Unveiling Iran | Sarah Stook


As I write, the people of Iran have erupted in protest. The death in custody of a young woman has angered many across the nation. Women are burning hijabs and chanting slogans. Men join them in the fight for democracy and equality. Several people have died and many have been injured as security forces clash with protestors. What’s the story?

The Background

Masha Amini, a 22 year-old woman, was travelling to Tehran with family to visit relatives. Amini was Kurdish and the family was travelling from Saqez, Kurdistan. According to reports, Amini was arrested for being ‘improperly dressed.’ Other prisoners reported that Amini hit her head and was badly beaten. The police informed her family that she had been taken ill at a ‘re-education centre.’

Amini is seen in hospital photos in critical care. She would soon be declared brain dead and have her life support removed. Officials stated that she had previously been ill and had a heart condition. Her family deny these claims.

Hijab

When we think of hijab, most people think of the headscarf that women wear. Whilst it’s technically true, it’s also the general name of modesty in Islam. Different sects and denominations have different views on what constitutes modesty. Some believe that it requires women to wear loose clothing that does not show off their body. Others believe that a woman should be completely covered.

The items of hijab:

Shayla- a loose scarf covering a woman’s head that is pinned at the shoulders. This is most common in the Arab region.

Dupatta- a pretty, light and translucent shawl. They come in various colours and can be used as a covering. They’re loose around the head and still show some hair. This is most common in India and Pakistan.

Hijab- the general headscarf. It covers the entire head apart from the face, and the neck. It comes in a variety of colours. This is seen around the Muslim world.

Khimar– a large piece of cloth that covers from the head to about the waist, excluding the face. It is loose and in one colour. This is most common in Egypt and North Africa.

Al Amira- a hijab that is tight around the head and neck but flows loosely to the chest. It’s one you may see in younger Muslim girls. This is most common in Malaysia and surrounding areas.

Chador- a loose gown that covers from the entire body save from the face. It reaches the ground and is usually all black. This is most common in Iran.

Niqab- when people talk about the burka, this is usually what they mean. A full niqab covers the entire body and face apart from a slit at the eye. It is usually all black. This is most common in the Arab world.

Burka– a gown that covers the entire face and body. The eye section has mesh over it to allow women to see, albeit not as clearly. This is most common in Afghanistan.

Hijab Laws in Iran

Ever since the 1979, hijab has become mandatory for all women- Muslim, non-Muslim; Iranian and foreign. This was fully enforced from 1983. It comes from Article 638 of the 5th Book of the Islamic Penal Code. It states that women can be fined and/or imprisoned for up to two months.

Women must wear a headscarf and loose flowing clothes at a minimum. Anything Western is essentially banned, though women have found ways to be creative. Older and more conservative women wear chadors, whilst younger and more liberal women choose a hijab with their choice of dress. 

Girls usually must wear it from about the age of seven to nine, when they’re believed to be at the start of puberty.

Morality Police in Iran

The official morality police in Iran is the Guidance Patrol. They usually target women who they believe are improperly dressed. Those women are taken to stations. Sometimes they are released the same day, but sometimes they are imprisoned. Many in the Guidance Patrol are women, as it is deemed more appropriate for them to deal with other ladies. They tend to be older women and they wear chadors, as that is the preferred form of hijab.

They also target ‘un-Islamic’ activity. This usually comes down to stopping unrelated men and women mixing. 

Past Protests

The current protests are not the first ones that have come from anger over mistreatment and mandatory hijab. Almost as soon as it was announced by the new government in 1979, women hit the streets to protest the move. The Ayatollah and his administration promised it was not permanent, but it turned out to be.

Popular activist Masih Alinejad started a campaign in 2014 called ‘My Stealthy Freedom.’ She encouraged women to take pictures of themselves without the hijab. In 2017, she started the ‘White Wednesday’ campaign, asking women to wear white hijabs in protest on Wednesdays. Alinejad currently lives in excise in the USA and was recently the subject of a failed assassination plot. 

One of the most famous cases was on the 27th December 2017, when a woman named Vida Movahed stood on a utility box in a Tehran street, tied her white hijab to a stick and waved it around like a flag. This sparked a wave of copycats across the country.

Current Protests

Women in Iran have expressed anger at both the treatment of Masha Amini and mandatory hijab. They are burning their hijabs in droves, with men and other women protecting them. Both sexes are chanting ‘death to the dictator’ and ‘justice, liberty, no to mandatory hijab’ and other phrases. 

Mandatory hijab is not the only problem for women in Iran. Other issues include:

  • The minimum legal age of marriage for women is thirteen. In practice, many marry younger, especially in rural areas
  • Women cannot be President of Iran or Supreme Leader
  • They cannot practice certain subjects at university 
  • It’s extremely hard for women to ask for a divorce, but not men
  • Women cannot perform in public
  • Women get preferential custody of children under seven, but they go to their father afterwards 
  • Women cannot go cycling 
  • Women could only recently enter sports venues
  • They can only inherit an eighth of their husband’s estate
  • They cannot travel without male permission
  • A woman’s testimony is half of a man’s
  • Men can legally kill their wives if they witness ‘adultery’ 

The issue is not women’s rights. Unemployment is high in Iran and young people especially are struggling to find jobs. Inflation is high and crime is on the rise. They are angry with their government for pumping money into foreign affairs but not their own country. Protestors are calling for democratic elections and more freedoms. 

Iran’s newest President is Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who was sworn in on the 3rd August 2021. He has given more powers to the Guidance Patrol and has called for stricter punishments for ‘immorality.’ Whilst countries like Saudi Arabia have weakened their morality police, Iran’s has become stronger.

What comes next?

We can hope for change, but the government has cracked down on protests in the past and likely will on this one. There are rumours that the Ayatollah is dying, but his successor won’t be picked by the public. That honour falls to a small group of very powerful and very religious men. 

Hijab laws will not loosen. Iran remains the only country in the world that calls for mandatory hijab for all women- even Saudi Arabia scrapped it in 2019. Viral videos show that it can be women who harass those who are improperly covered. Whilst many will not defend the mandatory hijab, Iran is still a very patriarchal society and women will continue to suffer. One horrific video from February 2022 showed a man walking down the street with his wife’s severed head. She was only seventeen and had escaped the country because of his abuse. The wife had only been thirteen when she was married off and fourteen when she had a child. 

Iran will continue to sizzle, but a flame is yet to ignite. 


Photo Credit.

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