real life

"My heart is beating." Back home, Setareh's loved ones are fighting in the Iranian protests.

Listen to this story being read by Brielle Burns, here.

As Setareh describes her fear for her family and friends back home, she tells me she can feel a physical pain in her chest.

"I'm scared for everyone back in Iran. And I'm so sad about people who are dying and trying to just get what they want," she says. 

"My heart is beating from the morning that I wake up to midnight... I wish I can do something."

Right now, hundreds are flooding the streets of Iran. Their voices loud, they gather in major cities across the country, making their presence known. They're angry. They're fearless. They have nothing left to lose. 

Watch: What's happening in Iran? Mamamia explains. Post continues after video. 

Video via Mamamia

Setareh's friend was caught up in a tear gas attack while protesting on the streets of Tehran a few days ago.  

"[The police] threw the tear [gas] and she was blinded for a while," Setareh, who was born in Iran and lives in Melbourne, told Mamamia

"Everyone else was trying to help her get back on her feet and just run away."

Tear gas is just one of the weapons police are using to quell protests, which have spread to more than 80 cities over the past two weeks. 


Footage shared online shows women burning their hijabs and cutting their hair, while protesters chant "women, life, freedom" and "death to the dictator".

Setareh says protesters have resorted to throwing stones and making Molotov cocktails to defend themselves against police.

"They are going out and they are fighting with their fists, and they're fighting with their own power."

The protests have erupted following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in custody two weeks ago. 

The young Kurdish woman, who was from the north-western city of Saqez, was arrested and allegedly beaten by the morality police in Tehran for wearing her hijab too loosely. 

Amini's death unleashed an outpouring of anger over issues ranging from women's freedoms in the Islamic Republic to the crippling economic impacts of sanctions. 

As Setareh puts it, Amini's death has sparked a "domino effect". 

"When Mahsa Amini died, it was an endgame for everyone. They were like, 'Okay, we don't want to cooperate anymore. You killed one of us and you have to pay for it,'" the 38-year-old says. 

"They're not afraid anymore... They're taking their lives into their hands and going out and they're ready for everything.

"We need our freedom, we need to decide what to wear... [we] want to decide what to do with [our] own body." 



Hundreds of people have been arrested and 76 people have been killed by security forces. 

Setareh says her friend's brother was chased back to his house by police while out protesting. 

"They hit him somehow that his cheekbone was broken and [they caused] other injuries.

"They are not even beating people out in the streets, they're forcing them to get into their houses as well as breaking everything and making them scared not to go out anymore," she says.

Even those not protesting are being confronted by the police. 

Setareh's mum was sitting in a theatre in Tehran four days ago when police officers barged in. 

"Suddenly these two police [officers] were attacking the venue, they were throwing tear [gas]... and thought that they're doing protests," she explains. 

When police eventually realised they weren't protesting and were instead watching a film, they told everyone in the theatre to stay inside for three hours to prevent them from joining protests on the street outside. 

"They closed the door of the theatre... everyone was so scared."

Having left Iran three years ago, Setareh knows exactly what strict regime women in the country are living under. 

Women have been required to wear the hijab in public since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But Setareh wanted control over what she wore.

"I decided that I don't want Islam and I don't want any other religion to choose for [me]... [But] when I was living in Iran, I had to obey the rules, and I had to wear [a] hijab.


"Me and many of my friends have the same mindset as me... They want to be beautiful, they want to have their hair tied up... or [wear] very nice clothes. But it wasn't an option for us."

With no other choice, Setareh would wear a hijab knowing that on the streets "morality police are standing, watching people and arresting people".

She and her friends would find routes to work that would avoid them.

"But the thing that happened to Mahsa Amini was that she was not from Tehran... and she probably didn't know how to make [her way] around or how to deal with these guys," she explains.

Every night, Setareh tries to call her family and friends to make sure they are safe. But with internet and social media restricted because of the protests, trying to reach them is becoming more difficult. 

"We're just trying to find a way to keep in touch. Every day they suggest probably this [app] is working. And it works for a day or two and then they cut it off."

The slow internet speed also means they're not able to send Setareh any videos, only text. 

Here in Australia, the 38-year-old is doing her part by raising awareness about what's happening in Iran and protesting in the streets of Melbourne. 

Setareh protested in Melbourne on Thursday night. Image: Supplied. 


While the world will have to watch and see if the demonstrations in Iran and around the world amount to change, Setareh says life can never go back to normal in the country now that women have raised their voices so loudly.

"Everyone's got more angry and more frustrated," she says. 

"This courage that I'm seeing from women now won't go away."

Feature Image: Supplied/Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty. 

Do you often find you need a pick-me-up to get through the day? Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher.