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Lesson Plan October 19, 2022

Beyond the Headlines: Justice for Mahsa (Zhina) Amini and Global Protests Against State Violence


Beyond the Headlines is an ongoing series of headline-responsive lesson plans from the Pulitzer Center. These lessons seek to support teachers and students in navigating information, emotion, and perspectives on major news headlines, and to provide critical underreported stories that help connect current events to our personal lives, local communities, and systemic global issues. Browse more lessons in this series here.


Students will be able to…

  • Describe how the detention and death of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini led to current protests against state violence and repressive governance in Iran and how these calls for justice connect to systemic, global issues
  • Connect with the protests in Iran and instances of state violence and repressive governance on a local and/or personal level
  • Identify, process, and value their emotions in response to state violence and government repression
  • Take action on state violence and government repression by increasing others’ historical understanding and pointing out the conditions, context, and beliefs that lead to state violence/repression, by highlighting individuals and/or organizations that are standing up to state violence and government repression, and by exercising their right to freedom of expression



Think: Think of a time when you  "stood up" for somebody else,  someone "stood  up" for you, or a time that you witnessed someone "standing up" for another person. If you can’t think of an example from your own life, you can also choose an example from TV, movies, the news, history, etc. 

In the  instance you thought of, what happened that required the "standing up" to take place? What did someone "standing up" for someone else look like? 

Pair: Share your response with a partner. 

Share: If you’re comfortable doing so, share your response or your partner’s response (with their permission!) to the rest of the class.  

Discuss: Are there any recurring themes that come up in these examples? As a class, what do we think it means to “stand up” for someone else, or to “stand up” for a cause?

Introducing the Lesson:

Key vocabulary:

  • repression: to put down by force
  • hijab: the traditional covering for the hair and neck that is worn by Muslim women
  • Kurdish: an Iranian ethnic group native to the mountainous region of Kurdistan 

On September 13th, 2022, 22 year-old Mahsa (Zhina) Amini was arrested in Iran’s capital, Tehran, for allegedly violating the country’s law on headscarves. It is mandatory in Iran for women to wear a headscarf or hijab when they are in public, regardless of their religion or nationality. The government employees who enforce this law are known as the “morality police,” and they allege that Amini, who was visiting Tehran from her home in the Kurdistan region, was wearing her headscarf too loosely that day. After being taken into custody, the police claim that Mahsa (Zhina) Amini died of a heart attack in the detention center. Amini’s family as well as multiple witnesses to her arrest and detention believe she was killed by law enforcement and that the government is covering up the murder. Witnesses to Amini’s arrest have stated that they saw police beat Amini in their patrol car, and medical examination reports revealed that Amini died as a result of a skull fracture and heavy blows to the head.

Mahsa (Zhina) Amini’s death is a reminder of the struggle for women’s rights in Iran as well as the persecution of the Kurdish people. Throughout this lesson, you will see Mahsa Amini’s name printed with her Kurdish name, Zhina, in parenthesis.

In response to this state violence and in order to seek justice for Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, protestors took to the streets on September 17th, 2022 and have continued to protest in regions across the country despite government crackdowns on protests and state violence against civilians. Since the protests began in mid-September, the Iran Human Rights group states that at least 215 protestors have been killed. The Iranian government continues to use force against protestors, while also intentionally spreading disinformation and telling the greater public that the protests are being organized by “the enemy.”

In this lesson, students will learn about the protests in Iran in response to the death of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini and will explore how this event is connected to other movements against state violence and government repression globally. By connecting the protests in Iran to other calls for justice across the globe, students will be able to identify the ways in which repressive governments attempt to strip people of their rights, as well as to identify how protest can lead to change.

Pause to Process:

After introducing the lesson to students, pause to check in with their emotions. Depending on established classroom norms and student comfort levels, students can reflect privately, or share in a small group or whole group format. Consider giving students the option to complete the exercise independently.

  • How does learning and talking about this issue make you feel? Try to find at least three descriptive words.
  • Can you identify what is making you feel that way? Think about…
    • Specific details of the issue
    • How the issue does / does not relate to you and people you care about

Educator’s note: Let students know that there are no right or wrong emotional responses to stories and current events. Students may feel sad, angry, or afraid when learning about injustices. They may feel numb because they encounter bad news often, or because they don’t yet feel a connection to the story. They may feel excited or happy to learn something new. The point of this exercise is for individuals to identify their feelings, recognize that they have value, and be mindful of them as they begin to dig deeper into this issue.

Going Beyond the Headlines:

Instructions: For this section, teachers can either:

  1. Read/watch the historical context texts together as a class, as well as one other Pulitzer Center story (either from Argentina, the United States, or Sudan), or
  2. Have students jigsaw the texts and then present to each other a summary of the text(s) below and how each text connects to the current event.
Historical context

40 Million: The Struggle for Women’s Rights in Iran
(Time Magazine, short documentary, 12 minutes long)

"The Untold Quiet of Kurdistan" (photo essay): Often referred to as a people without a country, the Kurds have for many years sought refuge in the mountains that abut Turkey and Iran. “I focused specifically on different ethnic groups and different religions in Kurdistan,” he said. “It’s small place, but it is very diverse.” The robust culture of daily Kurdish life is captured in Mr. Lam’s photographs, a collection that stretches from the 1990s through to the war against the Islamic State.
Protests and Resistance Against State Violence/Government Repression (Argentina)

"Argentina Recorded More Than 250 Femicides in 2020, One Every 35 Hours" (photo essay): Ursula Bahillo could still be alive. The 18-year-old did everything she was supposed to. She filed complaints for gender violence against her ex-boyfriend, a police officer. She pleaded for help on social media: “If I don’t come back, smash everything!” Critics say police in Argentina have a problem with violence against women. In Buenos Aires province alone, the provincial police’s internal affairs division reported, gender violence complaints were filed against 5,965 police officers between 2013 and 2020. Eighty percent of those officers remain in uniform. “Who will protect us from the police?” That was the question asked by thousands of women at protests in Buenos Aires after Bahillo’s death. 
Protests and Resistance Against State Violence/Government Repression (United States)

"The Protest Photos You Don’t See" (photo essay): The media plays a critical role in how the public perceives protests. The words used, images published, and information disseminated directly affect public support and ultimately if and what societal and policy changes are made. A "protest photo" has come to evoke a specific type of image; this depiction is often an incomplete, harmful trope. The images centered are of sensational moments—an act of violence, a depiction of a (often Black) protester yelling or displaying heightened emotions or other some form of property destruction. This simplification suggests that chaos and vandalism have defined the protests, rather than the demand that law enforcement stop killing Black people.
Protests and Resistance Against State Violence/Government Repression (Sudan)

The ‘Spider-Man of Sudan (short documentary): In Sudan's capital, Khartoum, an anonymous protester dressed as Spider-Man joins the hundreds of thousands of protesters desperate to protect their fragile civilian government after the military coup in October 2021. "Spidey" has become well known on social media for leaping from billboards and scaling the tops of buildings while dodging teargas. However, it's his work with some of the poorest children in Khartoum that has shown him to be a positive focus for the resistance, helping a new generation to know their worth and take pride in their country's rich heritage.

Discussion Questions:

If students explore stories as a whole class, they can discuss together. If they work through a jigsaw model, students in each jigsaw group answer the questions below as they relate to the text they were assigned, and then present their answers to the rest of the class.

Understanding the story:

  • What is one piece of information in the news story you explored that you already knew?
  • What is one piece of information in the news story that surprised or interested you?
  • Did you have any questions while exploring the story? What more do you want to know?

Connecting with the story:

  • How do state violence and repressive government actions connect to your community? For example:
    • Does your community experience state violence and/or repression or a related issue?
    • Do your community’s actions contribute to state violence and/or repression elsewhere?
    • Does your community have resources that could help alleviate state violence?
  • In this story, how do state violence and repressive government actions intersect with other global issues, such as women’s rights and religious freedom?
  • How can you connect with the story you read on a personal level? For example:
    • Do you share experiences with any of the people in this story, or do people close to you share those experiences?
  • Have you experienced feelings similar to those the people in this story describe?

Evaluating the story:

  • How do you think exploring this story can be helpful in understanding the protests in Iran in the wake of the death and detention of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini?
  • How did the story you read highlight an underreported story? For example:
    • Were the voices of people who are often not included in news coverage centered?
    • Did the story explore the root causes of an event, or its long-term impacts?
    • Did you learn about an issue or a place you didn’t know much about before?

Acting on the story:

  • What stories do you think might be going underreported in the current coverage of the protests in Iran and the underlying issue of state violence and repressive governance? What can we do to seek out those stories?
  • How are people working to resist and find solutions to state violence? (If you don’t know, do some research!)
  • What do you think you and your classmates can do to be part of the solution to state violence and repressive government actions? (After brainstorming, check out the extension activities below for additional ideas.)

Extension Activities:

Option 1. Create a Multimedia Timeline

This reporting explores the current protests in Iran in response to the death and detention of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini. With this story in mind, research the progression of events that led to the current protests. Using the Knight Lab platform, create your own multimedia timeline. Include the following in your multimedia timeline:

  • At least six events with dates and brief descriptions
  • Images and/or videos with captions

Alternatively, students may create a physical timeline using poster board.

Option 2. Interview a Human Rights Leader/Organizer

Do some research and identify a leader, changemaker, activist, or organization in your city, state, or country taking action on the issues of state violence and/or gender justice. If possible, reach out and interview this person or a representative of the organization. Put together a presentation to share with the class. Address the following in your presentation: 

  • Overview of the individual or organization (Mission, goals, etc.)
  • What issues, solutions, actions, or policies do they champion or support?
  • How might we support their work in our everyday lives?

Click here to watch a short video with tips on how to conduct an interview with journalist Natasha S. Alford, or here for a full lesson on interview skills.

Option 3. Write a Letter Advocating for Change

Do some brainstorming and research, and then write a letter to a local representative calling for action on state violence and/or gender justice in your community. In your letter, express your concern about the issue you are calling attention to and suggest an action step your representative could take to improve the situation in your community. You can mail or email a letter to most elected representatives. In addition to sending letters to their chosen representatives, students can also enter their letters into the Pulitzer Center's annual writing contest, Local Letters for Global Change, for the chance to win prizes and publication (contest is open mid-September through mid-November annually). You can also find a letter-writing template and other resources to help craft persuasive letters here.

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Three women grouped together: an elderly woman smiling, a transwoman with her arms folded, and a woman holding her headscarf with a baby strapped to her back.


Gender Equality

Gender Equality