Historical Background of the Iranian Hijab Movement
Before the 20th century:
Islamic and Persian cultural traditions were influenced by traditional clothing in Iran, including the wearing of veils and modest clothing for women.
Women had limited access to school and public life, and their duties were mostly restricted to the home and family.
Iran underwent political and social reforms during the Constitutional Revolution (1905–1911), which also opened up more educational opportunities for women.
During Reza Shah Pahlavi’s rule (1925–1941), modernization and westernization were actively promoted. He put into effect laws intended to reveal women, including the ban on the chador (full-body veil) in public areas.
Despite these changes, many areas still adhered to traditional and conservative standards for women’s attire.
Post-World War II Period:
During the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1941–1979), additional modernization initiatives were made, including a push for Western-style attire and a relaxation of traditional dress rules.
A more educated and politically engaged female population emerged as a result of urbanization and improved access to education.
Women’s rights movement increased during the 1960s and 1970s as women pushed for greater freedom and equality, including the right to wear whatever they wanted.
Iranian Revolution of 1979:
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 brought about a conservative shift in Iranian culture.
Ayatollah Khomeini said shortly after the revolution that women should adhere to Islamic clothing standards, and the obligatory hijab soon became a key component of the new government’s policy.
The state’s institutions, notably the morality police, were in charge of enforcing the hijab requirement.
Hijab demonstrations and feminist activism
Women in Iran participated in a variety of tactics of opposition against the hijab requirement during the 1980s and 1990s, including protest planning and petition signing.
Women’s rights activists like Shirin Ebadi were instrumental in promoting women’s rights and opposing the headscarf requirement.
Many women persisted in defying the compulsory hijab through civil disobedience despite the dangers of detention and persecution.
In the twenty-first century, women’s protests against the hijab requirement reemerged.
The “Girls of Enghelab Street” protests in 2017 brought the problem of the obligatory hijab to the attention of the world. These actions were inspired by Vida Movahed.
Social media platforms gave women a forum to express their narratives, struggles, and acts of defiance, which helped to advance the conversation on hijab use and women’s rights in general.
What triggered the movement again?
The morality police held Mahsa Amini in custody for reportedly donning her hijab improperly.
Three days later, her death was attributed by the authorities to a heart attack she had while receiving hijab rules instruction.
However, her family and activists claim she was murdered by beatings.
In a nation where official repression of women’s rights and resistance has always been a significant political issue, the episode caused widespread rage.
Women publicly burned hijabs in several locations, including Tehran and Mashhad, where protesters were chanting anti-clerical chants.
Which Islamic Regime rules over Iran?
Iran is a theocratic country with an Islamic supreme leader as its head of state. The Assembly of Experts appoints the ultimate leader for life. The popular vote is used to choose the president.
The Guardian Council, which is both appointed and unelected, and Iran’s supreme leader oversee the country’s governance. Islamic jurists make up half of the Guardian Council, which is composed of Islamic clerics. The system is under the political and ideological sway of the supreme leader.
The legal system in Iran is founded on Ja’fari Shia Islam. Religious minorities, such as Baha’is, Christians, Sunni Muslims, Zoroastrians, and Jews, have been persecuted and imprisoned by the administration.
Iran’s political structure was designed to be a parliamentary democracy. However, a more theocratic dictatorship has resulted from ongoing instability both domestically and internationally.
Why are the hijab Laws made compulsory in Iran?
Religious Ideology: The Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 was motivated by the ambition to create an Islamic state based on Shia Islam’s tenets. The leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, advocated for a stringent application of Islamic law, including requirements for women’s attire. The hijab was seen by traditional Islamic leaders as both a religious requirement and a mark of piety.
Cultural and Social Factors: The headscarf and other traditional Islamic clothing have long been a part of Iranian culture. Under the influence of modernization initiatives, some women in metropolitan areas began dressing more like Western women, while many Iranians, particularly in rural regions, remained to wear conservative clothes.
Political Consolidation: Following the Islamic Revolution, the new administration worked to bolster its position of influence and claim control over a range of societal norms, including conduct and appearance. The requirement of the headscarf was considered as a measure for the administration to demonstrate its authority and commitment to Islam.
Reaction to Westernization: The Shah’s regime, which came before the Islamic Republic, had promoted modernization and Westernization in Iran. This was perceived by certain religious authorities and sections of the populace as a threat to traditional Islamic principles. Part of the imposition of the hijab was a response to alleged Western cultural influences.
Gender Segregation: The requirement for the hijab was also connected to a larger strategy that promoted gender segregation and conventional gender norms. The new administration aimed to establish a more traditional and divided society where women’s functions were mostly confined to the home.
Enforcement through Morality Police: The Iranian government formed morality police divisions to enforce the hijab requirement and other Islamic moral guidelines. These teams have the power to stop and interrogate females regarding their attire in public areas.
What are the other similar laws followed in other countries?
Afghanistan: Since the Taliban took power, Afghan women have been forced to cover their faces in public by donning a burqa.
Saudi Arabia: Women in Saudi Arabia are expected to dress modestly in abayas, which are loose-fitting dresses worn with a burqa or a headscarf.
Pakistan and Indonesia: Despite having a majority of Muslims, neither Indonesia nor Pakistan have laws requiring the wearing of the headscarf.
What is the International response to this Movement?
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch: These two well-known human rights groups have frequently expressed their concerns over Iran’s legislation requiring women to wear the hijab and have advocated for the release of those who have been detained for participating in demonstrations against the laws.
Western Governments: Western governments have endorsed the Iranian women’s rights movement and denounced the Iranian government’s treatment of women who object to the hijab requirement, notably the governments of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other European countries.
Social media initiatives: Online campaigns like #WhiteWednesdays and #MyStealthyFreedom have drawn support and attention from all over the world. These efforts encourage women to post pictures of themselves without hijabs as a form of protest, both inside and outside of Iran.
What was a similar incident happened in India?
India’s hijab debate is a contentious political topic. In February, the southern state of Karnataka outlawed pupils wearing hijabs in the classroom.
The Karnataka High Court maintained the ban in March. According to the court, the hijab is not a fundamental Islamic practice and is not protected by the Constitution.
The Supreme Court hasn’t issued a decision on the matter, though. Two judges have divergent opinions. The Karnataka High Court ruling was affirmed by one judge. The opposing judge thinks that other fundamental freedoms and rights are being violated by the restriction.
According to a report by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, the hijab ban is causing the social gap between groups to grow. The study also discovered that among Muslim students, the prohibition is causing social isolation and dread.
Bans on the hijab, according to certain countries, will combat terrorism and religious intolerance. Others claim such bans would be discriminatory and would prevent integration.