News & Current Affairs

Iranian Women Fight Back As The Country Tightens Its Headscarf Restrictions

By Azeezat Okunlola | Aug 14, 2023
The notorious government "morality police" have resumed patrols after being temporarily suspended following the passing of Jina "Mahsa" Amini in September, but many Iranian women are still refusing to comply with the nation's required headscarf regulations.
After being jailed for illegally donning her hijab, the young Kurdish woman died in police detention, sparking months of nationwide demonstrations during which many female protesters removed and burned their headscarves while calling for the overthrow of the country's theocracy.
Iranian law mandates that women must cover their heads and wear long, loose garments, and street police patrols are responsible for enforcing these laws. Since the hijab was imposed on Iranian women and girls in 1981, following the country's 1979 revolution, many women have expressed opposition to being forced to wear full-body covers.
The Iranian government is considering passing a severe legislation on wearing the hijab as it steps up its campaign to prevent women from defying the hijab laws.
The 70-article draft law, which was presented to parliament at the end of July, called for historically harsh punishments for women who reject the veil, including high fines, lengthy prison sentences (between 5 and 10 years), the seizure of vehicles and mobile phones, driving bans, reductions in pay and benefits, termination from employment, and a ban on using banking services.
The yet-to-be-passed proposed legislation anticipates the deployment of surveillance cameras to monitor public areas and spot women who aren't dressing according to Islamic dress standards. Businesses and public people who disobey the headscarf law would also be subject to severe sanctions, including as prohibitions on participating in professional activities, public whipping, and fines.
The primary issue, according to Gissou Nia, a human rights attorney and board head of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), is that the mandatory hijab law is still in effect, regardless of the new draft and the specifics of it to enforce the use of the hijab. “The bottom line is: the bedrock law that shouldn’t exist is still in place, and that has to be abolished. That’s it,” the human rights advocate told The New Arab.
Discussing the tougher stance taken by Iranian authorities toward unveiled women, Nia pointed out that with decreasing global attention to the situation inside the country since the mass demonstrations last year, and less international pressure, the Islamic government is prepared to go more “extreme”.
“Now that the protests have subsided, and the international community has moved on, the government is cracking down harder,” the lawyer remarked. She continued by stating that the vast number of women openly rejecting the mandated veil has become "difficult to control" since the anti-regime demonstrations started by Amini's death.
According to Jasmin Ramsey, deputy director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), the Iranian government's recent efforts to impose harsher punishments for women who aren't covered up highlight its "inability to independently enforce this oppressive and discriminatory regulation."
When it comes to regulating and penalizing women and girls who disobey the tight dress code, the Islamic Republic continues to push for the forced wearing of the headscarf, which has long been a prominent symbol of Iran's clerical leadership.
Various repressive measures have been used against stubborn Iranian women, ranging from denying them access to public services like banking, transportation, and medical care to suspending or expelling them from universities and preventing them from taking final examinations.
“Iranian women and girls have endured gender-based discrimination in both law and practice for decades. These new methods of policing women's bodies only make their lives tougher,” Ramsey told The New Arab.
The introduction of widespread monitoring technologies that may detect women who are not wearing headscarves in automobiles and pedestrian zones is a particularly alarming development. According to Amnesty International's study of official statistics, between April and June, approximately one million women in Iran got warning texts from the police after being photographed in their automobiles without the headscarf.
According to Amnesty, police also impounded 2,000 automobiles, sent over 133,000 messages telling women to cease driving, and sent over 4,000 "repeat offenders" to the courts. 
"It's noise to try to show that the government is still in charge of this issue when it's not. It's not working, there's a lot of pushback, women keep defying the rules"
Businesses have been compelled to close their doors for failing to impose a mandatory head covering requirement. Additionally, there have been occasional instances of penalties requiring women to receive psychiatric counseling for defying the hijab laws.
The new increase in the clerical regime's harassment of women is a warning that the government would do all it takes to enforce the requirement for public veils. On the other hand, it also seems to show that the administration is having trouble upholding hijab laws.
Barbara Slavin, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center with particular knowledge in Iran, characterised the regime's aggressive drive as a "psychological campaign" to "scare" women into conformity.
“It’s noise to try to show that the government is still in charge of this issue when it’s not,” the scholar told TNA. “It’s not working, there’s a lot for pushback, women keep defying the rules.” She said that mounting rejection of the hijab in Iran had been anticipated for a long time, having observed minimal veiling during her multiple visits to the country until 10 years ago.
There are still women and girls who choose to expose their hair in blatant disobedience of one of the fundamental tenets of the Islamic Republic, despite all the persecution that exists today and threatens to punish any Iranian female citizen who chooses to flout headscarf requirements.
Nearly a year after the passing of Jina 'Mahsa' Amini, civil disobedience has escalated in Iran. Athletes and actors who have published pictures of themselves without the hijab or appeared in public without covering their hair are among the Iranian celebrities who have joined the protest movement.
Although the protests generally subsided earlier this year after a harsh crackdown that resulted in 500 protestors being killed and almost 20,000 being imprisoned, many women have continued to flout the state's forced-hijab laws. at Tehran and other cities, more and more women and girls can be seen going around with their hair exposed, as well as at cafés, restaurants, and while shopping.
Continuous, subdued defiance, in Slavin's opinion, is extremely likely to continue. “The more the regime tries to put women down, the more they find ways to rebel, [and] claim some new area [of freedom] for themselves,” the Iran specialist said, noting how the ongoing open anti-hijab protest is part of the wider struggle for women’s liberation.
Iranian women continue to be stubborn and risk harassment, arrest, incarceration, or torture for exercising their right to choose what to wear, despite fearing retaliation from state security agents for breaking the law amid the government's stepped-up campain of repression.
It is remarkable that they are continuing to fight the clerical establishment that has denied them their most fundamental rights, the hijab law being only one example of the injustice and oppression they have experienced, despite these cruel tactics and the dangers of publicly opposing mandatory head covering.
Iran has laws and prohibitions like uneven rights to inheritance, child custody, and divorce; the need for a husband's consent to obtain a passport and travel; the absence of strong anti-harassment laws; and limitations on access to the job market.
“This law is only a small piece of a much broader framework of gender-discriminatory laws in Iran that haven’t gone away,” Nia said. “There absolutely needs to be a change.”
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