Iran is the only country in the world that enforces a compulsory headscarf rule, which requires Muslim and non-Muslim women, while in public, to cover their hair with a hijab. In recent weeks, however, the country has seen a number of historic protests against the compulsory hijab — and, indeed, women began protesting the dress code upon its proposal in 1979, when 100,000 women demonstrated against the new rule in the streets of Tehran.
Morality police in Tehran, despite announcing late last year that enforcement of the rule was being marginally relaxed, have responded by cracking down. In early February, the police arrested 29 women who were publicly protesting the mandatory hijab in an apparent sweep. The protests and the arrests are fueling renewed debate around the forced dress code.
Compulsory hijab has its origins in the conservative belief that men who see female hair don’t possess the self-control to stop themselves from assaulting women. As Agence France-Presse reports, it’s an ideology that’s brought to life in signs seen around Iran, like the one in a small town outside of the capital that reads, “The oyster keeps the pearl safe from the hazards.”
Reporters from the AFP this week spoke to women on the streets of Tehran about why they refuse to remove their hijab, providing a unique perspective of those who are continuing to wear the garment.
“We wear the hijab in front of men. In our country, men are raised with the idea that women must be seen with a headscarf. In these conditions, as long as I live, I will never take off the hijab in my country,” Hanieh, a journalist, said.
But an undercurrent of fear may also be the motivating factor for the women who dutifully wear a headscarf. “I believe the hijab should not be mandatory. Every woman knows what she is doing and should be able to choose either the right path or the wrong path,” another woman on the street told the AFP, even though she wore a black, tight-fitting hijab that covered all of her hair.
Watch AFP’s video below.
Read the full story at Agence France-Presse.