Understanding our differences: Protests in Iran

​Protests, sparked by the death in custody of a young woman, have spread across Iran in recent weeks. In her latest 'Understanding our Differences' interview, Grace Boleyn-St Aubyn, Equity Specialist spoke to Hannah Jenkyns, Talent Aquisition Sourcer about how these events have impacted her, and many others around the world. 

How would you summarise what's happening in Iran at the moment?

There is currently a wave of demonstrations after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being arrested for allegedly breaking Iran's strict dress code. Other young women were also killed following protests in Iran including Nika Shakrami, Hadis Najafi and Hananeh Kia. Men have joined women in their protest and some women have cut their hair in solidarity. This is part of a long history of ongoing human rights issues in Iran affecting individuals, groups and communities: religious, political and LGBTQI+. Despite imposed internet restriction, social media campaigns have managed to make an impact on worldwide news. 

Could you explain your connection to what is happening at the moment, and why it's important for you? 

Even though I was born here and I'm a second generation Iranian in the UK, I still feel very much connected to my cultural heritage. Many Iranians who no longer live in Iran still have a deep love for their country and its citizens. Part of the culture is feeling like a large extended family, where hospitality is key, offering to take care of others (usually through food).

What is currently happening in Iran is a deprivation of fundamental freedoms. According to the Declaration of Human Rights "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." Anywhere where there is suppression of human rights, it affects rights everywhere, as it is a statement on the way we treat each other.

So as a woman with Iranian background, how does this all affect you at work?

Knowing that Iranian women, who I identify with, are currently suffering is difficult. This has meant occasionally at work my mind will drift, feeling sad for what is happening, feeling powerless being away from Iran and what I can do. Occasionally I will take a moment to say a short prayer. Although my religion advises modesty, I'm not required to wear a hijab, so I don't feel like the best person to speak on the subject, but I respect a colleague's choice whether to wear one or not. There's also an aspect where people from a Middle Eastern background are under-represented, so thank you, Grace for allowing me a platform to bring this to light. Fortunately, I'm also part of a diverse team, where I feel supported with my mental health and wellbeing.

And what could we all do, to show support for colleagues who might be affected by these events?

Let your colleagues know you're available for them if they want to talk or direct them to resources on the Healthy Work Hub. There's also the Equity Forum they can join, where we speak about topics around bringing our whole selves to work. It's good to ask questions to deepen understanding about different cultures and what's happening - at the same time as this is a sensitive issue, it also helps to inform ourselves from credible sources. Sometimes even the smallest gesture can create an impact. I find this quote quite true that 'each person cannot do everything, and all persons cannot do the same thing'. We all have different strengths we can bring together to show our support.

Great thanks to Hannah Jenkyns for bringing this issue forward and for her honesty and courage in sharing her viewpoints, background and perspective. 

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