Iran and the headscarf protests

Veiling in Muslim societies has always been heavily contingent on geographic, socioeconomic, and historical context, and in contemporary Iran, the issue has long been politicized. In 1936, the first Pahlavi shah issued a decree that prohibited veiling in a bid to modernize his country and inculcate a sense of national identity; he also mandated European-style hats for men. The edict lapsed a few years later, when the shah was forced into exile and his young son took the helm. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi doubled down on his father’s secular, pro-Western orientation, and in the 1970s, as anti-government activism gained momentum, many women consciously adopted headscarves or all-enveloping chadors as tangible rejections of the monarchy.

…Today, any violation is punishable by modest fines and a two-month prison sentence. Compulsory hijab was the sartorial manifestation of a broader imposition of legal and cultural misogyny by Iran’s post-revolutionary leaders. They quickly nullified the monarchy’s nascent efforts to advance the status and rights of women and in its place erected a legal framework that enshrines gender discrimination.

…Alinejad’s campaign focuses on one of the central symbols of theocratic rule: obligatory hijab, or modest dress, which enshrined in Iran’s post-revolutionary legal framework on the basis of Quranic injunctions. Her project was born of an expression of joy: a photo that Alinejad posted of herself running through a London street with her hair aloft, which she noted would be a crime in Iran. The photo and message went viral, and that unexpected outpouring of support launched a movement: first, a Facebook page branded as “My Stealthy Freedom” that invited Iranians to post images of themselves without hijab; within a month, the page had nearly 500,000 “likes.” That was followed in 2017 by a hashtag campaign encouraging women to wear white scarves on Wednesdays to protest laws requiring hijab.

Iran and the headscarf protests

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