The initial outbreak of the Woman, Life, Freedom uprising (September 2022-January 2023) turned into the longest street protest in Iran since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Beginning as a reaction to the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the so-called morality police, the movement brought people across the country out onto the streets, eliciting broad support from the Iranian diaspora, as well as international public figures. Analysing the movement at present is a challenge given that the protests remain ongoing, if on a smaller scale. Furthermore, this movement is more complex than its predecessors and researchers have limited access to verified data. The Woman, Life, Freedom movement cannot be framed as a demonstration of rivalry among opposing political factions, as was the case for the 2009 Iranian Green Movement, nor as a revolt against economic crises, as in the 2019-2020 nationwide Iranian unrest. Available data indicates that participants of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement are diverse in terms of gender, age, and educational/career level.
This article focuses on the institutional factors that provoked the movement rather than the structure of the movement, seeking to understand what drove the Iranian people onto the streets to partake in social protest as the last viable option at their disposal. It examines the state’s institutional function, the composition of its ruling elite, and its foreign policy to explain society’s widespread desire for a change that led to the Woman, Life, Freedom movement, concluding with an overview of the movement’s political implications