much” makeup, for wearing brightly coloured clothes, or some, like Mahsa Jina Amini, for wearing her headscarf improperly.
Protests have swept Iran following Mahsa’s death, with women protesting the harsh and capricious “morality” laws.
What can the Australian government doing to help women in Iran?
Parvaneh is one of the many women and people who have escaped horrific situations and come to Australia by boat. Since 2013, Australia has been in breach of international law by turning boats back when they reach our waters. This has, however, reduced reportable deaths of asylum seekers at sea and slowed down illegal trafficking operations.
So how do people fleeing country violence and persecution get to safety?
It is not possible to apply for a protection visa offshore. Even to be considered for one of Australia’s humanitarian visas, an applicant needs to be outside the country of persecution. United Nations High Commission for Refugee camps are camps are full, overflowing or have been closed down.
People could come to Australia on valid tourist visas and then ask for protection, but the number of temporary Australian visas granted to people from Iran is extremely low. We know this from our own practice, where we regularly see evidence of the Department of Home Affairs’ refusal to grant tourist or student visas to Iranians.
So if Mahsa had survived, she would not have been able to seek safety in Australia.
There are more Iranian women facing the same brutal misogynistic laws that led to Mahsa’s death. Iran has arrested and charges thousands of people in the protests that followed Mahsa’s death. At least 21 people have been tried in sham trials and sentenced to death.
A small change in Australian immigration policy
The Australian government can easily set up a specific unit within the Department of Home Affairs that can receive, regulate and control visa applications from women from Iran to come here to study or to visit relatives. This unit would loosen the genuine temporary entrant requirements, just for these Iranian women, so they can get here and then apply for protection onshore. It would not require any change in law, just a change in policy.
We call on the Australian Government to do this.
For Mahsa and for the women in Iran facing a lifetime of brutality.
How Kerdo Legal can help
If you or a loved one are considering coming to Australia on any type of visa, we are here to help. We have decades of experience in visa applications and working with people of refuge and seeking asylum backgrounds.
We offer a FREE 30 minute consultation via phone or video call, and we will discuss your options with you.
*”Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” – “Woman, Life, Freedom” – chant originating from women in the Kurdish resistance.
**not her real name