Authorities in Iran’s capital city Tehran announced this week that women who walk around in public without the proper head coverings will no longer be arrested. Compulsory hijab has been the law of the land in Iran since the 1979 revolution. Women have been compelled to wear a strictly-enforced conservative dress code consisting off a headscarf to cover their hair and long loose fitting clothing ever since.
“Those who do not observe the Islamic dress code will no longer be taken to detention centers, nor will judicial cases be filed against them,” Tehran police chief General Hossein Rahimi said, according to local media reports. Instead of being placed under arrest by morality police or issued fines for “bad hijabs,” as has often happened in the past, women seen in public not wearing a hijab will be forced to attend Islam educational classes.
Masih Alinejad, an Iranian expat and the founder of the popular My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page, which has been campaigning against compulsory hijab in Iran for years, saw the policy shift as a moderate success, but was skeptical of Rahimi’s carefully-worded announcement.
“In his statement, the police chief said if the scarf falls off ‘accidentally,’ the women will not be arrested but sent to educational classes,” Alinejad told Women in the World in an email. In today’s Iran,” she added, “no one takes off their headscarves accidentally.”
Alinejad, who has appeared onstage at Women in the World events several times, pointed out that on the same day the relaxed response to dress code violations was announced, a young woman taking part in the #WhiteWednesdays campaign against compulsory hijab was arrested. “This is the challenge for the authorities — the Iranian women are pushing for greater rights, far beyond token gestures by police chiefs,” Alinejad said. “As for the brave protester, thousands of Iranian of women are demanding her release. The police are in a bind.”
In Iran, some women have long protested being forced to wear a headscarf to cover their hair while in public. The backlash to the requirement began in 1979, just after the revolution. On March 8, International Women’s Day, that year, more than 100,000 Iranian women took to the streets to demonstrate against the new mandate.
Two years ago, pioneering Iranian photojournalist Hengameh Golestan, who captured iconic photos of the mass protest, spoke with Women in the World about the feeling in the streets of Tehran that day. “The atmosphere was very joyful,” Golestan, who now lives in London, recalled. “Women went on strike that day, because the night before they had announced in the papers that women should wear scarves when they went to work. So nobody went to work, they all went on strike, came to the streets and from early morning they began to march from the Tehran University.”