Written by 20:47 World

Iran’s Onerous Hijab Law for Women Is Now a Campaign Issue

Iranian officials insisted for decades that the law requiring women to cover their hair and dress modestly was sacrosanct and not even worth discussion. They dismissed the struggle by women who challenged the law as a symptom of Western meddling.

Now, as Iran holds a presidential election this week, the issue of mandatory hijab, as the hair covering is known, has become a hot campaign topic. And all six of the men running, five of them conservative, have sought to distance themselves from the methods of enforcing the law, which include violence, arrests and monetary fines.

“Elections aside, politics aside, under no circumstances should we treat Iranian women with such cruelty,” Mustafa Pourmohammadi, a conservative presidential candidate and cleric with senior roles in intelligence, said in a round-table discussion on state television last week. He has also said that government officials should be punished over the hijab law because it was their duty to educate women about why they should wear hijab, not violently enforce it.

The hijab has long been a symbol of religious identity but has also been a political tool in Iran. And women have resisted the law, in different ways, ever since it went into effect after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

It is unlikely that the law will be annulled, and it remains unclear whether a new president can soften enforcement. Different administrations have adopted looser or stricter approaches to hijab. Ebrahim Raisi, the president whose death in a helicopter crash in May prompted emergency elections, had imposed some of the harshest crackdowns on women.

Still, some women’s rights activists and analysts in Iran say forcing the issue to the table during elections is in itself an accomplishment. It shows that the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement of civil disobedience, which began nearly two years ago, has become too big to ignore.

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Last modified: 25 June 2024
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