OPINION: Iranian Women’s Unrelenting Battle Against Oppression

By Azadeh Karimi

For the past 40 years, the Islamic Republic Regime’s educational system and propaganda machine have been brainwashing and indoctrinating generations of young Iranians by planting distorted ethical and moral values and a warped sense of social justice into their impressionable minds. Graffiti glorifying the hijab and murals that cloak female identity in black veils are an integral parts of an image carefully crafted by the regime to represent an ideal Iranian woman who is chaste, Muslim, and faceless.

Iranian women have been fighting for their inalienable human and civil rights since the first massive protest against the mandatory hijab on February 20, 1979. Although women have been relentless in their quest to achieve equal rights and end sexism, it was the mass protests in December 2017 — replacing the empty rhetoric of reformist politicians against the mandatory hijab with concrete action by the “Girls of Enghelab Street” — that prompted ordinary Iranians to join human rights campaigners and women’s rights activists in championing the freedom of choice movement.

The hijab law is the cornerstone of the Islamic Republic. So opposing it is tantamount to undermining the regime. That is why the regime does not hesitate to instruct the security police, the Basij (volunteer) force, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to crush any anti-hijab protests.

Many men and women have joined the movement since Vida Movahed, a 31-year-old Tehran resident, sparked a wave of protests against the compulsory hijab when she lifted her headscarf into the air on Enghelab Street on December 27, 2017.

Masih Alinejad, a former parliamentary reporter and women’s rights activist and founder of an online movement called “My Stealthy Freedom” in 2014, has played a crucial role in campaigning against the mandatory hijab.

The protest have also gained strength through “White Wednesdays,” an online movement started in 2017 by women who posted pictures and videos of themselves wearing white headscarves or pieces of white clothing in defiance of the mandatory hijab law.

It is not religion but rather political Islam that has responded to this growing trend by trying to crush the movement. In the aftermath of the brutal crackdown, some people thought that the protests against the mandatory hijab might fade away. The movement, however, has gained momentum by transforming individual struggles into collective battles and prompting those who sat on the sidelines to join the march.

Iranian police and security forces claim that only a small minority of women are challenging the hijab law. The deputy commander of Law Enforcement Forces said recently that 90 percent of women in Iran supported the hijab law and the Islamic dress code, and that police only dealt with the remaining 10 percent. According to a report by the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) Research Center, most educated young women oppose the hijab, and 55 percent of all Iranian women prefer the civil (optional) hijab rather than the religious (mandatory) hijab.

The women’s rights movement is escalating again after four decades of oppression and humiliation. The movement could affect half of the country’s population. It comprises both traditional and progressive women, and also those who wear the hijab but support freedom of choice. Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the hijab did not hinder women’s social and professional growth. Only girls and women who grew up in strict traditional religious families had to observe the Islamic dress code. The law, however, did not discriminate against women for wearing the hijab or for failing to adhere to the religious dress code.

Fearing the growing opposition to the mandatory hijab, Iran’s Judiciary has said that it will prosecute anyone who removes her headscarf in public. It has also warned that publishing and posting images of girls and women without a hijab on social media or sending them to Masih Alinejad is a crime punishable by a 10-year prison sentence.

Authorities arrested Vida Movahed a second time on charges of “inciting disorder, corruption, and prostitution resulted from the removal of her hijab.” She was given a one-year discretionary prison sentence. Other members of the “Girls of Enghelab Street” faced 20 years in jail. Maryam Shariatmadari and Shaparak Shajarizadeh eventually left Iran.

On August 2, a Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced three protestors against the compulsory hijab — Monireh Arabshahi, Yasamin Ariany, and Mojgan Keshavarz — to a total of 55 years in prison. The three had handed out flowers to women wearing a hijab in the Tehran Metro to mark International Women’s Day on March 8.

[aesop_image img=”https://kayhanlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/فعالان-حقوق-زن.jpg” panorama=”off” credit=”Monireh Arabshahi, Yasamin Ariany, and Mojgan Keshavarz . SOURCE: KAYHAN LONDON” align=”center” lightbox=”off” captionsrc=”custom” captionposition=”center” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Three other anti-hijab activists — Raheleh Ahmadi, Saba Kord Afshari, and Fereshteh Didani — have been in prison since April on charges of “inciting disorder, corruption, prostitution, unlawful assembly and plotting to undermine national security.”

In the 1990s, violating the hijab law was punishable by flogging. Nowadays, the regime is facing an existential threat, and therefore resorts to extreme measures to crush dissent, including handing down long prison sentences to women who fight for their right to choose. They are harassed by morality police and assaulted by prison authorities.

To intimidate and scare women’s rights activists, Law Enforcement Forces have given their officers broader powers to stop and search people and their cars and homes. Authorities even encouraged people to spy on each other by capturing photographs and videos of women who violate the hijab law and send the pictures and clips to the police. The move backfired, however, after a public protest forced the authorities to take down their “morality court” website. The police also tried to crack down on female drivers who did not adhere to the strict Islamic dress code. Traffic police warned taxi drivers not to pick up women passengers whose hijab did not meet the government’s guidelines.

Sentencing anyone who sends photographs and videos to Masih Alinejad up to 10 years in prison exposes the regime’s desperate and pathetic attempt to silence women who demand their civil and human rights, including the freedom to choose what to wear.

Did the regime expect the women to back down and surrender? Women have instead moved forward and touched the regime’s sore spot by joining the “vote by not voting campaign.”

The regime’s propaganda machine has been working hard urging everyone including opposition groups to take part in the forthcoming Majlis elections set for February 2020. Women form a large part of the opposition groups. Many of the regime’s supporters are women who oppose the mandatory hijab. Besides refusing to vote in the elections, these women should convince men to do the same.

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]