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IRAN: Iranians asking whether to abolish or keep headscarf

Iranians asking whether to abolish or continue headscarf requirement

Middle East Monitor (18.11.2022) – https://bit.ly/3GuI5NU – Iran – Following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini this September, the controversy over Iran’s headscarf requirement resurfaced, with some prominent figures in the country openly criticising the rules, Anadolu News Agency reports.


Iran has been gripped by mass unrest since mid-September over the death of Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in custody after being arrested by the country’s morality police.


At least 342 people, including 43 children and 26 women, have been killed by security forces during ongoing nationwide protests in Iran, according to a human rights group.


First, on 25 September, the Union of Islamic Iran People Party asked that the government take the necessary legal steps to abolish the mandatory headscarf legislation.


President Ebrahim Raisi, when asked about the practices of the morality police in a 28 September state TV interview, said: “If it is thought that the method of implementation is incorrect and that new ideas exist, these new ideas can be discussed and implemented.”


“Values cannot be modified, but the manner in which the law is applied can be debated,” he said.


On the question of whether patrols should be reconsidered, Raisi said that the best practices should be considered in enforcing the law and that they must provide a platform for dissenting views.


He also implied, however, that they have no plans to overturn the headscarf law.


During this time, some of Iran’s most prominent figures spoke out against the mandatory headscarf requirement. Former Parliament Speaker, Ali Larijani, is among them. In an 11 October newspaper interview, Larijani emphasised that the protests have deep political roots and urged a modification of the mandatory headscarf law.



On 17 September, retired Brig. Gen. Hossein Alaei, the former Navy Commander of the Revolutionary Guards Army, similarly questioned the patrols of the morality police.


He said it should be asked if the required headscarf practice has a place in religion, suggesting that it might make more sense to deploy patrols against thieves who steal women’s phones and handbags.


Some religious figures, while in limited numbers, challenged the compulsory headscarf application, which has been enforced since Iran’s revolution in 1979.


Following the revolution, prominent religious figures such as Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti and Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani are among the few clergy who reject the mandatory headscarf.


There are now relatively few clerics in Iran who openly condemn the headscarf requirement.


Further reading


US wants to oust Iran from UN women’s body


Photo credits: Stringer – Anadolu Agency

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IRAN: The fight against the veil, a symbol of patriarchal norms

IRAN: The fight against the veil, a symbol of patriarchal norms

The veil in Iran has been an enduring symbol of patriarchal norms – but its use has changed depending on who is in power


By Amy Motlagh


The Conversation (14.11.2022) – https://bit.ly/3hQ21QV – In images of the uprising that followed the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16, 2022, perhaps the most iconic ones, aside from that of Amini herself, are those of unveiled Iranian women photographed from behind, facing police barricades or raising a fist at the scene of mass protests.


The wide use of images of Iranian female protesters, without the headscarf, in the Western media highlights how the veil can often be seen as the single most important measure of women’s rights and well-being. 


Indeed, oftentimes outside of Iran, wearing a veil is seen as oppression – and its removal as emancipation and freedom. This understanding, however, fails to take into account the veil’s broader symbolism and ignores the complex history of mandatory veiling and unveiling in Iran in the 20th and 21st centuries. 


Islamic Republic and the veil


During the 1979 revolution, veiling became a symbol of resistance to the Pahlavi monarchy that ruled from 1925 to 1979. For many during the revolution, the veil was a symbol of authentic national identity. It was used to push back against the Westernization and erosion of Iranian values that ignited the revolution.


After the Islamic Republic, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, came to power, the veil became compulsory. Since then, certain forms of veiling – such as donning the chador, a cloaklike garment that covers the entire body and is required of women visiting a mosque in Iran – have come to be seen as signaling affiliation with or support for the Islamic Republic. 


Less comprehensive forms of veiling, such as a rusari, or head scarf, and the knee-length tunic or coat known as a rupush, are understood as signs of minimum cooperation and potentially a rejection of the norms of the Islamic Republic. These types of veiling allow the wearer to adjust the amount of hair shown and the fit and the length of the tunic. Women accused of “bad hijab,” as Amini was, are typically those adopting this form of veiling


However, in pre-1979 Iran, wearing the veil did not necessarily mean that a woman was straightforwardly “religious.” Instead, it could signal a variety of other social meanings, such as being conservative, upholding traditional values or an indication of personal modesty, among others. 


Pahlavis and the era of modernization


Indeed, four decades before the Islamic Republic was established, the Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, had forced women to remove their veils through the Mandatory Unveiling Act of 1936. 


Pahlavi, who installed himself as king in 1925 after overthrowing the Qajar monarchy, viewed the entry of unveiled women into public spaces as an essential component of modernity, modeled on Western norms. 


As a consequence of the 1936 act, women were prohibited from veiling in public. Refusal to comply was met with sometimes violent enforcement and removal of the offending garment. While men too were instructed to wear European-style trousers, suits and hats, it was women’s bodies that were at the nexus of these reforms. 


Pahlavi’s complex project of modernization included reforms to law and education, and the end of gender segregation of many public spaces. The reforms offered women greater rights and protections should their husbands choose to divorce them, and opened up new educational opportunities. But Pahlavi viewed the presence of unveiled women in public space as essential to signaling these changes. 


My book “Burying the Beloved” examines how ideas about women’s personhood and rights were explored during this period by novelists in Iran, particularly through stories about marriage. This era saw the publication both of the first novel by a woman and the first female protagonist in Persian fiction. Novels of this period revealed social anxieties around the legal reforms that gave women larger roles in society and more rights in marriage. 


Pahlavi abdicated in 1941, during World War II, and his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who ascended the throne, adopted a more lenient attitude toward this law. He did not rescind it, but neither did he violently enforce it. At the same time, the modernity his regime promoted was signaled by a cosmopolitan secularism – no veiled woman could hope to advance in the diverse areas of society, politics and economy patronized and controlled by the monarchy during his rule, which lasted until 1979. 


Social and familial pressures reigned over women’s veiling, accompanied by changing cultural mores facilitated by virtually wholesale adoption of Western sartorial styles, cinema and other media. 


Dying to show their hair?


Over the past few weeks, I have repeatedly seen comments on news articles that insist, “Women in Iran are literally dying to show their hair!” But a rejection of the head scarf in the context of these protests is not a simple demand for one personal freedom.


Instead, it should be understood as a rejection of many things. Protesters in Iran are pushing back against an oppressive regime that has refused to brook any dissent and has destroyed voices for reform through imprisonment, exile or death. They are also pushing back against a long history of laws, beginning before the 1979 Revolution, that have used women’s bodies as symbols of political ideology. 


The veil that is being removed is therefore not an insistence only on the right to personal freedom and expression – though it may be that for some who are removing it – but also a rejection of patriarchal norms that have animated both the pre-revolutionary regime and the Islamic Republic.


Further reading


Images of veiled Muslim women are used to justify the war

Unrest across Iran continues under state’s extreme gender apartheid

Head-covers have always been political in Iran

Women have been rebelling against restrictions since the Islamic revolution in 1979


Photo credits: AP Photo/Middle East Images



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IRAN: Iranian authorities plan to use facial recognition to enforce new hijab law

Iranian authorities plan to use facial recognition to enforce new hijab law

Government says it will use technology on public transport in crackdown on women’s dress


By Weronika Strzyżyńska


The Guardian (05.09.2022) – https://bit.ly/3L0ceF2 – Iranian government is planning to use facial recognition technology on public transport to identify women who are not complying with a strict new law on wearing the hijab, as the regime continues its increasingly punitive crackdown on women’s dress.


The secretary of Iran’s Headquarters for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice, Mohammad Saleh Hashemi Golpayegani, announced in a recent interview that the government was planning to use surveillance technology against women in public places following a new decree signed by the country’s hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, on restricting women’s clothing.


The decree was signed on 15 August, a month after the 12 July national “Hijab and Chastity Day”, which sparked countrywide protests by women who posted videos of themselves on social media with their heads uncovered on streets and on buses and trains. In recent weeks, the Iranian authorities have responded with a spate of arrests, detentions and forced confessions on television.


“The Iranian government has long played with the idea of using facial recognition to identify people who violate the law,” said Azadeh Akbari, a researcher at the University of Twente, in the Netherlands. “The regime combines violent ‘old-fashioned’ forms of totalitarian control dressed up in new technologies.”


The hijab, a head-covering worn by Muslim women, became mandatory after Iran’s revolution in 1979. Yet, over the decades since, women have pushed the limits of the stipulated dress code.


Some of the women arrested for defying the new decree were identified after videos were posted online of them being harassed on public transport for not wearing the hijab properly. One, 28-year-old Sepideh Rashno, was arrested after a video circulated on social media of her being berated for “improper dress” by a fellow passenger, who was then forced off the vehicle by bystanders intervening on Rashno’s behalf. According to the human rights group Hrana, Rashno was beaten after her arrest and subsequently forced to apologise on television to the passenger who harassed her.


Rashno is not the first person to suffer violent repression as a result of going viral on the internet. In 2014, six Iranians – three men and three women – were sentenced to one year in prison and 91 lashes after a video of them dancing in Tehran to Pharrell Williams’s song Happy had more than 150,000 views.


Since 2015, the Iranian government has been phasing in biometric identity cards, which include a chip that stores data such as iris scans, fingerprints and facial images. Researchers worry that this information will now be used with facial recognition technology to identify people who violate the mandated dress code, both in the streets and cyberspace.


“A large chunk of the Iranian population is now in this national biometric data bank, as many public services are becoming dependent on biometric IDs,” said Akbari. “So the government has access to all the faces; they know where people come from and they can easily find them. A person in a viral video can be identified in seconds.”


She added: “By doing that, the government proves a point: ‘Don’t think that a small thing happening on a bus somewhere is going to be forgotten. We know who you are and we will find you and then you will have to suffer the consequences.’”


“Ebrahim Raisi is a real ideologue,” said Annabelle Sreberny, professor emeritus at the Centre for Iranian Studies at Soas University of London. “There are terrible economic and environmental problems facing Iran. The inflation rate may now be reaching 50%, but the government is choosing to focus on women’s rights.”


Sreberny added: “I think it is part and parcel of a failing government that is simply not dealing with these massive infrastructural, economic and environmental issues. And women are seen to be a soft target.”


Photo credits: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock


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EGYPT: Women with hijab found to face bias and discrimination

Women with hijab found to face bias in Egypt

Women wearing hijabs (Muslim headscarves) are being discriminated against by businesses in Egypt, a BBC Arabic investigation has discovered.


By Ahmed Elshamy

BBC News (27.08.2022) – https://bbc.in/3QDYWiR – The evidence appears to violate Egypt’s constitution, which bans discrimination based on religion, sex, race or social class.


Since 2015, some Egyptian women wearing a hijab have taken to social media to complain about such treatment.


Mayar Omar, a 25-year-old research executive from Cairo, says she has faced repeated problems going to some high-end restaurants.


“You want to feel that you can be yourself when you enter a venue and no-one is forcing you to do something, or make you feel that you are the cause of a problem for the venue or your friends.”


On hijabi lifestyle social media groups, BBC News Arabic found what appears to be a growing trend, with women accusing numerous venues of refusing them entry if they are wearing a hijab.


“In most cases the main cause is classism,” Nada Nashat, a lawyer and women’s rights activist, said. “So we find discrimination against hijabi women in venues that like to present themselves as upper-middle or upper class.


“But we also find discrimination against non-hijabi women in lower and middle classes.”


BBC News Arabic tried to make a reservation at 15 upmarket venues across Cairo that had been accused online of discriminating against hijab-wearing women.


Most of the venues asked for the social media profiles of all guests and 11 venues stated that head coverings were not allowed.


We sent an undercover married couple, with the woman wearing a hijab, to some of the venues that told us that hijab-wearing women were not allowed entry.


At L’Aubergine in the upmarket neighbourhood of Zamalek, the doorman immediately told the couple that the headscarf was forbidden as they had a bar inside, and that this might offend women wearing a hijab.


The manager too was adamant, saying: “The headscarf is forbidden.”


When presented with our recorded evidence, L’Aubergine told us it was “inaccurate” and that refusing women who wear the hijab is not a house rule, adding: “We denounce it.”


The venue also told us: “We have reiterated our house policies to staff to avoid any confusion in the future.”


At Kazan, in the same neighbourhood, the couple was once again told by the doormen: “The problem is the headscarf.” When asked why, they simply stated: “This is the house rules.”


At the final venue, Andiamo in Heliopolis, the couple was initially refused entry. After appealing, they were told they could enter but would have to sit in a corner as the manager said: “It’s a ministry of tourism instruction, and if they find any hijabi woman beside the bar, they’ll fine us.”


Neither Kazan nor Andiamo responded to requests for comment.


‘Find an alternative’


BBC News Arabic presented the evidence to Adel El Masry, chairman of the Chamber of Tourism Establishments and Restaurants.


“Never in any era of the ministry of tourism has a decision been issued banning veiled women [from leisure venues],” he said. “This is not acceptable. Discrimination is unacceptable, these are public places.”


BBC News Arabic also gathered evidence suggesting that hijab-wearing women were being restricted from buying holiday apartments by a major developer, La Vista. The company has projects in Cairo as well as several high-end coastal developments.


In the past it has sold properties to women with hijabs, but our investigation found many social media posts accusing La Vista of changing its policy and now placing restrictions on them.


An executive at a multinational company told BBC News Arabic how he had contacted several property brokers to buy a property at La Vista, but that they told him: “Sorry, La Vista are a bit difficult regarding the hijab.”


BBC News Arabic contacted six property brokers, posing as a buyer whose wife wears a hijab and who wanted to buy a unit at a La Vista coastal project. They told us it would not be possible to purchase a unit.


One told our undercover reporter: “Can I speak to you frankly? Definitely look for an alternative.”


Another went even further, stating: “To be frank with you, regarding the North Coast and Sokhna projects, they are discriminatory.”


One broker explained how the process worked. “They will not say that we won’t sell you a unit, but they will say that this project you have selected is closed now and when it’s open, we will call you, and they won’t.”


When our undercover reporter phoned La Vista stating that his wife wore a hijab, he was told he would be put on a waiting list and there were no properties available.


Several weeks later he visited the La Vista office but this time didn’t say that his wife wore a hijab. He was told there were property units available immediately and when he asked what kind of people lived there, the agent told him: “The idea is that all the people we have look like each other.”


She stated that one La Vista development “has no veiled women at all”.

La Vista has not yet responded to requests for comment.


Amira Saber, an Egyptian MP who has campaigned for women’s rights, said the Egyptian constitution was clear that discrimination of this kind was not allowed.


“I will certainly use one of my parliamentary tools to ask the officials in the government how we can ensure that this does not happen again, and if it does happen, the perpetrator must be punished,” she said.


Photo credits: Getty Images

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AFGHANISTAN: Taliban order Afghan women to wear burqa in public

Taliban order Afghan women to wear burqa in public

The militants took back control of the country in August last year, promising a softer rule than their previous stint in power between 1996 and 2001, which was marked by human rights abuses.


Times Now (07.05.2022) – https://bit.ly/3ynGA02 – The Taliban on Saturday imposed some of the harshest restrictions on Afghanistan’s women since they seized power, ordering them to cover fully in public, ideally with the traditional burqa.


The militants took back control of the country in August last year, promising a softer rule than their previous stint in power between 1996 and 2001, which was marked by human rights abuses.


But they have already imposed a slew of restrictions on women — banning them from many government jobs, secondary education, and from travelling alone outside their cities.


On Saturday, Afghanistan’s supreme leader and Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada approved a strict dress code for women in public.


“Those women who are not too old or young must cover their face, except the eyes, as per sharia directives, in order to avoid provocation when meeting men who are not mahram (adult close male relatives),” said a decree approved by Akhundzada and released by Taliban authorities at a ceremony in Kabul.


It said the best way for a woman to cover her face and body was to wear the chadari, a traditional, blue, all-covering Afghan burqa.


“They should wear a chadari as it is traditional and respectful,” it said.


Akhundzada’s decree also said that if women had no important work outside then it was “better they stay at home”.


The Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which released the new order, announced a slew of punishments if the dress code is not followed.


It said a woman’s father or male guardian would be summoned and could even be imprisoned if the offence was committed repeatedly.


Women working in government institutions who did not follow the order “should be fired”, the ministry added.


Government employees whose wives and daughters do not comply will also be suspended from their jobs, the decree said.


The new restrictions were expected to spark a flurry of condemnation abroad.


– ‘Regressive’ –


Many in the international community want humanitarian aid for Afghanistan and recognition of the Taliban government to be linked to the restoration of women’s rights.


“It is an unexpected regressive step and will not help Taliban in winning international recognition,” said Imtiaz Gul, head of the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies.


“Such steps will only intensify opposition to them.”


During their first regime, the Taliban made the burqa compulsory for women.


Since their return to power, the much-feared vice ministry has issued several “guidelines” on dress but Saturday’s edict is one of the harshest restrictions on women.


“Islam never recommended chadari,” said a women’s rights activist who asked not to be named.


“I believe the Taliban are becoming regressive instead of being progressive. They are going back to the way they were in their previous regime.”


Another women’s rights activist, Muska Dastageer, said Taliban rule had triggered “too much rage and disbelief”.


“We are a broken nation forced to endure assaults we cannot fathom. As a people we are being crushed,” she said on Twitter.


The hardline Islamists triggered international outrage in March when they ordered secondary schools for girls to shut, just hours after they reopened for the first time since their seizure of power.


Officials have never justified the ban, apart from saying girls’ education must be according to “Islamic principles”.


That ban was also issued by Akhundzada, according to several Taliban officials.


Women have also been ordered to visit parks in the capital on separate days from men.


Some Afghan women initially pushed back strongly against the restrictions, holding small demonstrations where they demanded the right to education and work.


But the Taliban cracked down on these unsanctioned rallies and rounded up several of the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.


In the 20 years between the Taliban’s two stints in power, girls were allowed to go to school and women were able to seek employment in all sectors, though the country remained socially conservative.


Many women already wear the burqa in rural areas.


Photo credits: AFP


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