‘Let’s stay on the right side of history:’ Vigil for Iranian women held in Wichita

Candles light up the artwork presented at the vigil for Iranian women killed on September 30, 2022. After a speech was given, the candles were lit, and a picture was taken of the group who attended.

A somber mood filled the air as the Wichita community gathered at The Keeper of the Plains for a vigil. It was held to mourn the Iranian women who have been killed in the protests following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, who was detained by Iran’s morality police for not fully following the country’s veiling laws, according to Penn Today.

“At least 75 protestors have been killed so far,” Seyyedeh Mandana, an Emporia State student, said at the vigil. “But protesters are undeterred. Women and men have taken to the streets, women are burning hijab, cutting their hair and publicly defying oppressive laws they have been forced to live with.”

Ellen Brackeen, a community member, said that she decided to create the event after “ending up on the side of TikTok” where Iranians were asking for their voice to be heard due to having their internet shut down by their government.

“There’s just a lot of parallels between the Islamic regime and how they are running their government like a theocracy, kind of Christian nationalism and what we are seeing going on with women’s rights in the United States, obviously on a way more extreme scale,” Brackseen said. “When you are wanting to prevent that extreme scale, you need to intervene and show those parallels and speak for the people who can’t speak for themselves.”

Sina Davani, Iranian Student Association (IRANSA)  president, said that he was thankful to see people show up due to the small Persian-Iranian community in Wichita.  He said it is important for people to act as a voice, especially in English, for the Iranian people.

“We want to show our support for the Iranian people, the women of Iran mostly, and to show our support not just for them but for women all around the world that are in oppression who have to abide by laws they don’t want to abide by, that don’t align with human rights,” Davani said.

Davani said that it is important for people to understand that the history of Iran spans back 2,500 years, and that it used to be the largest and most powerful empire in the world, built on tolerance of all religions. He said that women had rights, such as maternity leave and paid time off, during the origins of the country. 

“There shouldn’t be an entire law enforcement system in any country dedicated to policing women’s bodies or any aspect of women’s lives,” Mandana said in her speech.“Her name has already been turned into a international symbol of protest against inequality, injustice and systematic discrimination against women.”

Multiple Iranians were present at the vigil who wished to remain anonymous due to safety reasons if they decided to go back to Iran. They said that they have faced this before as a country, and had family back in Iran who are very hard to get connected to.  

Brackeen said that one way to help would be by downloading Snowflake, a system that can allow people in Iran to bypass Internet censorship. She said people can also call their representatives and ask them to be public and speak on this issue, as well as stop negotiating with their government that doesn’t represent the people.

“Women are not free when their bodies are legislated, whether we are talking about reproductive freedom or gender expression,” Mandana said. “As an Iranian, as your neighbor, as a member of the Wichita community, we ask everyone who does believe in humanity and human rights to please acknowledge what is happening in Iran. The very least we can do is continue to pay attention.”