Iranian women post images without hijabs despite crackdown

Iranian authorities are moving away from ‘morality police’ vans towards ‘smarter’ ways of enforcing mandatory hijab rules.

An Iranian woman walks in a street in Tehran, Iran,
An Iranian woman walks in a street in Tehran, Iran. Iranian authorities are planning to crack down on women not wearing the hijab after anti-government protests died down [File: Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters]

Tehran, Iran – Scores of Iranian women are posting images of themselves online while not wearing the hijab, as a police deadline for cracking down on violators of the country’s compulsory dress code is approaching.

Social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram – which Iranians access by circumventing government blocks – have been flooded in recent days with images of mostly young women posing wearing their garments of choice in Iran’s warming spring weather.

Some are only ditching their headscarves, but others are also doing away with the loose-fitting gowns that laws passed shortly after the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution require women to wear. A few have even photographed themselves wearing shorts and skirts in public, risking arrest.

Many images are posted anonymously, but some women have shown their faces as well, as they pose in city streets, in shops and malls, at work and universities, or in front of mirrors. A number of men have also snapped themselves wearing shorts in public – which is also illegal – in solidarity with the women.

A growing proportion of women in Iran have abandoned their mandatory hijabs since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s so-called “morality police” last September, which triggered months of protests across the country.

The authorities have since refrained from heavily cracking down on the hijab issue, with the white and green vans of the morality police all but disappearing from public view.

But, despite that, the upper echelons of power in Iran have recently emphasised that hijab – an issue central to the identity of the Islamic Republic – is not something they are willing to compromise on.

Earlier this month, Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei – whose speeches signal the last word on any issue in the country – said that defying the hijab laws would constitute a “religiously and politically haram (forbidden)” act that would only serve Iran’s enemies, who he has accused of being behind the protests.

Other top officials have said the same, with President Ebrahim Raisi remarking that the hijab was a “legal matter” that needed to be implemented, and judiciary chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei saying that unveiling was tantamount to “enmity” towards the country’s values.

The Interior Ministry has also promised a strong response for violators and has backed people who confront women not fully conforming to the compulsory dress code.

Two women who faced a “yoghurt attack” for not properly wearing their headscarves inside a shop in the city of Mashhad were arrested alongside their attacker last month after a security camera clip of the incident went viral.

But the most stern and tangible warning has come from law enforcement, which has promised to deploy security cameras to recognise people and identify vehicles in which dress rules are not fully observed.

Ahmadreza Radan, the ultraconservative figure who was appointed by Khamenei as the country’s new police chief in January amid speculation about his predecessor’s shortcomings in handling the protests, has said police officers will begin “seriously” dealing with hijab offenders from next Saturday, which marks the beginning of the week in Iran.

Radan said offenders, including people in public places, vehicles and also a variety of places of businesses like shops and malls, would first receive a text message which they would be able to argue had been sent by mistake, and would therefore effectively work as a warning.

But if the offence is repeated, the police chief said individuals would be handed over to the judiciary for punishment – which could range from financial penalties to prison time – while vehicles would be impounded and businesses would be closed.

“We deem it our duty, in order to safeguard the health of the society, to enforce the law and not to fall short, and I think that is also what the people want of us,” Radan told state television last week.

He also said most of those with “bad coverings” are doing it out of “negligence” and very few were doing it intentionally.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education has promised not to offer educational services to students who flout the hijab rules, with several universities releasing similar statements.

The company operating metro stations in Tehran and its outskirts has officially warned that “verbal warnings” will be issued to any offenders. There have also been proposals to stop offering ride-hailing services to women not deemed to be following hijab rules.

Source: Al Jazeera