Iran protests are a reminder that the hijab is symbol of subjugation
Posted: Thu, 22nd Sep 2022 by National Secular Society
In a country where removing the headscarf is a punishable crime, women burning their hijabs deserve our solidarity.
Something at once heartening and deeply depressing is happening in Iran.
Amid a rising death toll, brave Muslim women are taking to the streets, burning their hijabs, and claiming their freedom not to wear them.
The protests erupted following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, shortly after being detained by the 'morality police' for allegedly not complying with the regime's strict hijab rules. Activists say Amini was beaten by police officers while in detention, causing her serious injuries that led to her death. Police deny the allegations.
Protests have since spread from the capital Tehran to at least 50 cities and towns nationwide.
Iranian authorities and a Kurdish rights group have reported rising death tolls. Amnesty International say security forces have used metal pellets, tear gas, water cannons, and beatings with batons to disperse protesters.
Ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, authorities in Iran have imposed a mandatory dress code requiring all women to wear a headscarf and loose-fitting clothing that disguises their figures in public. The law has been strictly enforced by Gasht-e Ershad agents, better known as the 'morality police', who have been have admonishing and terrorising women for decades.
Now the Islamic regime is rattled. To placate protesters, Iran's minister of culture, Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili, said on Wednesday the regime was already considering changing the morality police before Amini's death. "We recognise criticisms… and many of the existing problems will be addressed." The head of the morality police has reportedly been suspended from his post. But few will be reassured.
Meanwhile, the regime has placed restrictions on social media and there are signs that it may be poised to use even more force against protesters.
Despite often being touted as an expression of Muslim women's empowerment, the situation in Iran is a reminder that the hijab is symbol of subjugation. Iran's requirement that women – and only women – cover their head is rooted in the misogyny of the fundamentalist religion at the heart of the country's theocracy. It is misogyny that too many religious institutions, included some that are registered charities in the UK, are only too happy to promote in order to maintain the patriarchal status quo.
To wear a hijab or not should be a personal choice. For many Muslim women and girls around the world, it simply isn't. Choice can be restricted in many ways, through laws, coercion, or community pressure.
And in a country where removing the hijab is a punishable crime, the protestors deserve international support and solidarity. May their voices undermine theocracy in Iran and herald a new dawn for women's rights and freedoms.
Image from Isaac Nowroozi, via Twitter.