A Look at Iran’s Women’s Rights Movement Amid Mahsa Amini and the Hijab Hustle

According to eyewitnesses, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was beaten in the police vehicle for not wearing her hijab properly as it showed part of her head and later died in hospital, sparking widespread protests, especially among women against draconian dress codes. Women in Iran saw Mahsa’s death as the personification of the oppression of women under the Iranian regime which imprisoned, whipped, beat, exiled and even executed women for trivial matters.

An Iranian woman removing and preparing to burn her Hijab (file).

Photo: AP

Tehran: Women in Iran take to the streets, this time accompanied by men to protest the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in moral custody after allegedly being beaten for ‘inappropriate hijab’ and against the government’s discriminatory policies against its women.

When it comes to basic rights, it has been a roller coaster ride for Iranian women. From moving towards one of the most modern societies in the world for women to an autocratic structure after a religious revolution.

Movement for Gender Equality

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The 1920s was an important decade for women’s rights in Iran. It began to make substantial progress towards gender equality when education became free for boys and girls, it was easier for girls to access it. Also, women were allowed to enroll in a university for the first time in Iran.

In the middle of the 20th century, the suffrage movement made great strides, especially politically. Women’s organizations were established and the Iranian Women’s Party was founded in 1942.

Women’s organizations and the Women’s Party pushed for changes in basic rights despite strong opposition and challenges.

In 1963, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, proposed a reform program which included “a provision to extend suffrage to women”.

In the 1960s, other women’s empowerment laws were also passed, such as raising the minimum age of marriage, the right to file for divorce, the right to custody of children, etc.

However, everything changed after the religious revolution in Iran in 1979.

Iranian Revolution

Everything changed with the change of political structure in Iran in 1979.

The family rights for women established by the Shah were canceled after the Islamic revolution in Iran, totally based on religion and religious laws called Sharia. The country has imposed strict restrictions and sanctions governing women’s Islamic dress, especially the ‘chadar’ – a kind of coat for women from Persia.

Iran also lowered the legal age of marriage to just 9 from 18, and women were forced to resign from a number of government positions.

Over the years, the age of marriage has again been raised to 13, however, men still have a lot of power in the law over women. The administration ignores sexual assault and brutality against women.

Women are penalized for defending fundamental rights and in some circumstances they are even put to death.

In the 1980s, the hijab became compulsory for women in all public office, later it was extended to all women in public spaces, including non-Muslims, including women who were not even not Iranian citizens.

Iranian authorities issued a warning to store owners in 2009 not to feature female models with curvy bodies or who do not wear headscarves.

At the start of the Islamic Cultural Revolution in Tehran in 1980, Farrokhroo Parsa, an Iranian doctor, educator and legislator who was the country’s first female minister and a vocal advocate for women’s rights, was put to death by firing squad .

Morality policeman

On behalf of national or regional authorities and in accordance with their interpretation of Sharia, the Islamic Religious Police, or morality police as they are called in Iran, are authorized Islamic morality police organizations. This is the group that arrested 22-year-old Mahsa in Iran and allegedly beat her before she died in a hospital.

Revival of the rights movement

A famous campaign titled “One Million Signatures” to Repeal Discriminatory Laws was launched in 2006 with the aim of collecting one million signatures in support of the repeal of Iranian laws that discriminate against women.

There was also the “Stop Stoning Forever” campaign.

It was an Iranian campaign against stoning under Iran’s Penal Code, where a woman is buried up to her chest in the dirt and subjected to stone throwing until she dies as punishment.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-born writer and activist working in the UK and US, started the online movement My Stealthy Freedom in 2014. It was a Facebook page, where Iranian women posted their photos without hijab , served as the inspiration for this campaign.

By the end of 2016, the page had amassed over a million likes on Facebook.

The compulsory hijab rule was supposed to be repealed with the re-election of Iranian President Hassan Rohani, but that never happened.
To do this, Alinejad institutes “white Wednesdays”, during which women protest against the rule by donning the white veil on Wednesdays (men, in solidarity, tie white ribbons around their wrists).

Women are often seen burning or removing their ‘hijab’ in Iran, which they see as the most visible symbol of oppression and discrimination in their country.

As a follow-up to this, thousands of women showed up removing their hijabs, some burning them and cutting off their braids to show their anger at the death of Mahsa Amini.