Picture – Hosein Ghazinoury. The Girl of Engheleb Street – “An Iconic Fighter for Women’s Rights in Iran”
In the struggle for women’s rights in Iran, enduring since the 1979 Revolution, a resurgent act of protest this week demonstrated the exasperation many have with the implemented Sharia Law. This policy sidelines women and bestows on them the “harsh reality of subjection to a patriarchal interpretation of Islamic law when applied by the legal machinery of a modern state.“
Sharia Law – The Islamization of the Iranian Legal System
In the 1930s, jurisdiction of the Sharia courts was terminated in Iran. When the Pahlavi monarchy collapsed and Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, however, he reinstated the Sharia Law in 1979. This set the trend for subsequent changes and the notion of a centralized and unified legal system. As a result, wearing the hijab became compulsory for women. Moreover, the education system became segregated, and though universities remained mixed, regulations were implemented to separate the sexes in class and on campus.
This took a severe toll on women. Though their suffrage rights were maintained, most of the pre-revolutionary legal reforms were completely abolished. Thus, under the Islamic Law that prevails since the 1979 Revolution, women are absolutely forbidden to appear in public without the hijab to covering their heads and necks, concealing their hair. The Iranian government upholds the hijab as “an emblem of its religious and political identity” symbolizing “not only the Islamic government but also…the ideal type of Iranian women.” This is further emphasized as the government denies the “existence of many others who did not wear chadors or believe in hijab.”
Unfortunately, in spite of the protests and disagreements against the law upheld in Iran, women are still deprived of a primary right: the right to wear what they want in public. This is a basic right, a human right, which continues to be ignored.
Pushing the Boundaries – Protesting the Veil
As lawmakers and religious leaders are frustrated with the inability of the morality police to efficiently maintain the rules and ensure Islamic dress code is followed in public places, many women are pushing the boundaries of the discriminatory laws. “A renewed wave of protest to get rid of the strict laws that force Iranian women to wear hijabs in public has gained momentum.”
Iranian activist Masih Alinejad started a movement to get rid of the country’s dress codes and fight the compulsory hijab through her website My Stealthy Freedom. She encouraged women to send photos of themselves without hijabs in Iran, and later posted them with powerful messages to her website. Following this, Vida Movahed initiated an act of resistance, protesting the dress code imposed by the Iranian government by removing her headscarf. She boldly stood on a telecom box and waved her headscarf around. She was consequently arrested and, after approximately a month of detention, was finally released on Sunday, January 28. Her arrest had been followed by a wave of other women taking this risky act, leading to a wave of protests that spread across Iran in late December 2017.
This Monday, women took to the streets again and replicated Movahed’s act, reemerging on social media. These women are taking action and voicing their discontent with the compulsory hijab and long loose clothing for the government’s interpretation of modesty. After similarly protesting the veil law, Narges Hosseini was arrested this Monday.
The resistance went viral, as thousands of social media users shared messages of support. This also led to other Iranian activists starting various campaigns that have since gone global both on and offline. This movement has reached such a wide threshold that even protesters in the US, at the most recent Women’s March, waved placards with the movement’s slogan.