Campus canteens become focus of anti-government protests

The sight of women students and high school girls removing their headscarves during ongoing protests in Iran have become common in recent weeks, but in a new show of defiance, university students are refusing to maintain segregation rules on campus despite threats of expulsion and increased security intended to stop demonstrations.

Gender segregation has been enforced in universities for decades with male and female students sitting on opposite sides of classrooms and lecture halls. They eat in separate canteens or at different sittings.

Now, defiance of gender segregation in university canteens has become a form of civil disobedience, particularly after many students were forced to sign declarations that they would not join the protests which began on 16 September when Mahsa Amini died in police custody in Tehran after being arrested by the morality police for wearing her headscarf ‘too loosely’.

Canteens are being ‘reclaimed’

Students at several universities are ‘reclaiming’ their university canteen and posting videos on social media of male and female students eating together, sometimes taking their food trays out into the outdoors. Videos of mixed dining outdoors also show many female students without their headscarves.

In early October, female students at Allameh Tabataba’i University in Tehran without headscarves were filmed eating with their fellow male students in the university canteen in defiance of segregation rules.

When Sharif University of Technology in Tehran reopened on Saturday 22 October, after being closed since protests on 2 October during which the university and its protesting students came under siege by security forces, it became the site of another ‘canteen reclamation’ when a number of female students entered the men’s dining hall after removing their hijabs, according to Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency.

The university’s Islamic Association of Students said they had demanded mixed entry to the main canteen in a letter to the university authorities.

Cafeteria staff refused to serve food to male and female students together, prompting students to take their food trays outside to eat together, according to viral videos.

In a video tweeted on Tuesday 25 October, Adel Ferdosipour, a well-known television football commentator who teaches English at the university, is shown joining the students eating outdoors, in a gesture of support.

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