Women-led Anti-hijab Protests Spread Across Iran

By Kiyana Patel 

TEHRAN, IRAN— Following the killing of a 22-year-old woman by Iran’s “morality police,” who believed she had violated the country’s strict dress code for women, female-led protests have erupted in a number of major towns and cities across the country, including the capital, Tehran, over the last five days, with both men and women taking part.


Women are burning headscarves and shaving their heads as a form of protest against Mahsa Amini’s passing. Amini passed away on September 16 after being detained by Iran’s morality police for not donning the hijab.


According to a Forbes article, as the protests have grown, Iran’s all-powerful supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his son Mojtaba Khamenei have come under increasing attack, with protesters calling for their deaths in chants.


The “Kashf-e hijab,” or “unveiling,” was a decree signed by Reza Shah Pahlavi on January 8, 1936, that abolished veils in Iranian working society in an effort to modernize the country. The Insider magazine article goes on to say that the Westernization the Shah witnessed during his travels to countries such as Turkey inspired him. 


Women in Iran were then making strides toward gaining other rights, in addition to the great privilege of motherhood. Under the Shah’s rule, women in Iran began to participate more fully in society, attending university, mixing with men, and dressing in Western fashion.


However, the Shah’s prohibition of the hijab drew the ire of those who opposed it within the religious establishment, and it isolated many Iranian women. Police were given orders to physically strip veils off of women and occasionally punished protestors with beatings.


Later, the early attempts by the Iranian monarchy to advance women’s rights were swiftly undone by the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Women were prohibited from holding public office, married women were forbidden from attending regular schools, and Ayatollah Khomeini imposed laws that codified gender discrimination. Girls over a certain age were required to cover their heads.


In order to detain those who disregard the Islamic dress code, the morality police were established in 2005. 


The Islamic Penal Code states that in addition to the punishment specified for the act, anyone who openly commits a harm (sinful) act in a public place or on a public road shall be sentenced to two months in prison or up to 74 lashes. Women who are seen in public spaces or on the streets without a hijab will receive a sentence of ten days to two months in prison or a fine of 500,000 rials.


Vida Movahed protested forced veiling in December 2017 by standing on top of a platform on Enghelab Street in Tehran without a veil. She was immediately detained by police. Movahed, dubbed “the Girl of Enghelab Street,” became famous after photos and videos of her went viral, inspiring a wave of comparable protests all over the world. 


The Insider magazine article further illustrates that more than 35 women were detained by Iranian authorities in the months that followed on suspicion of “a sinful act” and “inciting corruption and prostitution,” among other charges. In detention, some allegedly suffered from beatings and torture.


Mahsa Amini’s death sparked renewed protests against mandatory veiling, and women are removing their hijabs in solidarity.


According to local news reports, anti-hijab protests in Iran have claimed the lives of more than 90 people. One of the more horrific deaths during the protest was that of a 17-year-old girl, Nika Shakarami, who had joined the protests against hijab laws and the death of Mahsa Amini, along with thousands of other women in Iran. According to social media and local media, the young girl was killed during a security forces crackdown in Iran.


Reporters state that Shakarami mysteriously vanished while Iran was in the midst of anti-hijab demonstrations, leaving her family desperately looking for her. Security forces turned over her body to her family a week later, indicating that she had passed away during the police crackdown on protesters.


The biggest challenge to Iran’s clerical leaders in years has emerged from anti-government demonstrations that started on September 17 at Amini’s funeral in her Kurdish town of Saqez. Protesters are calling for the overthrow of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


CNN reported that some people are allegedly staging “flash protests,” which are sudden mass gatherings and dispersals, to avoid crackdowns by security forces. 


Witnesses claim that Amini was assaulted by the morality police right after her arrest, which led to her falling into a three-day coma. Amini reportedly had her head “bang against” the morality police’s vehicle and was “beaten on the head with a baton,” according to reports from the UN Human Rights Office. Police officials determined that Amini had suffered a heart attack, and on September 16 she passed away in a hospital.


While women in the United States fight for their right to abortion, women in Iran fight for their right to dress freely. Gender inequality is a global issue that has persisted for decades and should be of concern to every household, as the fight for women’s human rights continues.

About The Author

Kiyana Patel, who moved away from home (Kenya) to pursue her future career aspirations of becoming a lawyer, is now a fourth-year senior at UCLA, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Labor Studies, and is a member of the honors society. Her community involvement is mostly centered on reforming US immigration policies and advancing social justice values in the US. She is an outspoken proponent of the undocumented immigrant population and is enthusiastic about improving immigration policies.

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