In the U.S. women’s marches protesting for women’s rights, the poster symbolizing the movement shows a Muslim woman wearing a hijab–or head covering. On the American political left, it’s seen as an act of freedom to wear one.
Women in Iran are protesting the Islamic regime’s strict rule and lack of freedom for women by removing their headscarves in public and posting images on social media.
In Iran a woman not wearing a head covering, or hijab can get her beaten in public, arrested, tortured, or worse. But things are changing as women take them off.
“Iran has mandatory veiling for women because it draws on Islamic law and teachings,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, Senior Iran Analyst with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenemi has rebuked the protests.
A tweet sent out by the Ayatollah’s office on his behalf stated, “By promoting modest dress (#hijab), #Islam has blocked the path which would lead women to such a deviant lifestyle . Hijab is a means of immunity not restriction.”
In an interview Taleblu explained what’s fueling the actions of these women.
“Young Iranian women are casting off their veils as a show of defiance against both the corrupt and discriminatory political and religious system in Iran,” he said.
He added, “This anti-hijab movement is actually not new. It began in 1979, mere months after Khomeini returned to Iran and began islamizing the country. Since 1979, Iranian women have found creative and brave ways to contest this policy of mandatory veiling. This is only the latest iteration of that push back.”
Reporter George Thomas has reported on the mandatory head coverings in Iran in the past. He recalled the story of a woman who was attacked for removing only part of her scarf.
“I was doing an interview with this young girl on the street in Tehran, she took such pride moving her scarf further away from totally covering her head, to the point her scarf was almost completely off and you could see the vibrant colors of her hair and how she had colored it different colors and this man came walking by, just grabbed her scarf and yanked it over her head to say how dare you not cover your head.”
Since December, more than 30 Iranian women have been arrested for publicly removing their scarves in defiance of the Islamic regime’s strict law.
One woman has reportedly received a two year jail sentence after removing her scarf in public.
Demonstrations planned to take place on International Women’s Day on Thursday were pre-empted by police.
Taleblu highlighted the significant risks women take by defying the strict law.
“They range from fines to jailing to increased harassment and abuse,” he said. “The regime harshly treats anti-Hijab protesters because they see it as a rebuke of their political and religious rule in Iran.”
He said younger Iranians see the ongoing political and economic challenges in the country, as well as their hate for the regime and its Islamic teachings as reasons to fight the status-quo.
“The message these women are trying to send is not only social and religious. It is distinctly civic and therefore political. Removing your Hijab is an act of civil disobedience in Iran, because the compulsory Hijab is rightly identified as a symbol of the clerical regime’s authoritarian rule and oppression.”
“I think this has been a long time coming,” he said. “More and more young women feel the Islamic constraints on their life, whether it’s headscarf, wearing Capri jeans or tight fitting outfits is part of I think what’s happening in the culture.”
“Information is fueling it,” he said. “When you’re able to see the outside world, see women protesting, demonstrating on the streets of America and across the western world, they say we can join the chorus of women who are standing up against the government or injustice or various issues. Today the headscarf is our issue and it’s a form of male domination. They have a sense of wait a minute the Koran doesn’t really talk about.”
Meanwhile, the growth of Christianity in Iran could also be a key factor in Iranian’s desire to push back against the old ways.
According to World Mission, the underground church in Iran is one of the fastest growing churches in the world.
“It’s part of the freedom that people want and they are experimenting with other religions. They are bold enough to say maybe Islam is not the only way,” said Thomas.