Home News Iran’s onerous headscarf laws for women now a campaign issue

Iran’s onerous headscarf laws for women now a campaign issue


For decades, Iranian officials have insisted that laws requiring women to cover their hair and dress modestly are sacrosanct and not worth discussing, and they have dismissed women’s struggles to challenge the laws as signs of Western meddling.

Now, as Iran holds presidential election The issue of mandatory headscarves, known as hijabs, has become a hot-button issue in the campaign this week, with all six candidates, five of them conservative, seeking to distance themselves from enforcement tactics that include violence, arrests and fines.

“Leaving aside elections and politics, we should not be so cruel to Iranian women under any circumstances,” Mustafa Pourmohammadi, a conservative presidential candidate and a cleric who holds a senior position in the intelligence services, said in a roundtable discussion on state television last week. He also said government officials should be punished over the headscarf law because their job is to educate women about why they should wear the hijab, not enforce it violently.

The headscarf has long been a symbol of religious identity in Iran, but it is also a political tool, and women have resisted the law in different ways since it came into effect after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The law is unlikely to be repealed and it remains unclear whether the new president will ease its enforcement. Different governments have adopted more relaxed or stricter approaches to headscarves. President Ibrahim Raisi Killed in helicopter crash In May, the Indian government held emergency elections and implemented its harshest crackdown on women.

Still, some women’s rights activists and analysts in Iran say that bringing the issue to the forefront during an election is an achievement in itself, a sign that the “Women, Life, Freedom” civil disobedience movement that began nearly two years ago has become impossible to ignore.

Women and girls walk the streets, eat in restaurants, go to work and take public transport wearing dresses, midriff-baring tops and short skirts, with their hair uncovered – a dangerous practice as morality police lurk on street corners to arrest women who break the rules.

Fatemeh Hassani, a 42-year-old sociologist in Tehran, said in a telephone interview that the headscarf and morality policing became election issues, showing that women, through their determination and resistance, “have effectively influenced the country’s domestic policies and forced the government to recognize their demands for more rights.”

About half of Iran’s 61 million eligible voters are women. While voter apathy is high among government critics, opposition to the headscarf law and morality police is no longer limited to them. It has transcended gender, religious and class lines, with some of the loudest complaints now coming from religious figures and conservatives who form the backbone of the government’s electorate.

Women and the headscarf were at the center of a four-hour televised debate on social issues on Friday. The issue also featured in campaign videos that appeared to target female voters and at rallies in cities across the country.

In Isfahan, video At a rally for one candidate, Dr. Masoud Pezeshkian, an 18-year-old girl with her long black hair draped over her shoulders held a microphone. She said she represented the younger generation and first-time voters, a generation that dared to stand up for their demands, and asked: “Do you have the power to fight against the morality police, the headscarf monitors and the autonomous security forces?”

Dr Pezeshkian is the only candidate from the reformist faction, which favours a more open society and engagement with the West. He is the most vocal opponent of compulsory headscarves and morality policing, and the only candidate to have explicitly stated his opposition to telling anyone how to dress.

“We are not going to force women to wear headscarves,” he said during Friday’s debate. “Are arrests, confrontations and shameful behavior the answer to this problem?”

Not all female voters are convinced that change is coming. Despite the candidates’ condemnation of the women, morality police still patrol the streets of Tehran and other large cities every day in vans and police cars. They sometimes stop women and give them verbal warnings, and sometimes arrest them. Videos on social media show The women were beaten and dragged into the van.

“I don’t believe them. The president has no right to deal with this issue because it is a red line for the Islamic Republic,” said Sefid, a 32-year-old teacher in Tehran, in a telephone interview, asking not to use her last name to avoid reprisals. “But in the previous elections, the headscarf issue was put on the back burner, and now they are talking about it,” she added, concluding that the women’s struggle “will prevail.”

Iranian women who do not believe in wearing the headscarf have been fighting the law since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when clerics who overthrew the monarchy imposed Islamic law on every aspect of social life, from women’s dress to how men and women interact and drink.

The “Women, Life, Freedom” movement began in 2022 when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the morality police, who had arrested her on charges of violating the headscarf law. Women and girls have led nationwide protests, burning headscarves, Women danced in the streets, chanting for women’s freedom. The protests widened to call for an end to clerical rule. The government eventually suppressed the protests with violence.

In December, Iran announced Abolition of the moral police But Iran put them back on the streets in April after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said compliance with the headscarf law was a moral and political obligation.

Iran’s parliament has been working on legislation that would impose punitive damages on women who violate the rules, including denying them social services, imposing travel bans and allowing the judiciary to withdraw funds from their bank accounts.

Clerical candidate Pour Mohammadi said in a debate that if elected, he would repeal the bill. Conservative candidate and current parliament speaker General Mohammad Bakr Ghalibaf said in a debate that the bill still needs to be improved and that “violence, tension and disrespect cannot achieve anything – all of this should be condemned.”

In recent months, facial recognition software on traffic surveillance cameras and drones has been used to identify people who violate headscarf regulations and then send them summonses to appear in court, according to three women interviewed. Amnesty International report.

Nasheed, 62, a Tehran resident who did not want her last name published for fear of retaliation, said that when she was summoned, the judge showed her a photo of her near a shopping mall with her blonde hair uncovered, then fined her.

Another woman wearing a headscarf, Minoo (52), said in an interview that her car was impounded for two weeks because a traffic camera caught her 20-year-old daughter driving without a headscarf. She said the police also made her pay for the parking fee for the impounded vehicle.

Law enforcement It has sparked widespread condemnation from foreign right-wing groups and Western countries.

A teenager Last October, she collapsed on the subway after reportedly getting into an argument with a hooded police officer on her way to school and died in hospital.

Fashion blogger Fahimeh, 41, said in an interview in Tehran that whoever becomes the next president will have no impact on the fight for more rights. “We women will not wait for their permission to take off our headscarves; now, many are not wearing them anymore.”

Nobel Prize winner Narges Mohammadi, Iran’s most prominent women’s rights activist, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence. Saturday’s statement Calling the election a sham.

Ms. Mohammadi asked: “How can you hold swords, gallows, weapons and prisons against the people with one hand and with the other hand place ballot boxes in front of the people and call on them deceitfully and falsely to vote?”

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