Hijab in Iran: A cultural product or ideological coercion?

Shima Silavi
Shima Silavi
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In the course of history, women's clothing has always been one of the first issues that have been exploited by various ideological systems, and the body of women has been an ideologi-cal battleground between the conflicting fronts. Although the issue of men's clothing is not entirely exempted from dress codes restrictions, it does not reach the level of restrictions that women experience.

Throughout the history of Iran, similar to other countries, the advancement of society has always had a direct impact on people's clothing. The banning of all Islamic veils in 1936 by Re-za Shah demonstrates this perfectly by pushing the issue of women’s clothing into the political sphere. The government actively regulated the anti-veiling law, and as the final effort, to completely eliminate it by physically removing it from women’s heads.

In the years before the fall of the Shah, some women appeared publicly in hijab to display their opposition with the present ideology.

In fact, the veil symbolized a political message, but after the fall of the Shah's regime, one of the continuing challenges faced by Iran was enforcing compulsory veil in the country.

After the announcement of the compulsory veil by Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1979, women protested repeatedly in mass demonstrations.

One of the most famous women's demonstrations took place on March 8, 1979. Between 5,000 to 8,000 protesters were present at Tehran University. The protest was suppressed by the regime, but women's protest against this law continues to take place in various forms. The law was first approved by the Islamic Consultative Assembly in 1983, while only one year earlier there was no law on the need to preserve Islamic hijab.

At that time, even the groups that considered themselves to be a part of the elite sector of society did not oppose Khomeini's actions, and clearly did not support the demonstrations and activities of women, and regarded the protests as an imperialist plot. Hijab laws protect the government and it has reached a point in which every citizen who believes in the ideology of the system allow themselves to interfere in the privacy of others.

According to law, women can only be present in public if her body is covered within the limits of the prescribed standards, otherwise she will be prosecuted. In addition, anyone from the police all the way down to ordinary citizens are given the right to remark and counter women who do not follow the dress code standards.

An example of this collision can be seen in a video that was published recently. The video shows a woman named Fatemeh Azarfard physically attacking a woman who is sitting in her car without a veil. After its circulation in cyberspace, the film prompted a public outcry against such violent encounters.

But contrary to the reaction of the Iranian people, authorities honored Fatima Azar Fard at a ceremony to prove that in Iran, systematically and legally, women have no right to choose their type of clothing.

Despite a lot of investments in promoting hijab in Iran and resorting to coercive ways to accept it, a study by the Centre for Strategic Studies indicates that these efforts are fruitless. According to the survey, in recent decades, Iranian citizens have seriously changed the concept of compulsory veil, and about half of Iranians believe hijab is a "private" issue.

In addition, while in 2006 half of the statistical community participating in the survey believed that it was necessary to legally prosecute people without hijab, in 2014 the percentage dropped down to 39%.

What makes these statistical findings even more significant is that according to a report by the Strategic Centre, in 1974, just four years before the Islamic Revolution, three-quarters of men preferred their wives to wear hijab, and only seven percent had a tendency to have wives without hijab.

The results of another poll, “Opposing or agreeing on compulsory hijab", conducted by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in 2015, shows that 78.3% of the total population of the country are in favor of optional hijab and only 21.7% support compulsory hijab.

The rule of hijab in Iran keeps women in a more subordinate position. Every time they leave home they are forced to adjust their taste in clothing according to the criteria set out in the law, otherwise facing the consequences either through the police force or ordinary citizens.

The way people choose to cover and dress themselves results from a mixture of factors that involve religion, culture, tradition and the environment but when the state abuses its power to change the natural course of development in society, it is no longer a cultural production, instead entering the ideological and political field.

In contrast, with what happened before the revolution, women now demonstrate their opposition to the system and the governing rules by removing hijab. This should not be interpreted in the narrow context, but on a larger scale, as a strong front for struggle for freedom and justice.

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