Photo: MADRID, SPAIN - 2023/03/04: A woman holds a placard with a drawing of a girl wearing a gas mask in Iran during a protest in Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid (Diego Radamés/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
MORE THAN 100 SCHOOLS TARGETED SINCE NOVEMBER
The rights to education, health and life of millions of schoolgirls are at risk amid ongoing chemical gas attacks deliberately targeting girls’ schools in Iran. Since the first reported gas attack in the city of Qom, the incidents increased exponentially with some 300 separate attacks now reported.
The poisonings appear to be a coordinated campaign to punish schoolgirls for their peaceful participation in nationwide protests sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the "morality" police in mid-September 2022. As women and girls lead the call for change in Iran, schoolgirls have engaged in acts of resistance such as removing their mandatory hijabs and showing their hair in public while in school uniform.
These attacks have left schoolgirls hospitalized with symptoms including coughing, difficulty in breathing, nose and throat irritation, heart palpitation, headache, nausea, vomiting and numbness in limbs. As of mid-April, official statistics said 13,000 schoolgirls had received medical care. Some parents removed their daughters from school fearing for their safety.
Authorities in Iran have downplayed the gravity and scale of the attacks – dismissing the symptoms as stress, mischief or “mental contagion” – and tried to silence calls for accountability and reporting by the media. No effective investigation or any meaningful steps have been taken to end the attacks.
In March, the authorities announced the arrest of over 118 people for alleged involvement in “smuggling stink bombs”, which they claimed was the main cause of the poisonings. Many people in Iran suspect actors tied to the state or pro-government vigilantes, who have been empowered by Iran’s discriminatory and degrading laws and policies that perpetuate violence against women and girls.