By Harihar Swarup
The custodial death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who was arrested by the morality police in Tehran, has sparked wide protests in Iran. Under the scanner are police who patrol public places to enforce the headscarf law and other Islamic laws. Conversations are also taking place on the situation of women in Islamic Republic.
Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, women have been required by law to wear a veil covering their head and neck and conceal their hair. Over the past two decades, however, more and more women in Tehran and other cities of Iran have been letting strands of their hairs outside their veil as a form of protest. More recently, some women have been sharing photos that show them taking off headscarves in opposition to hijab rules.
The struggle against compulsory headscarves made headlines in December 2017 when a young woman, Vida Movahed, waved her hijab on a stick at Tehran’s Revolution Street. Then, on July 12, this year, -– the hijab and chastity day on the Islamic Rebulic’s calendar— another group of women took part in a national civil disobedience campaign against mandatory headgear. More and more women, many of whom have not experienced the 1979 revolution, have been risking fines and even prison sentences for violating the hijab rules.
The Iranian Revolution, which ended with the victory of Islamists and the creation of the Islamic Republic, was marked by a noticeable presence of women. Thousands of young women joined Islamist and leftist politics groups. In his interviews with foreign journalists before returning to Iran Ayatollah Khomeini praised women for their involvement in the revolution.
Earlier, however, Khomeini had taken a firm stand against the Shah’s “White Revolution” — one of the axes of which was women’s access to the Iranian public space. Since the beginning of the 20th century, especially during the Constitutional Revolution of 1906—1911, progressive Iranian women demanded access to schooling and the right to expression. Before the end of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi’s reign in 1978, thirty per cent of students in Iranian universities were women. Though many Iranian students were attracted by the revolutionary language of radical reform in 1979, under influence of religious intellectuals such as Ali Shariati, the country’s public space became a field of social political contradictions between sexes.
In March 1979, after the new Islamic law on veiling at workplaces came into force, massive demonstrations took place in the Capital and major cities of Iran. Thousands of men took to the streets shouting slogans such as: “We did not make the revolution to go backwards.” The demonstrators were attacked and injured by Islamist storm-troopers. They were not supported by the secular opposition groups who advised them to remain calm, so as Along with the introduction of compulsory veiling, the Islamic Republic abolished the modernizing reforms in the field of civil liberties for women and families law introduced during the Pahlavi regime. The Shah era laws restricting the exercise of polygamy and raising the legal age of marriage to 18 were abolished.
After the death of Khomeini in 1989 and the end of the eight-year war with Iraq, new ideological currents emerged among women who demanded reforms while supporting the Islamic regime. Reformist women stood firm against some of the ideological framework of the Islamic regime in the 1990s, but they were gradually overtaken in the first decade of the twenty-first century by a younger generation, the carriers of new demands.
The most significant action of this new generation of activists was the “One million signatures for the repeal of all discriminatory laws against women in Iran” campaign in 2006. From the Green Movement women against electoral frauds in 2009 to protest against acid attack on women’s resistance movement in streets of Esfahan in 2014, women’s resistance movement have caused social and political tremors in Iran.
In one of its recent reports on the country, Amnesty International noted that the Iranian authorities have not taken any initiatives to combat violence against woman and girls in private spheres or public sphere. Recent history shows us that Iranian women have been present at all major points in the country’s destiny. They have contributed to the evolution of the Iranian public sphere while building a new future for their country.(IPA Service)