The Woman’s Status in Iran

By Noam Bannett

As we all know, Monday was International Women’s Day. From Women’s rights to sexual harassment, it’s a trending topic all over the world, especially in the media and film industry.

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the matter in his speech at the AIPAC 2020 Conference, let’s peek into the women’s situation in Iran and their battle for their rights! We will publish other articles by Noam Bennett concerning status of women in Saudi Arabia and the #Metoo movement in the Middle East.

On December 27th, 2017, Vida Movahed, a 31-year-old Iranian woman, publicly stood on a wiring closet on Enghelab Street in the capital of Tehran (literally translated – “Street of Revolution”), removed her obligatory headscarf and started waving it around like a flag in the middle of a public protest, and then disappeared.

The tags #دختر_خیابان_انقلاب (the Girl of Enghelab Street), #Where_Is_She (where is she?) and the video all went viral on social media, resonating with many women and leading them to do the same. Vida’s photo from December 2017 became many people’s profile pictures.

The hijab is a head covering a woman is required to wear, for religious reasons. In Iran, it covers the entire body from head to foot, except for the face. It has to, for how else can Iran boast the fact that it’s the country with the highest number of rhinoplasty surgeries?

In 1936, Reza Shah, Emperor of Iran from 1921-1941, decided to switch over to more Western attire – men were required to wear suits and ties and women were prohibited to wear the Chador (“tent”, in Persian), the traditional Iranian headscarf, that would cover them from head to toe, making it one of Iran’s national symbols. This decision was part of Shah’s effort to adopt a more secular-Western policy and to integrate women into the education system and labor market.

The Iranian Emperor was inspired by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s first president and considered “the father of Turkey”, who beseeched the women of Turkey to abandon the Hijab head covering. Contrary to Turkey’s success in this endeavor, Iran’s results were partial; following the passing of this law, police would forcibly remove head scarfs from women who chose to wear their head scarfs in public. Many women had a difficult time changing their ways so swiftly and drastically, even to the point where some preferred to stay indoors completely rather than move around in public uncovered. This law was abolished in 1941, following Reza Shah’s exile and the rise of his son, Mohammad Reza, to power in his stead.

In order to get a general idea of the proportions of Iran’s women’s status back in its era of kings and emperors, we found that women’s representation in Parliament in 1975 was approximately 7 percent, as opposed to the United States and England, which had only 4 percent.

The big change came in the Islamic Revolution in 1979 when the Islamic Republic turned the tables and forced women over the age of 9 to wear a Hijab or other head covering when out in public. Today, Iranian women’s protests are against the mandatory wearing of Hijabs and are being suppressed with violence.

Remember Mohaved? Her arrest took place on the day Hussein Rahimi, Inspector General of the police, announced the end of the police’s detaining and arresting of women on charges of indecent attire, and instead will require them to attend a seminar on the subject. Mohaved was arrested and released a month later, following rumors she “disappeared” in the hands of the authorities. Slowly but surely, her act inspired many women to emulate her with similar actions. At the beginning of February 2018, over 20 women were arrested on these charges throughout various cities in Iran.

The campaign against forced wearing of Hijabs, also known as “White Wednesday”, started in May 2017, with the aim of Iranian women wearing white head scarfs instead of the black Hijabs. The campaign was launched by Masih Alinejad, founder of the My Stealthy Freedom Movement and a reporter living in New York, who also is the broadcaster of a program in the Farsi language on the Voice of America channel. In 2015, she was awarded the Women’s Rights Prize in Geneva for being the voice of many women in Iran fighting for basic rights, equality, and freedom.

Even as far back as 2014, Alinejad posted a picture of her with her head uncovered on her Facebook profile and encouraged other women to post pictures such as these of themselves. Many women responded, and today her page has over one million followers. Alinejad claims the movement’s struggle by means of “White Wednesday” empowers Iranian women and helps increase their awareness of their social status. She received many videos from women who participated in the campaign.
Here’s a video from July 2017 – about “White Wednesday” –

YouTube player

In February 2018 in Tehran, a woman protested on top of a public payphone and was forcibly taken down from on top of it by the police. As is customary in our day and age, the incident was recorded on camera and was published on social media. Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, responded to the footage and called for the incident’s investigation.

In light of the protest’s continuation, Inspector General Rahimi stated the following week that women who break the law will be severely punished from here on in. In other words, he took back the statement he made 2 months earlier for leniency for those same women.

Outside address for this issue came from Europe, where 45 members of the European Parliament sent a letter to Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, requesting her to contact Iranian authorities and work for the immediate release of the women who participated in the campaign.

Masoumeh Ebtekar, Vice President of Iran for Women and Family Affairs, instructed that there will no enforcement of Hijab-wearing, for “although our position is that it is a regulation, the use of force is not a measure that will be taken to enforce it.

In Israel, white is a color normally worn to beat the heat and promotes light and positivity. In Iran, the same color brings blackness down upon its people.

*Noam Bannett is a researcher and lecturer of the Middle East. His specialty is the caricature of the Muslim world.
You can follow him on Telegram, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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